TRAVEL: Out and about on Vancouver Island: Parksville

Our whirlwind getaway starts with a B.C. Ferry cruise across scenic Georgia Strait.

Disembarking at Nanaimo’s Duke Point terminal, we settle 37 kilometres north in Parksville, our favourite Vancouver Island destination.

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Overlooking beautiful Craig Bay, Sunrise Ridge Resort becomes the perfect base for reconnoitering area attractions. Set amid soaring evergreens, our spacious condo’s well-equipped kitchen sparks self-catering excitement. Following a trail to the beach below, we happily familiarize ourselves further.

Next morning’s adventure begins 10-kilometres west in Coombs’ eclectic shops. Old Country Market dominates this funky village. Nicknamed “Goats on the Roof,” sweet nannies and frisky kids graze its sod rooftop. Inside, shelves brim with imported specialties. We gather artisan breads, local cheeses and nutritious deli-salads — and produce at an outside stand. In the central courtyard’s outdoor gallery, sculptured marble gods, exotic animals and comical dogs driving cars inspire and amuse.

Steps away, family-owned Cuckoo’s Trattoria and Pizzeria prompts an unhurried lunch. Sipping herbed Italian lemonades in patio shade, we select scrumptious, thin-crust pizzas from the menu’s enticing traditional dishes.

Nearby, Butterfly World introduces us to Asian and South American winged beauties. Flying freely, they sometimes land on sliced fruit and sometimes on us. Flowering shrubs attract flamboyant blue morphos — swallowtails hover and flutter. Suspended in the emerging area, cocooned pupae await their delicate adult wings. Here, an attendant shows us tiny, about-to-hatch butterfly eggs on a leaf’s underside.

Up the highway, MacMillan Provincial Park furnishes a diverse forest ecosystem. On both sides of the highway, boardwalks encircle Cathedral Grove’s 800-year-old Douglas firs. Illustrated placards detail unique aspects of these endangered giants. Stopping at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, an easy path along moss-covered bluffs loops us around its canyon to splendid waterfalls. Wooden bridges span Qualicum River and permit thrilling close-ups of tiered Upper Falls crashing into the canyon.

Trailside viewpoints feature Lower Falls’ gentler cascading vistas.

Back at the condo, palate-pleasing sundeck meals enhance daily fun-factors. Simple cooking seems effortless, even festive.

Comfort-food dinners like fresh asparagus and poached eggs on toast help us unwind — granola, banana and yogurt parfaits launch action-packed days. Leaving the condo another morning, we pedal our bikes into Rathtrevor Beach Park. Weaving past families staking out spots on its renowned two-kilometre-long beach, we roll smoothly through forested campgrounds, out into an adjacent neighbourhood.

Gradually, the quiet roadway curves inland. Braking near Englishman River’s lush delta to admire dramatic Mount Arrowsmith beyond, we return to the resort. Leisurely spa soaks reward our endeavor.

That afternoon, Milner Gardens and Woodland in Qualicum Beach proves another highlight. Winding forested pathways bring us to fences defending treasured plants against marauding deer. Inside the high, latched gate, a student art collection catches our eye. Among striking metal sculptures exhibited on the Artist Trail, dangling abstract bluebirds, a big-eyed owl, koala bear and silver cello stand out. Another path takes us among enormous heritage rhodos, gloriously red, pink and lavender. From atop an ocean-side bluff looking overlooking Georgia Strait, we survey stunning Coastal Mountains.

An illustrated panel and powerful telescope help us to identify snowcapped peaks as far away as Vancouver’s stately Lions. Across grand lawns, a storyboard at Milner House unveils unexpected history.

Often planting specimens found during extensive business travels, the Milners developed this idyllic 4-hectare English garden into their retreat. It served as a haven for royalty when hosting cousin Diana, Princess of Wales and Prince Charles in 1986. And again, in 1987 when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip stayed. Today, the elegant Camellia Tea Room serves afternoon tea to the public. These outstanding gardens host numerous special events each year.

Returning to Parksville, we check out the community park. At the skateboard playground, wheeled tricksters perform entertaining stunts. Monstrous black octopus kites drift and dive above. While beachcombers investigate tide-pools on expansive sands, we meander the oceanfront promenade. At the boardwalk’s end, a shaded pavilion provides a pleasant breather before heading back. Morningstar Farm wraps up our explorations.

Home to Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and MooBerry Winery, this 36-hectare working dairy offers lots to do. Airy barns shelter bunnies, goats, piglets and weeks-old calves.

The “Moo-seum” displays family history and early machinery. Folks buy fresh milk on tap at Canada’s first dispenser. Meanwhile, we sample mouthwatering cheeses and award-winning wines over in Farmgate Store.

Homeward bound with Island goodies, we carry lasting memories of three fun-filled days around Parksville.

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