This adventure all began with a contest on Facebook that was being put on by Discover Comox Valley A tourism and booking agent. The ability to enter was open for a couple of weeks and the prize they were giving away was fantastic, so I entered a few times and was super stoked to find that I won!
The prize consisted of TWO weekends away for two people including airfare, accommodations, dine out gift certificates, craft beer and wine tours and a selection of other adventures all located in and around the Comox Valley! Talk about an amazing opportunity that was right up my alley as the Craft Beer Tourist!!
I started doing some research on the area and what it has to offer, as I had never been to this part of Vancouver Island before. The more I learned, the more excited I became. The Comox Valley is on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island and includes the cities of Comox, Courtenay and Cumberland. It is also in very close proximity to Strathcona Provincial Park. A 2458 sq. km. park known for its amazing hiking trails, lakes, waterfalls, and glaciers not to mention pristine forests and colourful alpine meadows. It’s also home to some great craft breweries. Gladstone Brewing Co., Forbidden Brewing Co., Cumberland Brewing Co., and a little ways up the Island Highway in Campbell River you can find Beach Fire Brewing and Nosh House. All of which are part of a very cool initiative called The BC Ale Trail, making the Comox Valley a perfect place to explore the beautiful wonders of the great outdoors as well as some tasty BC Craft trail beers!
Our itinerary looked like this:
Flight out of Coal Harbour in Vancouver aboard Harbour Air to Comox Valley Marina
Accommodations in a King Jacuzzi Suite at Crown Isle Resort & Golf Community
A brewery and wine tour compliments of Ambassador Shuttle Service including; 40 Knots Winery, Coastal Black Estate Winery, Forbidden Brewing and Gladstone Brewing
A Snorkelling with Seals adventure with Pacific Pro Dive
Helicopter tour over the glacier with 49 North Helicopters
Dining experiences at Locals Restaurant and The Black Fin Pub
Day One: Friday Sept 21st, 2017
Our flight out of Vancouver was scheduled for 7:40am so we were up nice and early to avoid the traffic and to find some parking near the marina. We arrived as the morning sun was about to rise above the horizon making for a gorgeous start to the day. The near cloudless sky made for quite a sunrise. Check-in was a breeze and before we knew it we were already making our way down the ramp to the dock where we would soon board our DHC-3 Turbine Single Otter Seaplane. A rather cozy plane that only seats a maximum of 14 people. After a quick safety video we were off. This was my first ride aboard a seaplane so I was excited and a bit nervous to be honest but that went away quickly as the plane gently lifted off the water and climbed towards the east over the Lions Gate Bridge. The views along the way are spectacular as the planes cruising altitude is below 3000 metres. With the Vancouver skyline disappearing into the distance, we did our best to figure out what islands and cities we were seeing below us while marveling in the breath-taking views of the Howe Sound, Coastal Mountains and Sunshine Coast. 50 minutes later we were touching down into the Comox Valley Marina.
We collected our suitcase, which they store in the plane’s floats, and were off to collect our rental car. Although the contest did include some shuttle services we opted to rent a vehicle so we could have some freedom to explore on our own. The one problem was that I mistakenly booked the rental car at the airport thinking that was where were flying in to but of course, seaplanes land at marinas. So we called a cab and had them take us to Budget Car Rental. After we paid for the cab, I quickly realized we were not near the airport but went in anyways. The lady behind the counter was very pleasant and even though we had come to the wrong location she was happy to help us out and even offered us an upgrade to a brand new Ford Explorer with full Navigation! Further to that, because their location was closed on our return date, they said we could just leave the vehicle at the marina and leave the keys with the Harbour Air agents for them to pick up the next day! Now that’s service!
We had yet to have a proper breakfast so we did a quick Yelp search of the area to find a cool local breakfast joint and found a place called The Hen and the Hog Cafe It’s a tiny little place with limited seating but trust me when I say, it’s worth the wait. I had their daily feature which was two poached eggs in a chipotle marinara served with smoked bacon, toast and hash browns while my wife enjoyed a much healthier option of quinoa, yogurt and fresh fruit. Both of us thoroughly enjoyed our meals and we left with our solid base for a day that about to be spent touring some wineries and breweries.
We headed to see if there was any chance of an early check in at the resort but they were swamped with guests checking out so we left our bags with the front desk and awaited our tour guide to pick us up for our tour. “Brent” arrived promptly at 11:30am and we were informed that we were the only ones on the tour that day so we basically had our own private driver that encouraged us to just go at our own pace and take it all in. Our first stop was 40 Knots Winery. As we rolled in the first things we noticed were the lush rows upon rows of grapes and a beautiful, rustic barn shaped building with the double doors swung wide open, inviting us into the tasting room. Charlene greeted us and we got down to wine sampling right away. We ran through four different wines. White Seas, Uncloaked Chardonnay, Rose and the recently released Stall Speed Meritage. All of them were quite tasty and we settled on a bottle of the Chardonnay to bring home. We took a little stroll from their down into the vineyard and snapped a couple of photos before loading back into the minivan for our trip to the next stop.
From there we headed to Coastal Black Winery which lies just on the outskirts of the Comox Valley. It is a fruit winery that also specializes in mead and honey. This was a unique experience for us as this winery does not use any grapes! We settled into the tasting room where we were greeted by Sam, one of the winemakers, who offered us up some samples of their Blueberry table wine, Blueberry mead, Sparkling Raspberry Brut and a Blackberry Sparkling Brut. These styles and flavours were all new to us and both of us really enjoyed them. So much so that we got a bottle of each! We then went on a quick tour in the back and got a little inside scoop that they are currently doing some test runs on making their own ciders. I’m sure they will be amazing as well.
Back to the van and off to Forbidden Brewing in Downtown Courtenay. We found a seat and I ordered “the flight” that they were offering. Being a nano-brewery they only had three beers of their own currently available but Fat Tug IPA from Driftwood was a great way to round out the flight. Although I did enjoy the beers, especially the Arnold Schwarzen’ale, we were the only people in the place and the vibe was on the lacklustre side so we moved on to our final destination… Gladstone Brewing Co.
We arrived quickly as it was located close by. This place had a vibrant atmosphere, great music and a very unique overall design that was still themed around the building’s history as a car mechanic’s shop. With a selection of 8 beers to choose from, I narrowed it down to some unique styles, A Belgian Stirling Single, Munich Style Festbier, a Gose and a Burton Ale which was a collaboration with Vancouver Island Brewing. We grabbed a seat outside on the patio and soaked in some sunshine. Included in our tour was a pizza to share so after I finished my flight I ordered a veggie pizza and added some meat to my half! I also grabbed a couple 4 packs to go and a pint of the Burton Ale, as it was my favourite on the flight. The pizza arrived and we wasted no time digging in. We enjoyed the heck out of it. Especially the house made pizza crust! So flavourful!
That brought our tour to an end, so we hopped into the minivan and our driver delivered us back to the hotel for an afternoon siesta. The early morning flight and afternoon sampling session had taken its toll and besides…we were on holidays! The room itself at Crown Isle Resort was a stunner! It had a full kitchen, living area, huge walk out deck that faced the first tee of the golf course, fireplace and a big 50 inch TV. The bedroom had a jacuzzi tub big enough for two and the also had a 50 TV and fireplace. We crashed on to the comfy king size bed and had a power nap.
Later that night we made our way into town for a nice dinner at Locals restaurant. They had a three course meal deal that had options that appealed to both my wife and I so we went ahead and ordered those up. She had the seafood chowder, a grilled halibut and prawn entrée and a dessert sampler while I enjoyed a crab cake starter, chanterelle mushroom risotto with poached pear as my main and a berry pie with custard filling! Everything was presented exceptionally well and tasted amazing. With our bellies full, we headed on home for a good night sleep.
My wife had been fighting a bit of an ear infection and although the thought of swimming with seals in the wild was of interest to both of us, we erred on the side of caution and regrettably opted out of the excursion with Pacific Pro Dive. We have head amazing things about their adventures so if you are in the area be sure to check them out!
We decided that a day of hiking and exploring would suit us just fine so we set out in search of some nourishment and find another great local restaurant thanks to my trusty Yelp app. This place was called Atlas Cafe. The food there was also creative and delicious not to mention tasty coffee. From there, we decided to head out on a hike in Strathcona Provincial Park called Lake Helen Mackenzie. An 8.5 km hike with a modest 450m of elevation gain. We drove the 30 kms up Forbidden Plateau towards Mount Washington Ski resort where we found the trailhead for our hike.
The trail begins with a beautiful walk through an alpine meadow along a wooden boardwalk that stands just above the ground. With it being the end of September there was no snow on the ground and the leaves were starting to show signs that autumn was setting in. After a kilometre or two, the trail branches on and heads uphill. after a short ways the trail emerges alongside Battleship Lake. The views from here are so pretty. Looking out across the still water towards Mount Washington, you can see the ski runs that carve up to the peak. All of it reflecting on the water like a mirror. Further along the trail we were entertained by a few squirrels and some extremely confident Gray Jays that happily ate from the palm of your hand if offered food.
We eventually reached our destination, and as I always do, I enjoyed a nice cold trail reward beer. A Belgian Single from Gladstone hit the spot just fine. We also had a little snack before continuing along the loop trail back to our vehicle. As we were leaving, it was decided that we would make one more quick stop to see Nymph Falls before continuing our way along the BC Ale Trail to Cumberland Brewing Co. The trail in is very short and well-groomed. It only took a few minutes to get to the river’s edge and see the active area of rapids knows as Nymph Falls. We snapped a couple of pictures and made our way back. Having now walked over 11 kms we were ready for some beer sampling and food.
We arrived at Cumberland Brewing and immediately started trying to scope out a spot to sit on the packed outdoor patio. It was 2:30 pm and this place was hopping. With one eye scanning for patio vacancies and the other reading over the menu board, we were greeted by the energetic staff and offered a flight of the 5 beers they had to offer. Of course, I accepted while my wife opted for a cider. The moment I was handed my flight I saw a couple leaving so we made a B-line for the table. after starting off my flight we began perusing the food menu and man did that get my mouth-watering. We ordered some vegetarian tacos and a spicy Indian chicken dish with fresh pita and neon pink beet hummus. THe pictures speak for themselves… we were in heaven. We enjoyed the food so much that we had to get more so we ordered their baked Focaccia bread with melted cheese, marinara and a selection of sliced meats. it too was unreal! While we were sitting there enjoying our meals we were fortunate enough to meet Darren, the owner. He joined us for a short while and shared his stories about the opening and growth of the brewery. His energy and enthusiasm for what he does is very evident. I could really hear the passion in his voice as he spoke. This is truly my favourite thing about drinking craft beer. I love supporting our local economies and occasionally walking into a brewery in a small town and meeting the people who actually make the beer and sign the paycheques. Overall, much like our visit to Gladstone, this too was a genuinely fantastic experience. As we left I remembered a tip I received from a local that direct messaged me on Instagram to tell me that “I had to go across the street to the bakery and try their Cronuts” What the heck is a Cronut I wondered. Intrigued we made our way to the bakery. Late afternoon and this place was still lined up. A good sign for sure…or so I thought. We got to the till and I ordered a “cronut” only to be told that they had sold out for the day. I guess I have to go back to Cumberland now just to track down these elusive cronuts! I settled on a chocolate almond stuffed croissant instead. It was pretty awesome.
Back to Crown Isle for a soak in the jacuzzi tub to soothe the muscles and to get ready for another night out. We had been told by some of the locals that if I loved craft beer, The White Whale would be a great option. We ordered up a cab and were on our way. We drank the night away and enjoyed some tasty nachos while chatting with the bar staff and some local regulars. Another great place to check out while you’re in town.
It may be check out day but we still had some adventuring to do! After turning in the room access cards and having some breakfast at the golf course we tossed our luggage in the Explorer and headed north up the Island Highway for 49 North Helicopters at the Campbell River Airport for a 45 minute tour over the Comox Glacier. Campbell River was about 60 kms away but thanks to the 120km/hr speed limit on the Inland Island Highway, we were there in no time flat. ( I don’t think I have been anywhere else in BC where you can legally drive that fast!) We arrive and signed our life away and headed out the door to the awaiting chopper. We were joined by a tourist from Sweden who we let ride shotgun in the four seater Robinson R44 Helicopter beside our pilot Bastian who was ready to roll. After a quick chat with the tower to warn us of some parachuters in the area, we were off. Flying due west over the runway we were instantly greeted by a landscape clinging to its lush green colours as of summer and the awe of the experience began to sink in. As we got closer to the Glacier itself I was at a loss for words at the natural beauty that was below us. The vibrant deep blue water of the glacier lakes that sat silent, filled to the brim, at the top of the various peaks were a sight to behold. Bastian flew the helicopter nice and tight to the mountains and up and over peaks giving us a close of view while I snapped picture after picture. after circling in and out of the peaks we looped back and flew over top of Lake Helen Mackenzie. It was pretty cool to see the entire hike we had done the day before from above. We ventured over to the peak of Mount Washington and did a couple tight circles to entertain the hikers below and then made our way back the airport. 45 minutes was over in the blink of an eye. It was an exhilarating adventure that must be experienced to appreciate.
Back on solid ground, we said our goodbyes and headed into downtown Campbell River to visit their first ever craft brewery, Beach Fire Brewing and Nosh House. The place has a cool look inside; a rustic bar with stools, long harvest tables, local artwork adorning the walls, a cozy sitting area as well as some patio space. I ordered up a flight and we snacked on some tortillas chips and house made salsa. The Wheel Bender Stout and their Kettle Sour were both noteworthy but I enjoyed them all.
With our final restaurant gift certificate still burning a hole in our pocket and a flight to catch later on so we headed back to the marina to park the vehicle and walked over to the Black Fin Pub. We spent the rest of the afternoon taking in some football while sampling a number of their appetizers including crab cakes, baked brie with peaches and calamari. A nice relaxing way to bring this trip to a close.
We grabbed our luggage from the rental vehicle and checked into our flight home. As we gazed out the window at the colourful scenery listening to the steady drone of the propellers, we reflected on the amazing adventure we had just experienced and couldn’t believe we packed it all into three days!
A huge thank you to Discover Comox Valley and all the participating businesses that made our weekend one to remember. The area has everything we look for when we travel; natural beauty, great options for craft beer, adventurous excursions and a list of restaurants making some memorable meals! Can’t wait to return soon and explore a little more!