Updated: Aug 31, 2019
Melanie and I hopped in one of the bad-ass Jeeps from Hastings Overland and spent six days exploring Vancouver Island, roughly following the Pacific Marine Circle.
This is not a sponsored post.
When the guys from Hastings Overland reached out to me, asking if I would be interested in taking out one of their Jeeps and creating some photos for them, it wasn't hard to say yes.
I mean, look at this video we made, and tell me it doesn't look like a good time:
Hastings Overland was started by two friends from Vancouver, Maxwell and Cory. Maxwell became hooked on overland travel after a few trips of his own, and he decided beautiful British Columbia needed something like this. He started Hastings in 2017, his friend Cory joined in, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Wait a second, what is overlanding, you ask? According to Wikipedia: " Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal ".
Typically, overland vehicles are rugged four wheel drives, that can be camped in, or on (in this case with a wonderful rooftop tent).
Ours was a Jeep Wrangler, an off road machine, outfitted with everything you could ever need on your adventure. Our accommodation was a spacious and easy to set up rooftop tent, complete with an extending ladder to climb on in. The tent comes with a comfortable mattress inside, and Hastings can include sleeping bags as well.
Included in your rental is a Backroads Mapbook for your region of choice, with the most detailed maps, that include all the dirt roads and a host of exciting hikes and adventures.
In the back was a custom-made element, with storage drawers, a big cooler to keep your beers cold (or food) and all the kitchen supplies (there's even a camp recipe book!). The Jeep came with an amazing Jetboil burner system for cooking, that I was very excited about.
The next picture shows our Jeep, fully set up, at a wonderful spot next to Sproat Lake. We had to tackle some dirt roads to get here, which, in itself, is a ton of fun with these rides, and were rewarded with this gem. There wasn't another soul in sight.
Hastings Overland prides itself on being an outdoors adventure company first and a rental company second, meaning that they can and will set you up with awesome trip plans, customized to your wants and needs, complete with all kinds of activities and adventures!
This is what our route looked like:
The idea of the trip was to loosely follow the Pacific Marine Circle, but to add an overlanding twist to it. I'll give it away here: It was awesome. This experience is a Destination Canada Signature Experience, by the way, so don't take my word for it!
We started the first day by picking up our vehicle, bright and early, in Vancouver, and meeting both Cory and Maxwell, who were so excited to get us on the road! Seriously, they thought about everything and were super accommodating about any questions or requests we had. Both of them live and breathe customer service.
We then set the GPS to lead us to the Tsawassen ferry terminal, and hopped on the ferry to Victoria.
After loading up the Jeep with snacks and beer, we spent a couple of hours sightseeing around town. Victoria, BC's capital, is a quaint little city, with a British colonial past that is still apparent in its Victorian architecture.
There are plenty of things to do and see here, but a city-trip is not what we came to Vancouver Island for, so we continued Westward towards our camp for the night.
The drive West is increasingly beautiful, as it slowly takes you through the suburbs of Victoria, through charming little towns until you reach the wilderness.
Our first campsite was French Beach, where we arrived late in the evening, and departed early in the morning, but here's a few snaps:
We were on the road bright and early, with the hopes of catching a nice sunrise and making the most out of our day!
After a few stops here and there for photos and videos, our first official stop of the day was Sombrio Beach. I'll let the pictures do the talking:
Best part about this beach? Well, there's two things, really; first, you can set up your tent and camp on it, and second, it has this beautiful, lush green canyon with a waterfall at the end!
We walked around, explored the canyon, took more photos and more videos, and then continued on our way to Port Renfrew.
Port Renfrew is the home of the Pacheedaht First Nation, meaning "People of the Sea Foam". It has a rich history in forestry and fishing, and, interestingly, the waters off its coast were once known as the 'graveyard of the Pacific', due to the occurrence of 137 major shipping tragedies between 1830 and 1925.
Today Port Renfrew, and its surroundings, is known for its big trees. Some of North Americas largest trees can be found here, and the rainforests are some of the last remaining old growth Pacific temperate rainforests.
In Port Renfrew we got our first 'off-road' experience, by driving up the Gordon River Forest Service Road to check out Avatar Grove and Big Lonely Doug.
First up was Avatar Grove, divided by the forest service road into an upper and lower grove.
Avatar grove, protected since 2012, is a small stand of huge cedars an firs. Trails were constructed that allow you to walk through this magical forest and experience its grandeur.
After a walk in the forest we headed further up the road and eventually turned right on a pretty rough road (piece of cake for the Jeep) that led us to Big Lonely Doug.
Big Lonely Doug is a 70m (over 23 stories) tall Douglas fir, standing alone in a clear cut valley. This gives you a very unique perspective on its size, unobstructed.
It is one of the few old growth Douglas firs left standing in coastal BC. (99% have been logged)
As we were approaching the evening, we made it back to Port Renfrew, made dinner and set up camp at the Pacheedaht Campground, right on the beach.
Some other worthwhile places to see and things to do around here are:
Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park - An incredible, remote park, protecting one of the largest old growth rainforests left in Canada. Some trees are over 1000 years old. This park can only be reached over rough backroads, so it would be a perfect overland adventure.
The West Coast Trail - a 75km backpacking trail (originally built in 1907 to facilitate rescuing survivors of the 'graveyard of the Pacific')
The Juan De Fuca Trail - a 47km backpacking trail
Fishing; some of the best salmon and halibut fishing in North America
On day 3 we really got a good taste of what overlanding is all about, lots of dirt roads, and our own free campsite next to a gorgeous lake, accessed by, you guessed it, more dirt roads.
We started our day early, and packed up camp before sunrise, in the hopes of catching some morning glory on the Pacific Marine Highway, what a gorgeous stretch of road this is! It's a winding, paved road, that takes you from Port Renfrew, inland, to Cowichan Lake.
The sun never broke trough the clouds, but it might have been even prettier that way. Magical fog drifting over the road and between the trees, as it only does in the Pacific North West, made for a gorgeous, ethereal morning.
After a quick grocery run in Lake Cowichan, we set out towards Port Alberni, but not on the regular roads; time to tackle a 100km stretch of gravel and dirt!
It rained a lot, but, even then, the drive was gorgeous.
We reached Port Alberni, and after a quick bite at the old school J&L drive-in, set out to our camp spot, on the shores of Sproat Lake. It was a gorgeous, little secret spot that the guys from Hastings told us about (they'll always recommend secluded, wild camping spots as part of their customized itineraries). It rained all night, luckily the rooftop tent kept us dry.
On to famous Tofino!
It's quite the pretty drive as Highway 4 takes you from Port Alberni through the mountainous Vancouver Island interior, back towards the West Coast. As you're approaching Tofino you'll drive past the giant Kennedy Lake (not the ocean yet!), a stretch of the drive that is especially scenic.
Soon after, you'll reach a T-section. To the left the road ends in Ucluelet, to the right you can go as far as Tofino. Both are laid back little West Coast towns.
Tofino is famous for its surfing culture, its long sandy beaches, rich ocean life, lush temperate rainforests, beautiful inlets filled with little islands and laid back west coast lifestyle.
The day we got to Tofino was very windy and rainy, and this limited our options. One thing was sure though; we'd get Tacofino! You can't visit Tofino and not get Tacofino. It's a foodtruck, hidden away somewhere on a parking lot behind a surf shop (can't get much more Tofino than that) but the burritos and tacos are delicious! Try the crispy chicken burrito, you won't regret it.
After eating and some sightseeing around town, knowing that the rain wasn't stopping any time soon, we decided to take maximal advantage of our rugged ride and go explore some backroads, in search of good views and potential campsites.
We definitely got our fair share of beautiful driving that day!
Today we actually got a break from the rain!
We took advantage of the sun and headed to Cox Beach in Tofino, and hiked up the Cox Bay lookout, on a clear day you can see for miles. You'll see the mountains of the interior, rain forests as far as you can see, gorgeous sandy beaches and a ton of little islands.
Afterwards, we set out to find ourselves our last camp spot of the trip. I'd been scouring over the backroads mapbooks and Google Earth to find a cool spot near Tofino, before the trip, and wanted to see if the spot I had in mind worked out. And oh, boy, did it ever! Again, I'll let the pictures do the talking:
This spot was the highlight of the trip, it was so gorgeous, and it was a true overlanding experience, found after scouring over maps and exploring backroads, and we had it all to ourselves. No cell service, no camping fees, no people.
Ask Cory and Maxwell about this spot and they can point you in the right direction!
This is where our trip came to an end. Sadly. We drove back to Nanaimo and hopped on a ferry back to Vancouver. Time to reflect on what we'd seen.
On the way to Nanaimo we made one more stop: Cathedral Grove, a rare remaining stand of giant, old growth Douglas Fir.
And that was that!
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