Talking Travel Destination Canada Hans Tammemagi Oceanside Vancouver Island

The sphere, Eryn


Caves, Spheres and Forest:
The Non-ocean Side of Vancouver Island's Oceanside

by Hans Tammemagi

I awoke, surprised to find myself inside a large sphere hanging from a tall spruce tree like a giant Christmas-tree ornament. Then it came back. The previous day the creator of the sphere, Tom Chudleigh, had escorted us deep into the forest, up a wooden stairway that spiralled up a spruce tree and across a suspended walkway into a womb-like globe named Eryn. “A sphere is a perfect shape,” he explained. “It represents wholeness and offers spiritual wellness.”

Inside we found a snug, beautifully crafted living space with a double bed, table and kitchenette, all compact and finished with teak and mahogany like a sailboat. Large portals looked onto the forest and its wildlife inhabitants. Whether it was the calming spiritual flow or the blissful floating sensation, I enjoyed a wonderful, deep sleep.


Turtles sun tanning at
the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre

Triple Falls

Our yurt for the night

At the entrance to Riverbend Cave

The fourth largest Sitka spruce in BC


My wife and I were visiting Oceanside. The area around Parksville and Qualicum on the east coast of Vancouver Island has a well-earned reputation for its miles of sandy beaches, enchanting coves and islets, and abundant marine life. But as we discovered, Oceanside has another (non-ocean) side, namely, lush forests and rugged hills where nary a drop of salt water is to be found. Furthermore, it has the most intriguing places to spend the night.

Our first stop was at Horne Lake Caves. Like miners, we donned hard hats with lamps and, escorted by a guide, we hiked to the mouth of Riverbend Cave. Deep in a shadowy, moss-encrusted slash in the side of a hill, the cave looked as if it were inhabited by trolls. We clambered down a ladder into a deep darkness pierced only by slivers of light from our lamps. Once our eyes adjusted, the guide pointed out some of the unusual formations that the dripping calcite solution has created over centuries. Delicate soda straws, bacon strips, stalagmites and stalactites surrounded us and covered the walls and ceilings.

It was a completely irregular space, sometimes we had to climb down, sometimes up. The cave narrowed, and then widened. I felt like a corpuscle moving through the meandering artery of an enormous stone giant. The cave floor was a tumble of rounded “cobble” rock fragments; the latter are the handiwork of water that rushes through the limestone cave during spring melts. In one particular cranny sat a rotund Buddha-like shape by a pool of water; its upside-down reflection gazing benevolently at us.

Further along our headlamps illuminated an area coloured with a brownish tinge. “That’s mud that has seeped down from an overlying clear cut forest,” explained our guide. It astonished us that even this remote, pristine place could not escape the heavy hand of humanity. At the deepest point we turned off our lamps and sat in absolute blackness without speaking. The only sound was the drip, drip, drip of water. For a minute we did not speak; the only sound was the drip-drip-drip of water.

After what seemed an eternity, but was actually only a few minutes, we switched on our lights and clambered upward again. We soon emerged, blinking, into a bright day. It was an awesome experience, enlightening and exhilarating. It also conjured up dark powers, a sense of entombment, and mystical moments.

As evening approached, my wife and I became increasingly apprehensive for we had arranged to spend the night in another unusual place, a yurt. This large circular tent is used by nomadic herdsmen in Mongolia. Our concerns, however, were quickly allayed for our yurt was spacious, set on a lovely hardwood floor, comfortably furnished, and there was nary a goat to be shooed out. Long spruce poles radiated from a round skylight through which from our bed we could see tall pines and firs swaying high above us. We were soon lulled into a deep soothing sleep.

After breakfast we departed for a hiking tour in Englishman River Regional Park following a trail that meandered alongside the river trail through a Coastal Douglas Fir habitat. Our guide cut us pieces of licorice fern root to taste, pointed out hanging bunches of white Salal berries and explained how the presence of the Caddisfly is a good indicator of a river’s health. “Sadly,” he explained, “the Englishman River is one of the most endangered in all of British Columbia with an alarming decline in Steelhead and Coho.” We stood in a shady inlet where flues and dams have been constructed to restore the salmon spawning grounds. Overhead, the stacatto sounds of a pileated woodpecker reverberated through the trees.

With a cloudless sky and bright sun overhead, we sought out welcoming cool shade whenever possible. We rested beside Triple Falls, a set of pretty cascades that tumble over layered rock strata and form calm dark pools in which the falls and surrounding trees are mirrored. We sipped drinks and munched trail mix beside the gurgling water as high overhead the trees swayed and sighed in the gentle breeze.

Our guide led us down a steep slope until we stopped beneath a breathtaking lord of the forest whose gnarled trunk seem to soar forever into the blue sky. “This is the fourth largest Sitka Spruce in the province,” said the guide. “The BC Register of Big Trees lists it as 69 metres high and 6.43 metres in circumference.” We felt humbled in the shade of this giant whose limbs have sheltered birds and wildlife for over three centuries.

At our next stop we peered into the longest raptor flight cage in North America (40 metres/130 feet) and watched in awe as three eagles spread their enormous wings and cruised effortlessly from one end to the other. We were at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, an eight-acre hospital and rehabilitation compound for injured wildlife. As Assistant Manager Wes Klassen explained, “Six veterinarians and hundreds of volunteers help us provide medical attention to about 1000 animals and birds here each year. We have countless heartwarming stories.” As he spoke, Knut, a huge black bear that had been abandoned by his mother several years ago, ambled up and licked Klassen’s hand through the wire-mesh fencing. Wandering from building to building we saw numerous hawks and owls elegantly perched, including one whose beak, which had been shot off, was now replaced by a prosthetic. At a pond, fuzzy little ducklings floated in small armadas and turtles sunned themselves while stacked like dominos on a log.

Although not quite up to the challenge, we learned that Oceanside is also a mountain-biking Mecca. The Top Bridge Mountain Bike Park has lots of free ride, a dual slalom course, 40 acres of trails, and a huge sandpit to play in. Hammerfest Race Course near Englishman River Provincial Park features multiple crosscountry routes, wild downhills and has a BC Cup race course.

We promised ourselves to return to Oceanside. And next time we will explore the ocean side of Oceanside; we also love building sand castles and just lazing in the sun. And we can always use a good sleep.


If You Go

Plan your visit at the Oceanside website.
Go deep in the Horne Lake Caves.
Take a hike in nature with Coastal Revelations Nature & Heritage Tours:
To see animals, animals, and more animals visit the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre.
Find some “inner peace” by hanging out in a Free Spirit Sphere.
Stay in a yurt like a Mongolian nomad at Riverbend Resort.
For gourmet dining, book a table at The Landing West Coast Grill at Pacific Shores Resort.
To go mountain biking, visit the Oceanside Activities webpage.