What an abundance!

Berries, plums, tomatoes, and lettuces coming up from the earth. Crabs, spot prawns, halibut, lingcod, and salmon fished from the waters. The fields are so full of juicy hay, alfalfa and grass that the dairies have a profusion of milk to experiment with many different cheeses (don’t get me started on the ice cream). And the grass grows so fast that a local market put goats on their sod roof to keep it under control.

Yup, goats on a roof. But we’ll get to that.

Southern British Columbia (Canada’s bottom left hand corner) is the warmest part of the country. Everything grows here, so much so that one of the area’s biggest businesses is gardening services. The growing season is long and the winters rarely freeze. Orchards, vineyards, hay fields, market gardens and the incredible seafood right off the coast mean that some of Canada’s best eating is in BC, especially on Vancouver Island.

It’s such a treat to have so much edible nature at my fingertips, and it’s a treat to see the forests and seashores right next door to each other.

I visited the eastern part of Vancouver Island during a warm week in July and was surprised with the plenitude of, well, everything. We took the ferry over from Horseshoe Bay near West Vancouver – a pretty ride through the Salish Sea (Georgia Strait) over to Nanaimo. My only regret is that we saw neither dolphin or whale on either trip. We drove north and based ourselves just outside of Qualicum, looking over the Salish Sea towards Texada Island and beyond to the mainland’s Sunshine Coast.

There’s a surprising amount to see and do – not to mention eat – here, and of course nature is a highlight.

My Better Half - a crowd fave at Parksville's sandcastle contest

The sandcastle contest in Parksville was mind-blowing; I had no idea you could create such works of art with just sand and water. I loved watching kids and grown-ups alike play on Parksville’s wide low-tide beach. Qualicum’s beach is long and perfect for strolling, while keeping an eye out for the occasional cruise ship heading to Alaska (Ponant’s ships are the prettiest, in my opinion). Cathedral Grove, in MacMillan Provincial Park, has immense western red cedars. I learned all about nurse logs, massive wind storms and posed for photos inside a giant hollowed out tree trunk. And even though I’m not much of a shopper, I happily admired the paintings and sculptures of the island’s natural world in Qualicum’s galleries and the kitschy folk art in the shops (Ian Howie’s whale fin sculptures caught my eye in particular).

Young nurse logs at Cathedral Grove

Parksville's beach is huge at low tide. Photo by Johanna Read www.TravelEater.net

But food is always my focus. The tiny town of Coombs – and its goats – was the centre of my foodie findings.

At Coombs Country Market I found a great many shops catering to the local population of both summer and permanent residents and ideally suiting the summer tourist heading across Vancouver Island to the surf town of Tofino.

Fresh crab pasta at Cuckoo in Coombs

In this area is Cuckoo in Coombs, an Italian trattoria where we feasted on seafood linguine with crab caught just that morning. Just below the patio was a field with, you guessed it, goats enjoying their dinner too. But what about this roof business, you ask? Hold on ….

Also in the Coombs Country Market complex are a surf shop (offering a wide product range rare for any shop in the world), garden store, fruit and veg grocer, knick-knack boutique, taco stand, ice cream shop, and, my favourite, a world market. The market has the perfect mix of quality chocolates, sauces, oils and vinegars, plus sections with key and difficult to find ingredients for every major world cuisine. There’s a bakery and café, and even a section featuring art supplies and old-fashioned toys, just what you’d want to entertain your kids on a rainy day at the shore.

 Don't worry, a goat won't fall into your latte, Coombs Country Market

And yes, there are goats, goats on a roof. These goats are one of the province’s top tourist destinations, attracting over a million visitors each year. The roof of the market is sod (created by the original owners, immigrants from Lillehammer, Norway). Several goats wander across it all summer long, happily keeping the grass to a reasonable length and entertaining passersby while they dine. Luckily goats are sure-footed so there’s no chance of one falling into your latte.

 Goat on a roof, Coombs Country Market.

The Qualicum Beach area is the centre of Vancouver Island’s abundance of nature. It has pretty much everything you could imagine wanting in a holiday beach town, and some goats on a roof that I bet you didn’t.

 

 

Canadian writer & photographer specialising in travel, food & responsible tourism

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