The Lonely Planet’s authors and editors recently named 2014’s top ten most extraordinary hotels and hostels around the world – and the amazing hanging tree houses in the rainforests of Vancouver Island made the list at #6! Of course we had to go.
Waiting to depart on BC Ferries from beautiful Horseshoe Bay, in West Vancouver, we took some time to scout a few other adventurous locations on the island that we thought we could squeeze in on a weekend getaway.
With a list of several exciting options in mind, it was time to say goodbye to Vancouver and head off into the wild blue yonder for our relaxing ocean voyage across the Georgia Strait.
First up, once we docked in Nanaimo, was the Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park. Cathedral Grove is a rare and endangered remnant of a Douglas fir old-growth ecosystem. The biggest trees in the Grove are about 800 years old and measure 75 metres (250 feet) in height and 9 metres (29 feet) in circumference. The size of the remnants of this old-growth forest are quite literally mind-blowing. What must this forest have looked like hundreds of years ago?
A few hundred years ago a fire destroyed all but a few massive trees in this forest. Protected from the heat by their thick, corky bark, these surviving Douglas firs provided seeds that have grown into the present Grove. And in turn, the residents that fall in high winds, or topple for other reasons, nourish the next generation of seedlings.
These old growth trees need our love, and you can contribute to the health of the park by “feeding” the donation tree next to the main trail with a bit of cash. Funds are used for trail improvement and revegetation projects within the Grove.
Leaving behind the sight and scents of the old growth forest, we headed onward towards our hotel in the forest canopy, the Free Spirit Tree Spheres. With the sun fading fast, we knew we should head directly there, but the chance to hike through the snow to see Little Qualicum Falls was irresistible. Quick! A detour down the icy roads to the left!
The Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park was completely empty this evening. The sun dropped behind the mountains and all that we could hear was the rush of the water and squeak of our boots in the snow.
We explored the trails, took far too many pictures of the black icy waters of the falls, and had a quick snowball fight. Then chilled, and ready to snuggle into our tree-top bed, we finished the last leg of our journey under the welcoming lights of the Free Spirit Tree Spheres’ main lodge; with the perfect crescent moon peeking out above the roof. It was magical.
Tom and his partner welcomed us to the Spheres, provided us with much needed headlamps, and led us through the woods to our chosen Sphere for the night, ‘Melody’. We crossed the drawbridge to our home in the trees and sealed the door behind us. Swaying gently in the tree tops, warm and cozy in the heated tree house, we had our best sleep in weeks.
In the morning, we rose to see the impeccable craftsmanship of our spherical treehouse in the full light of day. Tom was kind enough to spend time answering all our questions and we were extraordinarily impressed with the work he has done.
To learn more about how the spheres are built, raised, and the bio-mimicry of their rigging, visit the Free Spirit Tree Spheres’ website.
We had chosen ‘Melody’ out of the three available spheres, as she had the largest bed, and thought she was just perfect. The bed ingeniously tucked into the curved walls and the bottom folded out to form a table in the centre. Comfortable upholstered benches curved under the porthole windows on either side allowing us each to enjoy the view. For breakfast, we broke into the glorious hoard of snacks we had been provided when we checked in and also made ourselves a couple of mimosas.
Later we boiled the kettle and made a tasty Baileys & coffee in the mini kitchen of our treehouse home and headed out to enjoy the morning view across the frozen lake.
After warming up in the sunlight outside our sphere, we reviewed the day’s adventure plan. We had decided to head slightly up island to see Fanny Bay, where the world famous ‘Fanny Bay’ oysters come from, and then brave the spelunking treasures of the Horne Lake Caves.
Sunshine sparkles on the East Coast of Vancouver Island, and the smooth as glass waters outside of Fanny Bay offered the perfect view while we picnicked for ‘second breakfast’ with our thermos of hot chocolate.
Further along our island journey, we were treated to a flock of swans feeding as they migrated South.
And the light of the rising sun peaking through an old barn window. These are the moments worth stopping for.
The road to the Horne Lake Caves was also a treat. Moss covered trees formed a tunnel for the car, perhaps foreshadowing of a sort?
Upon arrival at the Horne Lake Caves, we were pleased to discover that they offer guided tours of varying lengths and also permit self-guided exploration throughout the year. The self-guided option includes a nice circle hike with access to a number of caves. Never ones to turn down a hike, we headed off sans guide.
No matter the temperature outside, the caves maintain a comfortable 8°C (46°F) all year round. Some of the entrances are a little smaller than others – one is literally a person-size hole in the ground at your feet – but the largest is quite impressive.
Our headlamps from the tree house hotel proved rather useful here (the Horne Lake Cave centre also provides lights). We climbed and squeezed through caves of all sorts; used our iPhone spotlights to examine sparkling mineral deposits and to scare the occasional creature; and had the most fantastic of afternoons UNDER Vancouver Island.
Later that night, we curled up in our spherical treehouse, giggled about our adventures and were reminded yet again what a truly beautiful province British Columbia is. We can’t wait to explore more of it.
Vancouver Island, BC