Only one route traverses north to south on Vancouver Island, so from our northernmost stop at Telegraph Cove we drove back on Highway 19. This 120-mile journey back to Qualicum Beach was our longest drive while on the island. Cedar Grove RV Park and Campground was our basecamp for a week of excursions and outdoor fun, the main one being from the sky.
My Honeybunch agreed to be the guest writer for this story, since he’s an aviation guy 🙂
We’d watched several seaplanes (technically floatplanes, but that didn’t work for the title) landing and taking off during our last few stops. I had no doubt that we were going to take a flight while we were in this beautiful area, and I wanted to pick the one we’d most enjoy. My introduction to floatplane flying happened at Homer, Alaska several years ago, but this would be Mona Liza’s first water aviation experience.
The flights we considered while on Vancouver Island were out of Nanaimo, Tofino and Victoria, but then I learned about a unique one at Campbell River with Corilair. It was what they call their Historic Mail Flight, and we decided to give it a try. It turned out to be the most awesome flying tour we’ve ever taken!
The Discovery Islands are dotted with settlements, camps and lodges that depend on air service to bring people and freight in and out, and mail runs on scheduled and chartered flights. This tour allows folks to tag along on their varying itinerary as the pilots make service calls to working locations in the region.
Tom was our pilot and guide for the approximately 1.5 hour adventure, as we took off early one sunny morning from beautiful Tyee Spit at Campbell River. Our mission? Drop off a passenger at a nearby resort who boarded with us, and pick up another at our last stop and bring her back to Tyee Spit. We would also be delivering mail at a couple of islands along the way. Cool!
This experience didn’t even feel like a tour, but more like flying with my pilot buddies all those years ago as Tom and I chatted about aviation while we cruised over the many small islands. Besides getting his pilot’s license as a teenager, he also happens to be a certified A&P aircraft mechanic and performs turboprop engine upgrades in larger planes when he isn’t flying – very impressive!
We ended up making four take-offs and landings on this flight, including stops at Stuart Island, Surge Narrows and Cortes Island. Short flights, and we never got higher than 1,000′ – perfect for viewing the fantastic panoramas all around us:
It was very cool that Tom took us on walks at a couple of our destinations, teaching us the history of the islands and people who have lived there off-grid and still do. These folks know what roughing it is all about!
As remote as they are, these tiny islands have post offices and one of Corilair’s services is to deliver the mail to them. The office at Surge Narrows wasn’t open yet, so Tom left the mail under a jug of water so it wouldn’t blow away 🙂
Then we went on a short walk along a gravel road to the one-room school called Surge Narrows Elementary School. It taught grades 1-7, and after that students could either board in Campbell River or take correspondence courses. Parents brought kids here from other islands by boat (some up to 45 minutes away), the only mode of transportation in these isolated places.
We flew over a maze of channels, narrows and passes between rugged islands and over resorts, coves and historic settlements dotting the shores of the Discovery Islands:
Sadly, it was time to head home: