A few years ago, I began noticing a small yellow warning sign on the back window of the vehicles ahead of me. It appeared to be the silhouette of a goat perched on a roof, emitting a stream of droplets from its rear end.
I was mystified.
Then, the same image showed up on T-shirts and hats and I took note. Now I could read Coombs Old Country Market on them. I wondered, where the heck is Coombs?
A Funky Market Just off the Alberni Highway
Well, by now you probably guessed that I was new to the Island and hadn’t made my way there yet to explore the funky little shops at the market. Also unbeknownst to me was the nearby World Parrot Refuge, along with The Butterfly World Gardens.
But for the rest of us who haven’t been there, it may be time to head about 9 km (5 miles) east of Parksville and see it yourself. I threw my 2 kids in the car headed off to explore Coombs. We started snooping around at the Old Country Market first, and promptly bought some high-end gourmet condiments and a large chunk of smoked Gouda. I was excited to find some unique Indian spice mixes among the big selection of international foods. We grabbed a delectable lunch from the deli with a lovely pastry for dessert. I took a look at the wide variety of ice cream on display in the next counter, but resisted.
There’s a Shop to Please Everyone Stashed Somewhere in the Market
There is a garden shop, a surf shop and a Chinese furniture shop tucked in the market too. At first, I thought that’s all there was for shopping and it wasn’t until I went outside to see the goats atop the sod roof that I noticed a bevy of stores behind the market. The plaza was filled with marble sculptures and carved benches, where other visitors were sitting enjoying local snacks from the vendor carts and restaurants.
The stores would catch anyone’s eye from books and crafts to antiques and all different styles of fashion. My son loved exploring the the Coombs Emporium and Frontier Town. And not just because of Coombs Country Candy, and their fresh-made fudge
Experience the World Parrot Refuge and Explore the Butterfly Gardens
The fun isn’t over when you stop shopping. Chances are that there will be an animal lover in your group, perfect for visiting the World Parrot Refuge. You will find it about a km south of the market. This is truly an amazing haven for all types of birds that need help from humans: the refuge is currently home to over 800 parrots (and one pigeon). It’s a great chance to see exotic animals, and get info on how to help them have a better life once you are there.
The next stop must be Butterfly World& Gardens. The butterflies are free floating among a lush tropical habitat of plants, birds, flowers and soothing water features. My kids loved it there and so did I. It seemed like there was something different and new to see every time we walked around the same path.
There’s Always More to See: it’s Easy to Come Back Again and Again
This is where we stopped our day trip in Coombs. But the next time we go, I plan on bringing my hiking boots to explore the Hamilton Marsh, about 4 km north of Coombs, just off the Alberni Highway. The best time to go is spring and fall to see the local birds and wildlife. There is a path that will take you from parking lot to marsh with a handy viewing platform to snap a few pictures and look around through your binoculars.
From Coombs there is a host of natural activities that surround the area. Hiking, swimming and camping are very popular in nice weather. Or you can time your visit to see the Coombs Bluegrass Festival, at the beginning of August.
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