The Puntledge River is about 4 kilometres long, so it’s pretty small as rivers go, but for a river so small it sure has a lot of impact. For starters, it is the conduit for the Courtenay water supply, which mostly originates from Comox Lake. Cumberland has its own water supply, but, ironically, Comox Lake is more or less in Cumberland. Confused yet? Don’t be. It doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this post. Anyway, the river starts at a man made dam at Comox Lake, and ends right downtown in Courtenay before it spills into the Georgia Strait. There are a lot of nature and biking trails on both sides.
We have spent a lot of time at the Puntledge River since we got to Cumberland, because it is the motherlode of magical swimming holes. The first one we discovered was Nymph Falls, but one day we were trying to get to Nymph Falls via the backroads and on the way discovered Stotan Falls, which is closer to our house and has easier access for a quick dip. Both Nymph and Stotan Falls are a mix of natural falls and man-made fish ladders, and the river is very shallow and rapid except where there are big holes where you can swim, relax, or get the falls to massage your back. It’s nature’s jacuzzi! Stotan Falls also has a spot you can jump off the top of the falls into the water, and if you swim under there is a swim hole behind the water curtain. I haven’t jumped because you have to swim across a strong current to get there, and I keep wearing my glasses swimming so I can’t put my head in the water. Step did, though, and also jumped into the river at Barber’s Hole, where the river turns a corner and so it’s slow and deep. The water is warm, too, because of the dam most of the river is only a couple of inches deep.
Last week the salmon started spawning up the river. We have heard you can float on an inner tube from the fish hatchery to downtown Courtenay, and Cathy arranged a bunch of inner tubes so we could try it. We started halfway down, in Puntledge Park and it was good we did because what we thought would be a 20 minute float turned out to take 2 and a half hours. What a beautiful 2 and a half hours it was. Fish were jumping and the Turkey Buzzards circled high, waiting for the dead ones. In some spots the river is so shallow your tube gets stuck on the rocks and you have to stand up and walk to where it is deeper. Once I got stuck and there was a salmon trapped beneath me, slapping my ass in a confused attempt to escape. No one got hurt, except perhaps for the salmon’s dignity, and we went our separate ways.
There are lots of people doing various things along the river, and some people pack picnics or take 6 packs for their tube floats. I didn’t even take a camera which turned out to be good because near the end I was fooling around and fell out of my tube into the river. The water at the end of the route was too deep for me to get back into the tube so I had to swim the last 2 or 3 blocks to Lewis Park in Courtenay, where the current slows and ends.
We have heard there are more fabulous swim holes along this river, but their exploration may have to wait until another summer, because soon the dam will be opened and the river will be unsafe to swim in, and besides, it’s really starting to stink from all the dead fish.