By ANIKA VAN WYK -- Calgary Sun
Spalunking is a perfectly balanced getaway.
Relaxing in the Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort in Parksville, B.C. is the yin, to the yang of spelunking at the Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park.
Rest is so much sweeter after adventure.
Tigh-Na-Mara is one of the best spas in Western Canada. The resort offers 192 log units ranging from ocean-view suites to the luxurious spa bungalows, complete with a spa tub, kitchenette and fireplace. Tigh-Na-Mara is just a hour drive from the Comox airport where WestJet flies direct from Calgary.
We decided to supplement our Guilty Pleasures for Desperate Housewives Tigh-Na-Mara special -- which includes a martini, dessert and manicure; starts at $149 based on quadruple occupancy -- with a caving tour at Horne Lake Caves.
After shuttling us from the airport and checking into our spa bungalow, Tigh-Na-Mara drove us to the provincial park for the three-hour Wet & Wild Cave Adventure, ($49 adults).
Kiwi Ben Nicholson was our guide and after outfitting us with helmets and headlamps, and leading us up a trail for 20-minutes, he unlocked the entrance to the Riverbend Cave. While the other two smaller caves are open to the public, this 384-metre-long cave is only accessible with a guide.
To enter the cave, one has to go through the small door, twist and descend a metal ladder.
Once inside, we stopped in the first room and Nicholson told us to think like Gollum from Lord of the Rings and use all four of our limbs for more stability.
It was wise advice, because much of the time, we needed to crawl, like Gollum, and since it was spring, the floor of the cave was a creek. By mid-June the cave floor should dry up.
While pointing out the bacon, popcorn and cauliflower formations on the cave walls, Nicholson led us down into the cave.
Several times during our tour I was convinced we'd hit a deadend, but our guide would point out a hole in the floor or crack in the wall to squeeze through. On the other side, the cave would continue at a comfortable size. At one point there was even a waterfall to climb.
Nicholson had a great attitude with the inexperienced cavers that was always encouraging and never condescending.
After exploring Riverbend we hiked down to check out the 136-metre Main Cave and the 40-metre Lower Main Cave.
Back at Tigh-Na-Mara our tired thighs welcomed the soak in the hot tub. And we refuelled at the top-notch Cedar Room.
We had earned our relaxation, and the next day we indulged it fully. The more than 20,000-sq.-ft Grotto Spa is designed to unwind -- unlike some spas that are more modern and clinical in design. First we swam in the therapeutic hydrotherapy pool (pictured at left). Then I tried the wonderfully all-encompassing West Coast Seaweed Experience ($175) -- using indigenous seaweed the 90-minute treatment includes a scrub, wrap, mini-facial and massage. Heaven!
Tigh-Na-Mara has recently undergone a $1.5 million third-storey expansion. The money was well spent on couple treatment suites, a driftwood furniture-filled Lavender Relaxation Lounge and the Treetop Tapas & Grill.
One can hold on to that peaceful state of mind longer by staying in your robe, which thankfully really are one-size fits all, and enjoying a fantastic meal in the Treetop.
A stroll on the beach and watching a movie by the fireplace finished the day.
Thanks to WestJet's direct flights, Calgarains can reach Tigh-Na-Mara in about the same time it would take to drive to Lake Louise.
This story was posted on Sun, May 28, 2006
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