Category Archives: Enjoy natural beauty

Vancouver Island BC

November 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker which neatly described the character of Vancouver Island BC: Relax! This ain’t the mainland. (Residents of Vancouver Island refer to the rest of BC as “the mainland”.) The relaxed lifestyle is central to our lives on the island; something visitors soon pick up.

The early European explorers in the late 18th century, the Spanish led by Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra and the British under George Vancouver seem to have fallen under its spell. Instead of fighting they amicably named it Quadra’s and Vancouver’s Island. Today its indigenous peoples, settlers and tourists happily enjoy the natural beauty and tranquillity.

Its mild climate makes the residents generally content too. Frost and snow are not common and summer temperatures reach a maximum of about 30C/85F with rainfall on the east coast much less than on the “mainland”. My wife and I are trying to grow lemons.

The 800,000 people who call Vancouver Island home live 50% in the greater Victoria area on the south-eastern tip of the island, most of the population being on the eastern side of the island while the west coast retains its rugged isolation. Access to and from the mainland is through ferry routes as well as being well served by airlines.

Saanich Inlet, Vancouver Island BC

460 km (290 miles) north–south and up to 80 km (50 miles) wide, Vancouver Island BC has a reputation for its natural beauty with diverse ecosystems – an abundance of rainforests, mountains, lakes and beaches awaiting exploration. Outdoor recreation is naturally widespread – enjoy some of the thousands of hiking trails in stunning scenery or forests, play golf year-round, take vineyard and winery tours (with souvenirs), visit gardens, make a driving tour or cycle leisurely around the backroads, try zip-lining. Marine adventures are never far way – take a fishing trip, go whale-watching or sailing, see the coast close-up on kayaks or stand-up paddleboards. Then there are museums, art galleries, cultural centres, arts and music festivals, and artisan studios. The cuisine is inspired by the freshly grown, caught or reared. Morning to night (maybe at a B&B) opportunities for activities and inactivities abound.


Saanich Peninsula

November 10, 2015 by Martin Vernon

The city of Victoria lies at the southern end of the Saanich Peninsula, a narrow 30 km (20 mile) north-south neck of land jutting out on the south eastern corner of Vancouver Island. At the north end of the Peninsula is Sidney, Victoria International Airport (YYJ) and the BC Ferries terminal. In between lies a pastoral land of rolling hills and scattered communities and attractions which should be explored on a visit to the Victoria area.

  • The Butchart Gardens is at Brentwood Bay on the west side of the Saanich Peninsula Relaxing at Beaver Lake on the Saanich Peninsula
  • Nearby is Butterfly Gardens, a tropical jungle delight
  • Stroll through the quiet the themed Gardens at HCP
  • The warm waters of Brentwood Bay are a good place for kayaking
  • Numerous provincial and regional parks for gentle strolls or tougher hikes: Gowlland Tod, Mount Work, John Dean Park, Mount Douglas
  • Or there’s the Lochside Trail down the easterly side of the peninsula, connecting with the Galloping Goose Trail
  • Walk around the freshwater lakes of Elk / Beaver Lake or Durrance Lake, a popular swimming spot
  • Stroll along coastal beaches at Cordova Bay or Patricia Bay with their driftwood and shells, or discover a quiet cove
  • Agriculture surrounds you, past and present. Even a lavender farm
  • Savour the flavours at wineries and farm stands with wines, fruit and local produce
  • Play a round of golf year-round on our many courses
  • Tackle a world-class climbing wall
  • Browse through the Sidney bookshops or the Thursday evening street market.
  • Also in Sidney: visit the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre or take a ferry trip to Sidney Spit.

… there really is something for everyone!

You’ll see some unique aspects of life here such as local distinctive trees: the Arbutus with its rust-coloured peeling trunks and the twisted branches of the Garry Oak, both growing on rocky ground. Driving around the Saanich Peninsula you become aware that Coast Salish people lived here, and still do on reserves mostly overlooking the Saanich Inlet on the west; the Tsartlip, Tsawaout, Tseycum and Pauquachin first nations. Their names can be confusing but so can others, with such municipalities as Saanich, Central Saanich and North Saanich, and the roads named Saanich Road, Central Saanich Road, East Saanich Road and West Saanich Road. But you can’t go too far wrong on this little self-contained strip of land.


Galloping Goose Trail

October 30, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Galloping Goose? An interesting image arises in the mind! However it is a reality here on southern Vancouver Island. The Galloping Goose Trail is the major link in a series of connected trails that contribute much to recreation in the Victoria area. To discover the origins of the trail and its name we need to step back in time.

In 1864, gold was discovered in the Leech River north of Sooke. Within a year over 1,000 mines were dug but the excitement rapidly died as did Leechtown. However the rail link remains, connecting the ghost town to Victoria. Disappointingly, we can not try our hand at gold-panning where Leechtown once sat since it is closed off. But we can enjoy 55 kilometres (34 miles) of a lovely open trail route where trains once ran. Between 1922 and 1931 there was a gas-powered car named, you’ve guessed it, the Galloping Goose.

This photo of distant joggers on the Galloping Goose Trail was taken near Roche Cove in East Sooke, one of our favourite stretches. The Galloping Goose Trail near Roche Cove, East SookeScenes vary along the trail but you’re rarely far from the occasional walking party such as our little group, cyclists and occasionally horseback riders. The western half is the most beautiful but its route through Victoria and westerly suburbs makes it easy for many to take some exercise and fresh air.

The route begins right downtown in Victoria, at the Johnson Street Bridge. For the first quarter of its length the trail is paved but then softer surfaces continue. The route passes by Thetis Lake (accessed at Six Mile Road) and soon the urban setting opens out to the woodlands and small farms of Metchosin. It becomes more forested towards Sooke, passing by Matheson Lake and Roche Cove at Gillespie Road (good access points) before passing close to Sooke Potholes with water views across the Sooke Basin. Towards the end, admire the engineering of the Charters Creek and Todd Creek trestle bridges.

The Galloping Goose Trail, which runs East-West, connects with the Lochside Trail, which runs North-South, in Saanich north of downtown Victoria. Its 29km (18 mile) route also follows an earlier railway track near the east coast of the Saanich Peninsula beyond Sidney to Swartz Bay (BC Ferries terminal).

These hiking trails, and others, contribute much to our life. We are most fortunate to have them on our doorstep.



Day trips from Victoria

October 10, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Consider taking day trips from Victoria when planning your visit to Vancouver Island. Your base at a Victoria bed and breakfast gives the opportunity to explore so much more than the obvious tourist attractions. Yes, you’ll need a car but the flexibility this provides will reward amply. Here is our guide to day trips from Victoria BC, from half a day to very long ones.

You’ll visit the more populated east coast or the rugged west coast or go further afield. Forests are everywhere it seems, with small communities, farms and wineries here and there. Do adjust these personally, omitting some places and allowing time to make an impulse side-trip. And take a picnic.

A. The east coast of Vancouver Island

The #1 highway is our main route (starting along Douglas Street in downtown Victoria). After about 15 minutes you reach Goldstream Park, a local favourite. Walking through the old growth forest with its primeval atmosphere you may encounter waterfalls or even an abandoned gold mine. The stream is renowned for the annual salmon spawning run in November and December. Beyond it a flood plain opens up with an eagle viewing platform.

The highway goes north and rises along the Malahat Drive with scenic viewpoints towards the Saanich Peninsula. After a descent you enter the wine country of Vancouver Island in the Cobble Hill and Cowichan Valley areas. Stop for samples and liquid souvenirs. An easterly detour can take you to the community of Cowichan Bay or a westerly one to the impressive timber Kinsol Trestle bridge beyond Shawnigan Lake.

Duncan is the main town on the route, known for its totem poles in the downtown area. The Quw’utsun’ Cultural Centre will give insights into the aboriginal life that is strong in this area. Just north of the town is the BC Forest Discovery Centre, a fascinating place for young and old alike. Take the train around its grounds and explore forestry artefacts.

Forestry brought the little town of Chemainus into existence and as the industry declined so did the town until it rediscovered itself as “The little town that did” largely through over 35 murals illustrating local history. Many of us in Victoria make a summer visit to the Chemainus Theatre Festival.

Day trips from Victoria - Chemainus murals

B. Tour A combined with Salt Spring Island

A full day circular tour takes in highlights of the east coast of Vancouver Island with a ferry ride to Salt Spring Island, then a ferry ride to Swartz Bay at the northern end of the Saanich Peninsular. This is described on this round trip from Victoria.

C. Salt Spring Island

The largest of the Canadian Gulf Island is a great setting for relaxed exploration. Here are some ideas for your visit to Salt Spring Island, perhaps on a Saturday to wander through the Ganges market.

D. The west coast of Vancouver Island

Start on Highway #1 but exit for Sooke after about 10-15 minutes. After an uninspiring drive through shopping centres and suburbs the road (Highway #14) suddenly opens up to natural beauty. This beauty is best seen at the various parks, mostly coastal, in the Metchosin and Sooke areas. Here’s a guide to exploring Sooke parks showing many places for gentle walks or stiff hikes. Continue past Sooke for about 20 minutes to French Beach and stroll along the beach-side path.

E. Do you like to drive long distances?

Two tours could be made by those who enjoy the long haul.

Firstly, Vancouver Island top to bottom, or, to be more precise, from bottom to top and back again (my school geography teacher said there is no top to a map but you know what I mean). I’m not sure why anyone would want to do this but our Saskatchewan friend Lawrence enjoyed doing so, 500km each way, Victoria to Port Hardy.

Secondly, visit the Canadian Rocky Mountains from Victoria (no need to live out of a suitcase staying at B&B after B&B). Ask your hosts if you can have a packed breakfast, make an early start and you could be in Hope in the mountains by coffee time. Take Highway #17 when reaching the mainland and drive through the farming lands of Delta and the Fraser Valley.



Victoria kayaking

September 10, 2015 by Martin Vernon

The coastline of southern Vancouver Island stands out as one of its most remarkable features, ie one that is most remarked upon. Wrapping itself around Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula it is both beautiful and restful, a long length of inspiration and recreation. The frustration is one of access since heavily wooded areas or stretches of houses intervene. There are occasional beach access points so that you can stroll along the rugged coast for varying distances but the best way to enjoy it must be from the vantage point of the sea itself.

This is borne out by views from the ferries as you pass through the Gulf Islands – but wouldn’t you like to get close to explore its coves and beaches? Victoria kayaking - kayak rentals and toursThe answer is to rent a kayak for a few hours. Numerous Victoria kayaking companies, scattered around the area, offer kayak rentals and tours, with or without a guide. Some have canoes too or paddle boards.Try near downtown at Fisherman’s Wharf (Kelp Reef), the Gorge (Victoria Kayak or Ocean River) or Esquimalt (Victoria Waterfront Tours), Oak Bay (Blackfish), Sidney (A Paddle in the Park) or Sooke (Rush Adventures). For me, kayaking in Victoria is all about exploring the tranquil areas of natural beauty so my favourite place is Brentwood Bay (I happen to appreciate the calm, warmer waters too) – Pacifica Paddle Sports operate here as well as at Canoe Cove.

Renting a kayak for a couple of hours gives new close-up insights into our coastline. Two weeks ago I had a delightful family morning, kayaking in Brentwood Bay with my daughter and her boyfriend. It was sooo relaxing. My daughter was a little apprehensive at first but the sheer pleasure took over as we paddled around interesting moored boats, went up to the dock at The Butchart Gardens, then followed the shore of Tod Inlet to the old jetty with its birdhouses and nature centre. Wildlife was evident above and below as we passed slowly by the tree-lined shores. Although a few muscles were not rested, our minds were totally tranquil. Bliss!



Exploring parks near Sooke

March 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Last summer, some friends from the UK visited us briefly in Victoria. They like gentle hiking and wanted to get a sense of the natural beauty here on southern Vancouver Island so we spent an enjoyable day exploring parks near Sooke.

Sooke is just a 45 minute drive west from downtown Victoria. Once the suburbs are left behind it’s a pretty drive through pastoral Metchosin towards Sooke. We took Highway 14 but there is a more delightful semi-coastal route along Metchosin Road and Rocky Point Road. Either way, the first stop is to wander along the spit at the Esquimalt Lagoon Bird Sanctuary by Fisgard Lighthouse.

Going along Hwy 14 you’ll pass the 17 Mile House pub (yes, 17 miles from downtown Victoria) Roche Cove, East Sooke, Vancouver Islandand very soon afterwards you turn left at gps 48.393493, -123.629089 onto Gillespie Road, signposted for East Sooke. After a short drive you’ll see the road becomes a bridge over Roche Cove (photo on right) with a parking area before it (gps 48.372687, -123.632694) where there’s as flat a walk as you could hope for: a disused railway track! The 55km / 34 mile long Galloping Goose trail runs from Victoria to beyond Sooke, the route of a railway line built over 100 years ago. Enjoy a peaceful walk along it for a while following Roche Cove before heading back to your car.

Next stop is East Sooke Provincial Park – continue along Gillespie Road into the East Sooke peninsula until you reach a T junction at East Sooke Road where you go left until you turn right on Becher Bay Road at gps 48.340081, -123.631685. The road ends in the lands and orchards of former Aylands Farm, where old meadows combine with natural West coast beauty.  You can select several paths from the park map – our favourite is a coastal one with pleasing views to the Olympic Mountains but it is a bit rugged at times though without climbs.

The last place on our wandering tour is Sooke Potholes (photo below), a ravine of deep potholes in the river bed created during the Ice Age. Return to Hwy 14 and turn left (west) towards the little town of Sooke. Just after you pass Edward Milne Community School take a right turn at Sooke River Road. You will reach several parking areas to access the river and these deep sinkholes which are a popular, though cold, swimming spot in fast-running water. You’ll also see a folly, a partly built stone lodge overlooking the Sooke River. Then either drive west into Sooke or head back to Victoria.

Exploring parks near Sooke - Sooke Potholes

Victoria Christmas Bird Count

December 10, 2014 by Martin Vernon

A year ago this blog had comprehensive information about Christmas and holiday events in Victoria so there’s no need to re-write this if you are visiting Victoria in December. So I was wondering, as blog writers do occasionally, what shall I write about? – when lots of fluttering outside caught my attention. There seems to be much activity amongst the birds so I made a general search online and discovered an intriguing website with local information of which I was unaware.

In Victoria we are all familiar with the Flower Count every February but I’d never heard of the Victoria Christmas Bird Count.Bufflehead - Victoria Christmas bird count For over 100 years enthusiasts in over 2,000 communities on the continent have counted birds on an allocated pre-Christmas day. This all began in 1900 when a group of ornithologists presented the option of counting birds rather than shooting them on Christmas Day. Victoria is divided into 23 areas for the count on 20th December – you need have no expertise to come along and lend a hand. I’m impressed by the 200 or so birds identified, some with intriguing names. Typically, about 75,000 birds from about 140 species are counted in the Victoria area.

I recognised one for an unusual reason after being told about its migration pattern by a neighbour. The Bufflehead has been called the world’s most punctual duck, returning from the Arctic to winter in Shoal Harbour, just north of Sidney BC, on the 298th day of each year, 15th October. They are even featured on the coat of arms of the town of Sidney.

The Victoria Christmas Bird Count will add further interest to the other many events we can enjoy in the busy December weeks.



Salmon Run at Goldstream Park

October 30, 2014 by Martin Vernon

One suspects that every single person who has grown up in Victoria has been to see the salmon run at Goldstream Park on a school trip. It’s a trip that’s considered a necessary part of understanding the world in which we live. And we rejoice in it. If you are here on southern Vancouver Island in November you’ll find it to be an experience you’ll long remember.

To be precise, you won’t just see the salmon, you’ll smell them. But let’s come to that in a moment. This trip is really two-in-one: a) Goldstream Park is great to visit anytime, and b) seeing spawning salmon is a unique experience.

Goldstream Park

Goldstream Park is about 15 minutes west of Goldstream ParkVictoria on Hwy #1. You suddenly find yourself out of the modern world in a setting that sometimes seems almost primeval among trees up to 600 years old. Winding through the park is a narrow river which leads to a flood plan and the sea. There is a network of trails of all types – the trail parallel to the river is wide and flat. An interpretative centre overlooks the plain with an eagle viewing spot; you can be sure the eagles, including bald eagles, will be around when the salmon come up the river to spawn. Here we have our own Niagara Falls which is almost as high as the other one.

Salmon Run

The salmon run is a natural annual phenomenon from late October to esrly December when chum salmon fight their way upstream to spawn their eggs in nests in the gravel, battling the current and their dying bodies. They are generally in pairs so that the male can guard the female as she creates the gravel trench in which she will spawn her eggs before the male fertilises them.

The sight brings mixed feelings as death leads to life. The smell of death pervades!

If you can not drive to see the salmon run at Goldstream Park you’ll appreciate the transportation tour arranged by Tourism Victoria on Saturdays and Sundays in November with a three hour interpretive tour at Goldstream Park.

A day trip from Victoria

September 20, 2014 by Martin Vernon

When visiting southern Vancouver Island you’ll soon discover that there’s much to see and do but sometimes it’s good to get away on a day trip from Victoria. So let’s hop on a short ferry ride Salt Spring Island vineyardto spend a relaxing day on delightful Salt Spring Island.

The trip begins at the BC Ferries terminal at Swartz Bay on the northern end of the Saanich Peninsula, 40 minutes from downtown Victoria (yes, you’ll need a car today). The 35 minute crossing to Fulford Harbour slows you down in preparation for the charm which awaits. On arrival you soon discover this, passing farmsteads, pretty churches and the rolling, ever-rolling, picturesque countryside.

But let’s step back a moment to consider the historical context of our trip. Salt Spring Island is Coast Salish territory (one reserve remains) on which white settlement began in 1859. Named after the salt springs found there, with the main village of Ganges named after a battleship which carried out land surveys prior to the settlement. It is the largest of the southern Gulf Island with a population of 10,000+.

Salt Spring Island rightly has a reputation for a relaxed lifestyle in a pastoral setting. It has attracted interesting people, something of a hippy haven, who have settled on the 200+ farmsteads or in quirky cabins – painters, jewellery designers, potters, basket weavers, woodworkers, glass makers and the like. Discovering these is well organised with a studio tour and markets. We took the short drive to Ganges for the Saturday market and were so impressed. About 140 artisans were proudly presenting their wares which were of a consistent high quality. Note: do not bring food with you, buy it from the food booths which will make you salivate! Then we were faced with many purchase temptations as we wandered around some of the artistic stores in the village.

Next was the Salt Spring Studio Tour. This self-guided tour passes by 30 local artisans throughout the island so it’s a good excuse to take a snoop too. We discovered that the Saturday bustle was restricted to Ganges while the rest of the island was wonderfully quiet. We passed the northern point called Southey Point (my italics). So after a while we found a beach for a picnic and snoozed to the lapping waves. Driving back to Fulford Harbour there are three more pleasures to enjoy. Firstly, sampling wines at two of the vineyards and then driving to scenic 530 hectares Ruckle Park on the SE tip of the island with its 7 km of shoreline.

We brought back bottles of wine and a handwoven basket as souvenirs of our trip but you might consider something very unique to the island. Remarkably, the island has its own legal currency, the Salt Spring dollar, for use in local businesses as an option to the Canadian dollar with which it is always on par, so you might choose to leave with this unusual memento.


Rare wildlife of Victoria

August 18, 2014 by Martin Vernon

My wife Linda came into the house hurriedly “I’ve just seen something exciting”. I was intrigued; that’s not her style. She explained that she had just seen a sea otter. I thought, “I haven’t seen one, but is that significant?”. It was.

Credit: Cheryl Alexander, Wild awake

The sighting of a sea otter is a rare thing indeed on the shores of Vancouver Island. Apparently they were hunted for their fur and became extinct in the area. More recently, pairs were introduced into our waters from Alaska so it’s good to hear that they are making a comeback although they are still listed as an endangered species. Linda told me that she happened to be with a naturalist who explained that sea otters often lie on their back in the water with paws raised while they eat, using their chest as we would a table. They really are charming.

This occurred in Cadboro Bay, a Victoria neighbourhood on the east coast of the Saanich Peninsula. We occasionally visit this and other beaches for a stroll to enjoy the views, never knowing what we might see. Rare wildlife of Victoria are not expected but the natural coastal setting, varied terrain and the climate encourage a wide variety of creatures, some being rare. The summer sees a greater number of migrating birds and sea mammals; like tourists they are drawn here for a visit. So take a walk on the wilder side or head out to the ocean horizon on a whale-watching or sailing trip to see … who knows what.

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