Category Archives: To see and to do

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

January 30, 2016 by Martin Vernon

The Royal BC Museum has welcomed back the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition from the Natural History Museum, London.

The quality of these stunning back-lit photographs becomes apparent when you discover that theyWildlife Photographer of the Year - Royal BC Museum are the top 100 selected out of over 42,000 entries. Many are nothing less than “awesome” (badly over-used word): of which we full of awe.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is open daily until 4th April 2016 at the Museum, by the Inner Harbour in downtown Victoria.

The Royal BC Museum is one of those “must-see” places to visit in Victoria. So much more than a typical museum it brings the past alive through its permanent displays, major summer shows and its ongoing exhibitions. The 2016 summer show will be Mammoths – Giants of the Ice Age.

Allow two or three hours at least just for the floors of permanent displays. An adjoining IMAX big-screen theatre adds to its impact with a continually changing programme of dramatic presentations.

Visiting gardens in Victoria BC

December 30, 2015 by Martin Vernon

The many gardens of Victoria BC have led to the city being called the “Garden City” in the hype of some tourist publications. There’s some truth in the name though since the perfect gardening climate of southern Vancouver Island, its earlier British heritage, and its attractiveness to visitors have all resulted in some magnificent gardens being created for our pleasure. The Butchart Gardens comes to mind first but there are many other delightful gardens on a smaller scale. Visiting gardens in Victoria BC is best done by car to provide full flexibility but buses service most gardens.

The Butchart Gardens

55 acres of dramatic floral displays created in over 100 years draw crowds and superlatives. Some cynics may consider it to be rather a “Disney” garden but it’s hard to imagine anyone not being impressed. Open year-round, its five (yes!) seasons present the many themed gardens in full seasonal splendour: the famous Sunken Garden and the enchanting Japanese Garden are favourites. Summer visits might include enjoying concerts on the lawn and Saturday evening fireworks. Their summer and winter illuminations (“The Magic of Christmas”) are special delights.

Butterfly Gardens

Close to the Butchart Gardens is this tropical greenhouse jungle. Thousands of butterflies charm visitors, as do the flamingoes, small birds, koi and frogs.  Look out for the giant Atlas Moth.

The Gardens at HCP

Another garden on the Saanich Peninsula is the little known, and therefore quiet, Gardens at HCP (Horticultiral Centre of the Pacific). Over 30 themed gardens include the lovely Takata Garden with its adjoining Bonsai and Zen gardens.

Beacon Hill Park

Just south of downtown is “the jewel of Victoria”, 200 acres of varying park and gardens since 1882. Look out for the medieval-style stone bridge, the Children’s Farm and one of the tallest totem poles in the world. Lovely for a peaceful wander.

Finnerty Gardens

Near the south-west corner of the University of Victoria are a network of paths passing over 4,000 trees including over 1,500 rhododendrons and azaleas which create drama late April to early June.

Abkhazi Garden

Tucked away near Oak Bay is a small garden with a romantic story which will warm your heart.

Playfair Park

Visiting gardens in Victoria BC - Playfair Park

A special municipal park (photo above) hidden away in Saanich. Enjoy the rhodendrons in May and the long colourful perennial summer border.

Government House

The grounds of the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor, the Queen’s representative in British Columbia. A colourful cutting garden, rose garden and perennial flower beds set in the Rockland area of heritage homes.

Hatley Castle

West of Victoria are these Japanese, Rose and Italian gardens set in a 500 acre Edwardian estate with views to the distant Olympic Mountains.

Visiting gardens in Victoria BC is more than just a pleasure, it gives insights into the lives of so many who have helped make Victoria the lovely place it is today.

Celebrating Christmas in Victoria

December 10, 2015 by Martin Vernon

The opportunities for celebrating Christmas in Victoria BC are broader than in most medium-sized North American cities due to the heritage of its cultures and architecture, fanned by the flames of tourism. Here’s a guide to a variety of events offering something for everyone.

The Lighted Ships and Trucks Parades introduces Santa to Victoria sailing by in the Inner Harbour. Celebrating Christmas in Victoria BC

Crafts shows run until mid-December.

The Magic of Christmas at The Butchart Gardens is magical indeed. Even if you are not in the mood for the celebrations this will inspire and delight. My wife and I enjoy this every year.

Our other annual visit in December is to stroll around the Inner Harbour and along Government Street popping into numerous venues for special displays, food and drink.

Musical concerts extend far beyond Christmas carols. They include swing, soul, Bach, celtic, blues, Handel’s Messiah, and even 65 massed tubas.

Christmas at Craigdarroch Castle includes one-man readings of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Santa gets around everywhere, often enjoying breakfasts, lunches or dinners; no wonder he’s such a round jovial guy. You’d think his itinerary would keep him slim.

Or you can drive around to admire the Christmas lights and decorations outside homes throughout the Victoria area.

For more specific information, do speak to your Victoria bed and breakfast innkeepers.

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.

 

 

Artists and Artisans Shows and Tours

October 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Walking through an art show this past weekend reminded me how blessed we are in the Victoria BC with so much fine art. Artists and artisans shows and tours are held frequently, and galleries and markets present a wide range of artworks. What struck us most was the sheer high quality from nearly 300 artists at the juried Sidney Fine Art Show (see an award winner below). Yes, we have the big names like Robert Bateman but there are hundreds of leading artists in their differing fields.There’s something about the lifestyle on the West coast that draws those of an artistic mindset.

To discover these you can take three geographically-based tours which are appreciated on relaxed self-guided routes.Artists and Artisans Shows and Tours - Victoria BC - Deborah Tilby

  • The Stinking Fish Studio Tour is held every July throughout Metchosin, west of Victoria. Juried artists present paintings and photographs, pottery and sculpture, woodworking and printmaking, creative fibres and jewellery at over 20 studios.
  • The Saanich Peninsula Studio Tour takes place on 24th and 25th October 2015 at 18 studios on the Saanich Peninsula just north of Victoria BC.
  • Visit 28 artisans on Salt Spring Island on their self-guided studio tour on a day trip from Victoria.

In August Arts and Music in the Gardens at HCP showcases 60 local artists in a delightful setting.

The Stinking Fish artists have a fall show on 14th and 15th November 2015 at the West Mont Montessori School, 4075 Metchosin Road near Witty’s Lagoon.

Downtown VIctoria has galleries presenting west coast and aboriginal art,traditional and contemporary. Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands are certainly well-endowed with talent.

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.

 

 

The Gardens of Victoria

September 30, 2015 by Martin Vernon

The Gardens of Victoria represent an aspect of life here perhaps most anticipated and appreciated by visitors. Some may expect quaint heritage but let’s not overstate that. The gardens, on the other hand, are gems enjoyed by us all, even if only to admire a planting on a boulevard. A vast range of plants thrive in the climate of southern Vancouver Island and gardeners seem to thrive too. Let’s take a peek at the gardens of Victoria which you can explore at leisure.

Clearly the dominant one which attracts most of the visitors and of the publicity is The Butchart Gardens. Over 50 acres of magnificent display gardens including the famous Sunken Gardens. They are fortunate to have a team of about 50 gardeners to care for the many areas: Japanese, Mediterranean, Rose, Italian and more. Concerts, fireworks and both summer and winter lighting delight the crowds.

No crowds but a wide variety of themed gardens can be quietly enjoyed at The Gardens at HCP. The Takata Japanese Garden, Zen Garden and Bonsai Garden are highlights for many.

Also in this area is Butterfly Gardens more noted for its 3,000 butterflies and other tropical wildlife but luxuriant gardens they are.

Late Victorian heritage and a grand setting give the gardens at Hatley Castle much character. A little further west than the others, these Japanese, Rose and Italian gardens were once tended by 100 gardeners.

Very much smaller in scale are the charming Abkhazi Gardens near Oak Bay. There is a genuinely romantic tale behind them for you to discover.

All of those do require an entry fee whereas three Victorian treasures can be enjoyed free of charge:

Beacon Hill Park has 200 acres set aside for relaxation just south of downtown Victoria. There’s much variety here, my favourite being the lake with its stone bridge and multitude of ducks all overseen by a heronry.

Two secrets generally only known to the locals remain:

Finnerty Gardens at the University of Victoria. Imagine 1,500 rhododendons and azaleas in full bloom in May and June.

Hidden away are more rhodendrons and an impressive floral border at Playfair Park.

For further information and a map, see our guide to the gardens of Victoria BC.

 

Downtown Victoria tours

September 21, 2015 by Martin Vernon

A variety of downtown Victoria tours can be enjoyed, especially as an introduction to the city. Relaxing and informative they can be expanded upon later by a leisurely stroll around areas of particular interest. Guide books or a Victoria travel website are great for information but nothing beats hearing about a new place from a local.

Downtown Victoria tours - horse-drawn carriage

Whether horse-drawn, on a bus or ferry or on foot these downtown Victoria tours give insights that you’d miss if you were self-guided and they will cover a range of attractions which you can later explore more fully.

CVS Sightseeing offer a wide selection of bus tours, downtown on an English double-decker or on a modern hop-on hop-off bus, visit the Butchart Gardens, and more.

Take a 90 minute tour with Big Bus Victoria on a trolleybus or open-air buses with hop-on hop-off stops.

The Gray Line British double-decker bus tours include an enhanced ticket option to take a Victoria Harbour Ferry too.

A favourite has to be the Victoria Harbour Ferries, those little boats bobbing around the Inner Harbour. Take a tour or treat them as a water taxi.

Tally Ho and Victoria Carriage Tours both have a choice of varying horse-drawn carriage tours. These are a charming way of clop-clopping through the interesting parts of downtown Victoria. Instead of having a horse do all the work you could stop a Kabuki Kab or PediCab. All these will be entertaining as well as informative.

And my favourite, walking tours – when the slow pace ensures you miss nothing and have a chance to quiz your guide at leisure. And for further local information, your B&B hosts are accustomed to answering questions on a wide variety of topics (and you thought the breakfast table was only for eating).


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