Category Archives: Trips and tours

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.

 

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.

 

 

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).

Victoria Walking Tours

May 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Victoria walking tours bring the past to life; informative and entertaining. Some are a good introduction to the city, others are more specialised. There’s no better way to fully appreciate a place than to learn about it from a local, especially a professional guide. I’ve eavesdropped on guided tours once in a while and have found that the place comes alive; I’d no idea what I was looking at until then.

The centre of Victoria is compact so you will not find these tours strenuous, apart from Hike Victoria. Please check these websites for tour options, times and meeting points. Victoria walking tours

John and Chris Adams of Discover the Past have daily historical tours including Discovery Walks about different aspects of Victoria, Gold Rush Tales, Chinatown Walks and even evening Ghostly Walks.

Danda Humphreys is a story-teller and author as well as experienced guide. You can also be guided by her via your iPod.

The Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria present a remarkably diverse range of Cemetery walking tours of Victoria every Sunday.

Hike Victoria offer guided scenic hikes to experience the natural beauty of Victoria.

Victoria Food Tours speaks for itself. Tasty!

Discover some of Victoria’s eateries and craft beers with Off the Beaten Track tours

Travel with Taste take tours further afield on Vancouver Island as well as offering a Victoria culinary walking tour.

Hop on and off a Harbour Ferry for a Pickle Pub Crawl. No designated driver needed!

Six themed architectural walking tours of Victoria set off in the summer.

If you’d rather explore unaccompanied in your own time view the four excellent City of Victoria self-guided Victoria walking tours with maps and notes. Alternatively, download one of the free Tour Victoria Apps from iTunes which include over 40 historic video walking tours.

Do I need a passport?

April 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Most of us like to travel but few enjoy travelling; the process of getting to our destination is seen as “short term pain for long term gain”. It’s like overcoming a lengthy obstacle course: complying with the growing list of rules and regulations, paying increasing surcharges, passing through ever-more demanding security, waiting for unpredictable times, sitting in cramped planes. Then on arrival there are uncertainties – did our baggage travel with us, did the rental car arrangement process properly, how do we negotiate our way to the blissful place where we can collapse on a bed (such as one of our bed and breakfasts)?

Those rules and regulations include the necessary documentation we need to carry. One of our mental questions in this world of free trade zones is still “Do I need a passport?”. Do I need a passport?The answer is likely to be found for you in one of these Government websites:
Government of Canada – visiting Canada
U.S. Department of State

Passports have an interesting story, going back to the days when travel was much more arduous than today, yes really. We have it easy.

The means of transport for travellers 100 or more years ago were slow, inconvenient and uncomfortable beyond our comprehension with additional bureaucratic issues we do not face. For example, before 1852 a British passport was merely a sheet of paper bearing the royal coat of arms and a signature of the Foreign Secretary, not inconvenient if you knew him or someone he trusted but what if you did not? It was expensive too. At the same time other European countries required descriptions of height, eye colour, eyebrows, nose, mouth and complexion, more like a criminal record check.

On arrival, even for just an overnight stop, until recently, passports were taken away by police for examination. Even some nationals had passports restricting their movements within their own countries. Then to leave the country to go elsewhere one’s passport had to be signed by the foreign ministry so visiting embassies was a frustrating necessity. At this time Germany and Italy were a mass of small states, all with their own regulations; imagine that mess. Occasional terrorist outrages tightened rules all the more (familiar?). The Times wrote “Never was a more senseless custom instituted than that of passports”. Ah the bureacracy! I’m intrigued to see that our own Canadian federal bureaucrats have written an interesting History of Passports in a “Games” section of the Government website. It isn’t always a game.

BC West Coast History

April 10, 2015 by Martin Vernon

A relaxing and very enjoyable four-in-one exploration of BC West coast history can be found just west of Victoria, one we recommend to our B&B guests. Combined on one reasonable entry ticket are Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse, both adjoining the Esquimalt Lagoon and close to Hatley Castle.

Fort Rodd Hill was built in 1890 to protect the naval base at nearby Esquimalt. A garrison of 300 were stationed to protect it – from whom you might wonder … Russia. Its military life was brief but some of the buildings remain including three artillery gun batteries with their original guns overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Personally, I get as much pleasure from the pleasing parkland which has softened the military setting and which occasionally plays host to special events. From here it is a short walk to a place everyone enjoys.

This stretch of the wild west coast can be very wild indeed, becoming known as the Graveyard of the Pacific, BC West coast history - Fisgard Lighthousewith hundreds of wrecks lining the west coast of Vancouver Island. Naval ships bound for Esquimalt Harbour passed by, as well as merchant vessels, so a beacon was a clear necessity. In 1860, Fisgard Lighthouse was built, the first on Canada’s west coast. It was automated in 1929. The more recent causeway allows us to walk to the lighthouse and examine its interior giving a sense of life for a lighthouse keeper, with displays of some of the more notorious wrecks.

The lighthouse sits just east of Esquimalt Lagoon, almost fully enclosed by a bar of stones creating a salt-water bird sanctuary, with views to the distant Olympic Mountains. A pleasing place to ponder and wander.

Then, if you’ve the time and inclination nearby Hatley Castle beckons, with an interesting interior and lovely gardens.

You’ll need a car although bus route 39 goes fairly close at its western terminus at Royal Roads University so that you can wander around Hatley Castle and its gardens. GPS co-ordinates for Fort Rodd Hill are Latitude: 48.434821, Longitude: -123.45212.

In a short day you’ll have amassed a sizable amount of our BC West coast history: naval and nautical, natural and nostalgic (four n’s for this four-in-one trip without even trying!).

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

Tour the British Columbia Parliament Buildings

January 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Looking for an interesting place to visit in downtown Victoria when the rain clouds descend? One good option is to tour the British Columbia Parliament Buildings. Some call this grand building overlooking the Inner Harbour the Legislature, Legislative Buildings or the Parliament Buildings; whichever, it’s the home of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and is not the dull place you might expect.

The people of Victoria gave the original building a different name after it was built in the 1860’s: The Birdcages. This is supposed Tour the British Columbia Parliament buildings - rotundato be in response to the appearance of the buildings but might the disrespect also have extended to the twitterings that went on inside? Anyway, a more substantial building was soon needed, resulting in the architectural landmark we see now. This was designed by a young architect, Francis Rattenbury, who was to place his stamp firmly on Victoria’s Inner Harbour by designing also The Empress Hotel and the Victoria Steamship Terminal which now houses the Robert Bateman Centre.

Completed in 1897, this dramatic building is set behind a lawn with a statue of Queen Victoria. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the grand central entrance behind her is where you enter for your tour; it is only used once a year by the Lieutenant Governor who represents the Queen (Elizabeth not Victoria). You enter through a small door to its left for free guided tours which last for about 45 minutes, year-round. Fortunately the Legislature is not sitting for most of the year and at these times further areas are open to the tour.

You’ll see the history of British Columbia (a province larger than France and Germany combined) through stained glass windows, paintings, statues, mosaics, flags, the state of arms and the Legislative Chamber – all very representative as brought to life by your tour guide.

BC Parliament Buildings - Inner Harbour Victoria

 

Victoria Christmas lights

December 17, 2014 by Martin Vernon

Few things get us in the mood for seasonal celebrations better than viewing Victoria Christmas lights on houses throughout the area. Each year our local newspaper, The Times Colonist, publishes a map of these which we acknowledge with gratitude. It shows homes (red pointers) and businesses (blue pointers) on the Saanich Peninsula with noteworthy lighting displays – click on the dark ones to view them.

Of course, the best way to view these displays is to take a driving tour. Thousands of us do this every year. We can not fail to be impressed by the amount of work involved in their creation. The first house our family lived in here is one of these; the present owner plans his (over-the-top) display months in advance. There’s creativity, beauty and humour to be found.

 


If you do not have access to a car there are two excellent alternatives to see Victoria Christmas lights in their full glory. One is simply to wander around downtown – my favourite is the sight of the BC Parliament Buildings (below). The other is to take a bus or taxi to The Butchart Gardens for their Magic of Christmas displays.

Victoria Christmas lights - BC Parliament Buildings


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