Day trips from Victoria

October 10th, 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 30th, 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 21st, 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 kayaking

September 10th, 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!

 

 

Victoria Classic Boat Festival

August 30th, 2015 by Martin Vernon

The Victoria Classic Boat Festival sums up the best of Victoria rather well: a maritime tradition, vessels in the Inner Harbour, character and charm, tourism, and celebration. It promotes those warm fuzzy feelings that catch us by surprise as we enjoy a moment from our past (or imagined past). So from 4th to 6th September 2015 I’m going to wander around the boats in the Inner Harbour, soaking in the good feelings. Join me.

The Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend was established in 1977, inspiring the nautical community in Victoria to establish their own celebration of maritime heritage so in 1978 the The Victoria Classic Boat Festival was born. 32 boats participated that first year, now more than fourfold ranging from small motor vessels to tall ships. The festival website has many excellent photos illustrating the variety of fascinating vessels you will see.

The highlights will be on Sunday 6th September when the sailpast and classic sail race provide a spectacle from Ogden Point (by the Inner Harbour) to Clover Point, along the southern coast of Victoria. There are displays and demonstrations, live entertainment and food. Admission is free.

Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival

August 20th, 2015 by Martin Vernon

50 shows at 11 venues: that’s the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival 2015. You can catch over 300 performances from 27th August until 6th September 2015.

Fringe theatres are not for everyone but the variety is impressive: there’s drama and comedy, musicals and dance, the spoken word and magic. Victoria Fringe Theatre FestivalParticipants are international, though chosen by lottery (yes!). The Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival has enlivened the downtown of Victoria BC since 1986. Families will enjoy the FringeKids Fest at Market Square on Saturday 29th August, 11am-4pm (it’s been a long time since I bounced in a castle).

A $6 button and a relevant ticket are required to see a show. Encouragingly, 100% of the ticket price goes to the artists you see. Tickets may be purchased in advance or at the door and passes are available. Drop into Intrepid Theatre at 2-1609 Blanshard Street for more information.

Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria

August 10th, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria is hardly the Tour de France but the excitement of the three Vancouver Island cycling races on 23rd August 2015 can be enjoyed on or off wheels.

Ryder Hesjedal is our local cycling hero, placing 5th in the Tour de France and winner of the Giro d’Italia. He established the charitable Ryder Hesjedal's Tour de VictoriaRyder’s Cycling Society of Canada to support young Canadian cycling. Hence the Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria, though participants are young and old, experienced and novices.

Three courses are offered, from 45km for entry-level cyclists to 140km for the experienced enthusiast passing through the beautiful sights of southern Vancouver Island, including the Saanich Peninsula, the Highlands and Metchosin to the west. Most of us will be enjoying the sights of the cyclists themselves from vantage points en route, including downtown Victoria. The longer Epic route will be covered in 3.5 hours by the serious speedsters whereas those snatching views of the scenery and struggling with the hills may take the full day. The start at 7.00am and the finish is on Belleville Street.

Victoria Dragon Boat Festival

July 30th, 2015 by Martin Vernon

For 20 years the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival has brought a splash of colour to summers in the Inner Harbour of Victoria BC. Culture and energy combine, on and off the water, for three days of one of the liveliest festivals you’ll encounter.

On 14, 15th and 16th August 2015 catch the vibrancy in Victoria’s Inner Harbour, joining up to 80,000 others on the grandstands and along the harbour walls. Highlights are the energeticVictoria Dragon Boat Festival dragon boat races on Saturday and Sunday from 8.00am to about 4.00pm. The boats surge through the water as paddlers crouch forwards following the strokes of the leading pair. Like rowing, strokes are synchronised but unlike the flowing movement of sculls dragon boats rise up out of the water with each rapid stabbing stroke. At the front of each boat sits a drummer who sets the pace of up to 70 strokes per minute. Races are held in numerous categories over the 500 metre course.

The Cultural Stage presents musical headlining bands and the nearby Forbidden City Food Court offers cultural delights.

Associated with the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival is Lights of Courage at Ship Point in the Inner Harbour. By purchasing a paper lantern for $2 you support the BC Cancer Foundation. On the lantern tag write a message of hope, love, inspiration or remembrance and hang it with the array of others which are illuminated after 9.00pm. Since 2008 this has raised over $500,000.

The Butchart Gardens lights

July 20th, 2015 by Martin Vernon

The Butchart Gardens lights are often overlooked by visitors; strange, since these summer night illuminations are so impressive and delightful. As you stroll through each garden its character is not revealed by the flowers and plants but by highlighting through varied lighting. This selection of photos is the best way to illustrate how this is achieved.

From 15th June until 15th September thousands of bulbs, of the luminous not floral variety, bring drama everywhere. The Butchart Gardens lights range from subtle under-plant luminescence to full illumination of features aided by interesting effects. The Sunken Garden brings ooh and aahs, just as in daylight, but our favourite is the romantic Japanese Garden, a place to linger.

Many people leave directly after the evening concerts and the Saturday night fireworks, not realizing what they are missing. Having a car or taking the right tour allows you to enjoy a wonderful finale to your day at The Butchart Gardens that will long be remembered.

 

The Butchart Gardens lights - Sunken Garden The Butchart Gardens lights - Rose Garden

 

Butchart Gardens summer night illuminations - Ross Fountain Butchart Gardens summer lights - Star Pond at night

 

The Butchart Gardens night illuminations - the Italian Garden and statue of Mercury Butchart Gardens summer lights - the Japanese Garden

Butchart Gardens Summer Festival

July 10th, 2015 by Martin Vernon

The Butchart Gardens Summer Festival of music presents free high quality music in a lovely setting. Sitting on the concert lawn within these magnificent gardens, you are serenaded by a wide range of musical concerts evening by evening in July, August and early September. Programmes change daily: from classics to pop classics, folk to celtic, big band to nostalgia, blues to rock and roll.

Sit on a bench or bring a blanket or folding chair. Victoria locals often bring supper too for alfresco dining with live music! Check the full Butchart Gardens Summer Festival schedule for artists and concert times, Butchart Gardens Summer Festival - Victoria music concertsgenerally beginning at 8.00pm in July and 7.30pm in August. Saturday nights begin earlier – and this is the real value package. These concerts are free every evening but on Saturday nights the The Butchart Gardens fireworks go off with a bang free of charge too.

We visit the Gardens a couple of times every summer not just to enjoy the stunning floral displays but for the pleasures of a musical evening of our taste. Afterwards we always stay on as the light fades to wander through the night illuminations.

 


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