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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.

Travelling to Victoria, Vancouver Island

November 30, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Travelling to Victoria, Vancouver Island is made easy by numerous routes whether travelling by car or plane. Let’s clarify though that there is no bridge connecting Vancouver Island to mainland British Columbia or Washington State, instead several regular ferry services operate year-round.

In August 2015 alone, over 170,000 people came through Victoria International Airport (YYJ) Travelling to Victoria, Vancouver Island - ferriesand 400,000 arrived at BC Ferries Swartz Bay terminal. These visitors, year-round, bring about $1.8 billion dollars revenue to the area (so you are very welcome!). Tourism is important so there are ample services to meet every need. Rental cars are available at the airport or nearby Sidney, and buses and taxis connect both terminals to downtown Victoria.

The BC Ferries terminal is 30km / 20 miles north of Victoria and the airport a little closer, both on the Saanich Peninsula on the SE tip of the island. From Victoria and the peninsula there’s good access to the rest of the Vancouver Island via Hwy 1. As a result, visitors can stay in this area near most of the area attractions and take day trips from Victoria to explore the east or west coasts of the island.

Ferry services also come in to Sidney and to the Inner Harbour of Victoria, some for cars, others passengers only. The Inner Harbour is also served by floatplanes making a dramatic entry to the city.

This blog has much information to help you plan your travel, accommodations and activities. Guide books and the internet will ensure you do not miss any highlights on the island or anywhere else in British Columbia. Incidentally, do check the passport entry requirements before you travel. This article about passports may be handy but be aware that regulations change periodically.

Gold Rush! El Dorado in BC

April 30, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Victoria can draw some excellent exhibitions since it has one of the finest museums in North America (yes, really) and has the summer crowds to enjoy them. Gold Rush! El Dorado in BC is the major 2015 summer exhibit at the Royal BC Museum, from 13th May until 31st October 2015.

Displays at the Royal BC Museum are always of the highest quality, creatively interesting. So we can enthusiastically anticipate exploring BC’s Gold Rush in the 19th century and view such rare artifacts as the 52oz (1,642 g) Turnagain Nugget.

As a bonus, a big bonus, the exhibition has a further feature, Allure of Gold, showing the role of gold in the lives of indigenous people in Columbia before the Spanish invasion. This will be the only opportunity to view over 100 Colombian gold treasures from the Museo del Oro in Bogota anywhere in North America. This morning I was chatting to a visitor who once lived in Bogota who told me that the Gold Museum is superb, so we have a treat here this summer.

As the above video says “Gold has transformed lives, broken dreams and built empires”. This was certainly true in Victoria. Our sleepy town changed enormously when news of gold in the Fraser Canyon leaked out in spite of attempts by the fur trading companies to keep it a secret. 30,000 hopeful prospectors poured into Victoria harbour in the spring of 1858 to buy supplies and mining permits, many from economically depressed California. They vastly outnumbered the existing population, and the city’s population, demographics and economy changed forever.

The Inner Harbour of Victoria

January 30, 2015 by Martin Vernon

As the kitchen is the heart of the house so the Inner Harbour of Victoria has been its heart for over 150 years. The early pioneers who came to Vancouver Island centred their defences around it and settlements steadily grew out from there. Travelling by water was the easiest option so it became the major trading centre of the region. Today the Inner Harbour has traded trade (ouch!) for tourism attractions and festivals yet it has never left the heart of its people: it is where we celebrate.

Some have the good fortune to enter Victoria’s Inner Harbour by ferry, seaplane or helicopter or they return to it The Inner Harbour of Victoria BCfrom a whale-watching tour. Beyond the busyness of the harbour are some imposing buildings with wonderful character. For these we owe much to Frances Rattenbury who designed the domed British Columbia Parliament Buildings, the classical columned Steamship Terminal now housing the Robert Bateman Centre and, front and centre, the Empress Hotel. Nestled among them, but rectangularly modern, is the Royal BC Museum with its IMAX theatre. Visiting all those will occupy a couple of days so many of our guests pick one or two (the Museum should not be missed) and soak up the vibrant life of the causeway and moorings. You can walk around the harbour and beyond; a lovely stroll on a sunny day. Do pop into the Tourism Victoria Info Centre to gather information about the many places to see and things to do in the Victoria area.

That vibrant life really comes to life with the sights and sounds of the many festivals such as these favourites. In May the Victoria Harbour Boat Show fills the Inner Harbour with 200 vessels and the Swiftsure International Yacht Race brings distant thrills and occasional spills. Street-life is celebrated with the Victoria International Buskers Festival on the causeway and Government Street in July, and the next month everywhere is crowded as 40,000 people and small boats cram in for our biggest annual party, Symphony Splash. The Dragon Boat Festival in August brings vigour and colour. Throughout the summer you can enjoy a browse through the artisan markets at Ship Point and Bastion Square. September visitors may see remarkable art created at the Victoria Chalk Art Festival and, lastly, there’s the fun of the Victoria Lighted Ships and Trucks Parades in early December. One thing is guaranteed: there’s never a dull moment at the Inner Harbour of Victoria.

Variety is the Spice of Life

December 30, 2014 by Martin Vernon

If, as they say, variety is the spice of life then Victoria is a hot spot. I have been struck by the immense variety of things to see and do in this part of Vancouver Island. If you are thinking of visiting Victoria BC in 2015 you’ll find this array of information helpful for your planning.

For convenience, let’s divide them into:
– things to see, ie the attractions of Victoria, and
– things to do, ie the activities.

Things to see in Victoria

Not all are in the downtown area so it’s good to have use of a car.

The Inner Harbour – strolling the causeway next to the moored boats is always a pleasure. Here you’ll see the Royal BC Museum, a fascinating must-see top-quality museum, with an IMAX theatre too. You can tour the neighbouring BC Parliament Buildings and visit the harbourside Robert Bateman Centre with its collection of wildlife art. The Maritime Museum of BC in Bastion Square presents our rich nautical heritage.

Take a bus or horse-drawn carriage tour for an informative introduction to Victoria or a guided tour on foot. Hop on a harbour ferry or taxi to explore the Inner Harbour and Fisherman’s Wharf.

The best shopping is in the streets running off Government Street as far north as Chinatown.

East of downtown is baronial 19th century Craigdarroch Castle with its restored Victoria interior.

Relax in charming Beacon Hill Park with its old-style stone bridge and its petting zoo. The temperate climate of southern Vancouver Island is perfect for gardens; two of the most popular are The Gardens at HCP and, of course, The Butchart Gardens whose 55 dramatic acres are generally considered the top attraction in British Columbia. Nearby you’ll discover 3,000 butterflies and moths in the tropical jungle at Butterfly Gardens.

The Saanich Peninsula vineyards and wineries offer samplings and excellent souvenir opportunities. Buy a bottle to enjoy at your Victoria B&B in the evening.

Discover the importance of Fisgard Lighthouse to mariners and see the gun batteries at Fort Rodd Hill. These are west of Victoria close to Hatley Castle which was built in 1908 and set in lovely gardens.

Our small communities have their own character – visit the “book town” Sidney-by-the-Sea, or drive to Sooke on the rugged west coast.

– For further information view this summary of attractions with a Victoria BC map.

Inner Harbour Victoria BC The Butchart Gardens - Sunken Garden

 

Things to do in Victoria

It’s so beautiful here: the parks, lakes and beaches cry out to be explored. Take a look at some hiking trails, from easy to moderately challenging. Favourites include Elk / Beaver Lake and Gowlland Tod, and to the west East Sooke and Sooke Potholes parks. Get out and about to discover the natural beauty.

Play golf year-round on over a dozen courses.

Marine recreation is important to the locals (I’m often surprised at how many people own boats) so plan to join them: kayak along the shoreline such as in calm Brentwood Bay or the ocean, take a fishing charter or go scuba diving, discover how sailing tours are sooo relaxing AND don’t forget memorable whale-watching.

Clamber up walls in the world-class Boulders Climbing Gym, or try zip-lining.

Walk or cycle along trails such as the 55km Galloping Goose Trail. There’s horseback riding too.

After all that it’s easy to justify indulging in afternoon tea at one of several venues.

–  –  –

The phrase “variety is the spice of life” was coined by the poet William Cowper some 250 years ago. He was a lover of his natural surroundings and would, I feel, appreciate the beauty of southern Vancouver Island.

 

Victoria’s Chinatown

July 10, 2014 by Martin Vernon

Victoria’s Chinatown, though small, has claims to fame and a bustling character that make it well worth exploring.

  • It is the oldest chinatown in Canada
  • It has the narrowest street in Canada
  • The population 100 years ago was larger than the Victoria downtown population ten years ago

The origins of Victoria’s Chinatown lie in the gold rush of 1858 when Victoria was an entry port for immigrant workers. The Chinese community Victoria's Chinatown - the Gate of Harmonius Interestbecame established servicing the mining operations and later providing a merchandising foundation supporting Victoria. Today’s Chinatown is centred on Fisgard Street with the central feature of the Gate of Harmonious Interest with its stone lions donated by Suzhou, Victoria’s sister city, in 1981.

On Wednesday evenings in the summer, the Chinatown Night Market is held here from 5.00 – 9.00pm – enjoy the entertainment, vendors and, of course, the food.

You can also get the flavour of Chinatown in a favourite section of the Royal BC Museum. As you walk through the reconstructed lanes and houses it is easy too imagine oneself in the teeming life of Victoria’s Chinatown with its shops, gambling dens and opium factories.

The Top 10 Places to Visit in BC

June 10, 2014 by Martin Vernon

Lonely Planet has published their list of the top 10 places to visit in BC – and Victoria attractions take 30% of the top ten spots. Their full list runs to 25 attractions covering an an area larger than France and Germany combined. If you are planning an extensive trip to British Columbia do take a look at the comprehensive listings on Lonely Planet of the dozens of places to visit throughout the province.

In first position is our own Butchart Gardens with the Royal British Columbia Museum in 7th place and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria 10th.Royal BC Museum in Victoria Additionally, Bastion Square is in 13th position though, if a square can be listed, I do not understand why a harbour, Victoria’s Inner Harbour, was not featured (surely rated well above Bastion Square).

Planning your itinerary beforehand for travelling in British Columbia is critical due to the distances which may be involved. These are certainly often overlooked by European visitors. You should allow several days for a stay in Victoria and southern Vancouver Island simply because there’s so much to see and do, probably more than in the Vancouver area. Here are some handy links for travel information for Victoria and there’s a comprehensive travel planner for your visits to BC’s coasts and mountains, Northern British Columbia, the Okanagan, the Kootenays and more.

British Columbia has over 1,000 provincial parks so you can expect to see a good variety of wildlife from mountains to coasts if you can plan a driving tour of all these areas. This Woolly Mammoth can be spotted at the 7th placed attraction so pay him a visit.


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