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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.

 

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.

 

 

Beacon Hill Park

February 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Beacon Hill Park is sometimes called “the jewel of Victoria” and for many visitors it remains a hidden jewel which should not be overlooked. It was named after two navigational beacons protecting ships on the Juan de Fuca Strait and has become a delightful relaxing place just south of downtown Victoria BC.

The park has belonged to the people of Victoria since 1882 and today its 200 Beacon Hill Park - Victoria BCacres has a pleasing balance of natural landscapes and man-made recreations. My favourite area is the lake with its medieval-style stone bridge – look for large blue herons nesting high in neighbouring trees. Others will enjoy graceful Victorian flower gardens or woodlands and grassy slopes. The young, or young at heart, are delighted by the petting zoo at Beacon Hill Children’s Farm where animals have enchanted us since 1985. There are playgrounds, miniature golf, lawn bowling and even a cricket pitch. Free concerts are held at the Cameron Bandshell in summer months.

One of the the world’s tallest totem poles rises 127 feet above Garry oaks overlooking the park and the Strait of Juan de Fuca towards the Olympic Mountains. Nearby is Mile 0 of the 8,000km Trans-Canada Highway and a monument to Terry Fox who planned to end his run against cancer here in 1981.

Beacon Hill Park is easily found by walking south from the Inner Harbour, following Douglas Street towards Dallas Road.

 

 

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.


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