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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.

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.

 

 

Victoria kayaking

September 10, 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!

 

 

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!).

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.

 

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.

A round trip from Victoria

September 30, 2014 by Martin Vernon

A visit to Victoria is so much more memorable when you drive around southern Vancouver Island and see the context in which the city is placed. A round trip from Victoria, including visits to Chemainus and Salt Spring Island, will do this superbly. So consider taking this tour, but be flexible: if somewhere along the way takes your fancy, explore it.

We’re going to start with a drive along Highway #1 (it begins in downtown Victoria as Douglas Street), heading north “up island” (as the locals say). Once out of the suburbs you soon pass Goldstream Park which is particularly good for a stroll in December when the salmon spawn. But we’ll press on, up “The Malahat Drive” as the highway climbs offering a couple of good scenic viewpoints looking down onto the Saanich Peninsula. 7km south of Duncan you could stop at Whippletree Junction to browse through the crafts and furnishings stores in a dozen 100 year old houses.

Duncan, “The City of Totems”, has a boring thoroughfare so turn off to the left to view some of the 80 totem poles in the town, a recognition of a significant First Nations presence. Next you’ll pass the BC Forest Discovery Centre as the highway continues north on Vancouver Island.

Chemainus murals on Vancouver Island
After about ten minutes we come to a delightful place to explore: Chemainus “The Little Town that Did”. This little town’s life was dependent on forestry and the pulp mills so its future looked grim as the mills closed and forestry slumped in a recession 35 years ago. The solution? Tourism. The means? Murals.

Today the town has a steady dual economy to the benefit of locals and visitors alike. Following the murals trail takes us to over 40 murals illustrating the history of the town: its origins, people and the forestry. Fascinating.

It is possible that you’ll want to do no more than take further explorations of this part of southern Vancouver Island, visiting lakes, beaches and vineyards.

Or you can move on to complete a round trip from Victoria that will now see us driving a short distance south to Crofton to catch the 20 minute BC Ferries route to Vesuvius Bay on Salt Spring Island.

Below we see that little ferry arriving at the island. Does the thought “I wish I was there” come to mind? It was taken while we had a beach picnic after a self-guided driving tour around some of the artisans studios.

If time is short you could just drive to Ganges the main village where there are artists stores selling locally made ceramics, clothing, glass, jewellery and much more, for Salt Spring is an artistic haven. Your visit might coincide with one of the markets – the Saturday market is excellent. Three vineyards may be visited too and, if you should have time, do visit the natural scenery of Ruckle Park not far from your exit point, the little ferry terminal at Fulford Harbour where you’ll take the 35 minute cruise back to the Saanich Peninsula to complete your round trip.

Vesuvius Bay - Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island almost seems to live in the past; I love that feeling created by the farmsteads, cabins, pretty churches all set in rolling countryside. You may fall in love with it too.

It will have been a packed day bursting with memories. You’ll want to come back in the future to explore our beautiful land more fully.

 

 

Meetup with the locals

April 8, 2014 by Martin Vernon

Travelling memories come from the people and places we visit, so why not meetup in Victoria with the locals? When you visit Vancouver Island BC you’ll certainly remember the Butchart Gardens and whale-watching but it’s possible that the longest held memory will be of meeting a local person. It may be of their personality, their kindness, or of them giving you a clear picture of what it is like to live here.

All of us in the B&B business have gained lasting friendships with a few of our guests. My wife and I stayed later with some guests in their homes, a little like a home exchange. Our lasting memory of a visit to Italy, near the Leaning Tower of Pisa, was not of the sights but rather of Anna, our wonderful B&B hostess.

Since you are only in Victoria for a few days you may need to take steps to really meet with the locals, and I would suggest this is best done through common interests. Attending a Meetup in Victoria gives you a good chance of making these discoveries. According to the Victoria Meetup website there are 483 different Meetups within 25 miles of Victoria! These focus on a vast range of interests – hiking to cycling, music to writing, sailing to travel, painting to photography, and much more. You will find out so much more about Vancouver Island and may leave with long-lasting memories and friendships.

Meetup in Victoria BC


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