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.

The Gardens of Victoria

September 30, 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 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 Dragon Boat Festival

July 30, 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 two faces of Sidney BC

June 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

For many years I considered Sidney to be a quiet seaside town full of seniors, having a pleasant ocean-side walk and plenty of bookshops but where the greatest excitement was dodging electric scooters. While there’s some truth in all this I had failed to see that there are two faces of Sidney BC.

Sidney BC

The town of Sidney is near the northern tip of the Saanich Peninsula, close to Victoria International Airport  (YYJ) and the BC Ferries and Washington State Ferries terminals, 30 minutes from downtown Victoria. It’s true that its population of 12,000 is dominated by seniors but it is a thriving self-contained friendly community that offers interesting attractions for visitors.

Enjoy a walk along the 2.5 km (1.5 mile) waterfront walkway passing the fishing pier and small fish market, looking across to Sidney Island from the Sculpture Walk. A concert or play may take place at the bandshell. Yards away is the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre. It is not surprising that you can enjoy whale-watching, kayaking, fishing and boating here but there’s also lawn bowling or a bowling lane. Beacon Avenue and side streets has all the shopping services you’re likely to need, punctuated by numerous bookstores in Canada’s only Booktown.

All this, set within a calm relaxing atmosphere is what you’d expect in a town with so many retired people. But the best aspect of Sidney is experienced on summer evenings.

Sidney Street Market

My favourite street market in the Victoria area is enjoyed on Thursday evenings, May to August at the Sidney Street Market. The sleepy town bursts into life as Beacon Avenue, the main street, is lined with booths and packed with crowds of happy people of all ages. Artisans predominate, with food and good musicians adding to the mix. It is a joy!

Sidney Days, during the Canada Day (1st July) weekend celebrates with happy faces at the parade, build-a-boat competition and fireworks. If your visit is at other dates there are special Sidney BC annual events.

Sidney is also handy as a venue of a British Columbia Tourism Information Centre.

Our rural past comes alive

June 10, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Heritage Acres is just that, acres of heritage. It’s a place of fascination for most of us as we experience the past coming alive. In this case, it is the rural past when the Saanich Peninsula was forested with isolated communities and homesteads.

The Saanich Historical Artifacts Society have collected steam engines, agricultural machinery and Heritage Acres on the Saanich Peninsulaartifacts from the past all lovingly restored and demonstrated. A highlight has to be a tour of Heritage Acres on the small gauge railway. See demonstrations at the blacksmith’s shop. View the saw mill and carpentry shop, the waterwheel from the old quarry at the Butchart Gardens. Other buildings include a school house, a tiny chapel and a boat house overlooking the pond. Over 35 tractors and working steam engines spanning the past century are in use periodically.

The Summer Fair at Heritage Acres on 20th and 21st June 2015 (Father’s Day weekend) is one of several summer events when the past comes alive here. Our agricultural past can be enjoyed adjoining Hwy 17 (Patricia Bay Highway) just south of Island View Road – easy access if you’ve a car or horse and buggy.

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.

Fisherman’s Wharf

February 28, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Fisherman’s Wharf – such an evocative name. You picture boats and marine odds and ends, fresh fish, sea gulls, fishermen, fish and chips, ice cream … etc. Victoria’s Fisherman’s Wharf is no exception having all these and much more. It’s a delight to wander around, oozing with charm and smiles.

A fleet of salmon fishing vessels moored here for decades though today the few fishing boats bring in crabs, prawns and tuna. Now the colour and activity Fisherman's Wharf houseboats in Victoria BCcomes from residential and tourist use. The first thing you see are the quirky, colourful house boats, all very individual. One suspects the occupants of these float homes are equally interesting though presumably they do not mind living in a “gold fish bowl” environment being ogled by visitors. Along the wharves are shops and cabins offering seafood, fish and chips, barbequed food and ice cream. But before you enjoy these, why not launch off on a memorable marine adventure: whale-watching or kayaking?

You’ll soon spot the friendly (greedy?) harbour seals who poke their noses up in the hope of some fishy treats. Take a look at the Fisherman’s Wharf seal cam to see if there are any in view now.

Favourite ways to reach Fisherman’s Wharf are to take the 10 – 15 minute ocean-side walk from the Inner Harbour or to hop on a Victoria Harbour Ferry, those little green boats you see bobbing about. Best is to go one way and return the other.



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.

Robert Bateman Centre

January 10, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Let’s be honest, the coastal weather of Victoria is not always bright and cheerful so it’s good to have some indoor havens to enjoy during a visit here. Two excellent places in Victoria’s Inner Harbour are the Royal British Columbia Museum and the Robert Bateman Centre. The latter is the impressive building with classical columns overlooking the Inner Harbour.

The Centre is in the Victoria Steamship Terminal building designed by Francis Rattenbury, Robert Bateman Centre - Inner Harbour, Victoria, BCthe architect of the neighbouring Empress Hotel and Legislative Assembly of BC, and built in 1924. Canadian Pacific Steamships operated from it until 1974.

On its second floor are the galleries and interactive centre featuring the realistic wildlife art of Robert Bateman. Here you not only marvel at the detail within his paintings but also catch a sense of awe of magnificent creatures within their natural world. The importance of ecological conservation to Bateman is clear as he communicates the fragility of the environment. He has been called “the world’s greatest wildlife artist”.

Ten galleries present over 160 original art pieces from the smallest drawing to the largest painting of this prolific artist. You can download a guide app (devices may be borrowed) with commentary by Robert Bateman. If you are unable to visit the Centre, its website shows 72 pieces of artwork with excellent tools allowing detailed views.

The Robert Bateman Centre is open daily at 470 Belleville Street.

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