Two days on beautiful Vancouver Island
One of the parts of Canada I always wanted to visit was Vancouver Island and I managed to achieve this during my road trip around British Columbia recently but unfortunately I had only two days (one night stay) there so I had to plan the trip out carefully but thankfully for a local I know, I was taken to the top places to visit near the island’s largest city, Victoria, named after the British monarch from the 19th century. Here is what I managed to see and do on the island which I highly recommend.
The lowdown – ferry from Vancouver to the island
There are two main ferry routes for passengers (unless you wanna fly of course) and they depart from TWO different ferry ports in Vancouver. The one north of the ferry port is Horseshoe Bay and ferries go across the sea to Nanaimo (which is a handy route if passengers want to avoid Victoria and doing the extra mileage from the south of the island) or the route which I took with the car and that was from the ferry port south of Vancouver (and it is a long way out) known as Tsawwassen where the ferries sail across to Swatz Bay near Sidney, which is about a twenty minute drive from Victoria.
The ferries (run by BCferries) is the best way to get across. On a perfect summer’s day like I had I was able to see some dolphins and the odd whale but I love the route the most, going in between islands, seeing the nearby mountains in the very far distance, this is probably one of the best ferry rides I have ever done (and the food on board is ok, once again a lot of junk food being offered so not good for the healthy eaters but there are a few salad options).
This was the first (and probably the only) town in western Canada which has a lot of British heritage and European style buildings like the Fairmont Empress hotel (which is a 4 star hotel but looks 5 star from the outside) on Government Street and the nearby British Columbia Legislature building where politicians governs the island. These two buildings are the finest from the days of British rule (as I like to call it).
For all those road trips geeks and geography muppets like myself, the sight I wanted to see was the marker which is the start of the Trans-Canada-1 highway (or the finish marker depending which way you go). The highway goes to the ferry point at Nanaimo then starts again on the mainland passing Vancouver, Calgary and goes right across the centre of Canada all the way to St John’s in Newfoundland on the Atlantic coastline. The road is around 4,900 miles long (8,000km) and is one of the longest in the world. The marker can be found at on the green with the junction of Dallas Street and Douglas Street on the seafront.
However there are not that many sights in Victoria, it is mainly just a city full of shops but there some great places to dine out also. On my first evening I checked Browns Social House on 809 Douglas St, V8W 1A6. Maybe not a budget restaurant but the place is always packed out, lots of beer and wine on offer, great customer service, plenty of sport on the television screens, what can go wrong. All I can say is that steaks are top notch and the female staff members were very friendly to me when they found out I had a ‘proper’ British accent.
One of all time favourite breakfast places is also located here in Victoria. John’s Place located at 723 Pandora Ave, Victoria, V8W 1N8. Located north of downtown, this restaurant has a great atmosphere about the place with its many sports memorabilia hanging on all four walls. Once again the staff were fantastic and couldn’t beat the service but the food here is totally awesome! That’s all I am going to say but the point is, it is cheap (so great if you are traveling on a budget) and I couldn’t finish my plate!
Quick trips outside Victoria
As I didn’t have much time and with the ferry departing late on the second day I was on the island, I got up early to do a drive up north (then west) to check out a few sights. Just north of Victoria is the Goldstream Park which is kinda small compared to other parks but I was shown a great short walk from the car park just off the highway (take turning onto Finlayson Arm Road) which goes to straight into a car park with an information hut. Follow the path back underneath the highway and this will take hikers to a nice waterfall.
I also did another hike nearby in the park where I parked up near the entrance of Goldstream Provincial Park Campground and followed a hiking path for a while which took me along a river to another small waterfall. It was just simply wonderful to get out of the city and enjoy the nature with not a soul to be seen.
Further up the highway (passing through Duncan) is the very small town of Chemainus and I simply love this place for its hippy and artistic feel. Starting off as a logging town, the area has now got thirty-nine murals which locals decided to paint on side of buildings to boost tourism (to gain another income) after they saw their huge mill close down in the early 1980s. Because of this, many restaurants, cafes, antique stores and other types of quirky shops have sprang up and the town now attracts many visitors from far afield. I even found a shop selling British chocolates (but at a very high price which I wouldn’t even think of daring to pay back home!)
The other town I explored is right near Swatz Bay ferry port and is a great place to stop off for an afternoon if looking for food and drink and that is Sidney. With time to kill I just relaxed by the seafront, beer in hand and took in the views of the Pacific Ocean and the mountains over in Washington State (USA) which can be seen. Also the town has a funky street market which closes off a few streets in Downtown and the street food on offer is sublime. (Just wish my camera battery didn’t die on me at this point!).
Overall, I barely scratch the surface once again on Vancouver Island. I only did about 2% of the island as it is one of the world’s largest islands. All I saw outside Victoria whilst driving along the highway and hiking the area is trees, trees, trees and mountains of course. I really do want to come back here one day as I been told the hiking routes in the centre and west of the island are worth checking out. I love the island, the people I met, the food, the nature, the journey across to the island from the mainland, it was all part of an adventure which I hope I will return soon.