exposed waters of Vancouver Island's southwestern coast quickly dispel any notion
than an ocean is an ocean is an ocean. The true personality of the Pacific is
revealed as you traverse the slopes of San Juan Ridge as the Strait of Juan de
Fuca makes its entrance from the open water of the Pacific. Conditions shift dramatically
from the sheltered waterways of the Strait of Georgia with its gaggle of tranquil
islands. Here you face the open ocean, where nothing breaks the rolling swells
or deflects the sting of winter storms.
Summer fog rolls
in off the Strait of Juan de Fuca
Pacific Marine Circle Tour can be driven in a day, but with so many attractions
along the way, the 255-km route is best enjoyed as a two to four-day trip. Commence
this exciting route in Victoria, the provincial
capital of British Columbia. Conde' Naste Traveler Magazine reader's poll rated
Victoria one of the top ten cities to visit in the world. The picture-perfect
Inner Harbour is surrounded by many of Victoria's beautiful character buildings
and premier attractions: the stately Empress Hotel, provincial Legislative Buildings,
museums and galleries.
Head north via Highway 1, and then travel west along the West
Coast Hwy 14 to the community of Sooke.
Sooke's unspoiled beaches, meandering rainforest trails and breathtaking vistas
of Washington State's Olympic Mountains attract visitors from around the world,
eager to catch a glimpse of Vancouver Island's rugged west coast.
Sooke is the gateway to the scenic West Coast Road, which winds 74 km along the
coast to Port Renfrew, and the starting
points for the world-famous West Coast Trail and
Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. This is one of the South
Island's most spectacular drives; it winds through coastal rain forest and along
the jagged coastline, passed bed and breakfasts and seaside cafes, leading to
some amazing beaches found nowhere else on the coast, with views that engender
intimacy with the landscape, yet emphasize its isolation. En route is French
Beach Provincial Park, the community of Jordan
River, and Juan de Fuca Provincial Park (China
Beach, Sombrio Beach, and Botanical Beach).
Renfrew calls itself the Jewel of the West Coast, where you can experience
the tranquility and beauty that has made the West Coast famous. Take a leisurely
15 to 20-minute easy walk to Botanical Beach, and
discover fascinating tidal pools rich in marine life, one of the best opportunities
to view intertidal marine creatures and plants on Vancouver Island. Botanical
Beach is one of the most amazing places on the entire West Coast, with tide pools
filled like jewel boxes with brightly coloured marine animals.
Lizard Lake near
Port Renfrew BC
Port Renfrew on the unpaved Harris Creek Main logging road, which is in good condition
and well graded although it is still used by logging trucks - one of the reasons
it is well maintained. Keep your eyes peeled for bears and elk in the wilderness
around Port Renfrew, as these wild animals can be encountered anywhere in the
place to stop for a picnic or swim is Lizard Lake,
18 km northeast of Port Renfrew on the Harris Creek Main logging road. Lizard
Lake is filled with newts (salamanders), hence the origin of its name. Nearby
Fairy Lake, however, is not filled with fairies!
worth a stop is the giant Harris Creek Spruce, a tree so big that it would take
15 people to form a human chain around the trunk. The incredible tree is conveniently
located right at the roadside, accessed via a small, wooden footbridge.
Harris Creek Spruce
near Port Renfrew BC
The legendary Red Creek
Fir (73.8 metres high, 12.5 metres in circumference) is situated along the San
Juan River, but requires a short hike and clear directions to locate it (don't
rely on marks on road maps to find it).
Port Renfrew to the quiet shoreline communities of Mesachie
Lake and Lake Cowichan in the Cowichan
Valley you follow mostly unpaved, backcountry logging roads best driven by vehicles
designed for rugged terrain, although family vehicles can do the trip. Drivers
must exercise caution as this road is used by massive logging trucks that take
up a good portion of the road, and drivers trying to avoid oncoming traffic can
get caught in loose gravel. This remote road is not suited to night driving, and
there are no services available along the route.
The town of Lake Cowichan is the gateway to some of the most spectacular camping
and hiking available on Vancouver Island. Other communities such as Honeymoon
Bay, Skutz Falls, and Youbou are within easy reach by road. All have access to
scenic Cowichan Lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes on Vancouver Island.
It won't take long to notice that fishing is more than just a pastime here...it's
a passion and a way of life.
Travelling east on
Highway 18 you reach the city of Duncan.
You can't really say you've experienced the heart of the Cowichan Region until
you've made the decision to get out of your car and wander leisurely around downtown
Duncan, savouring the city's shops, restaurants, galleries, and First Nations'
cultural attractions. Take a ‘Totem Tour’ or visit the Quw’utsun’
Cultural Centre and experience authentic native cuisine, view Coast Salish
arts and crafts, or take part in the live native show.
Three of the totem
poles on the self-guided
walking tour of Duncan
is home to the BC Forestry Discovery Centre, a museum with interactive logging
exhibits, train tours, and antique logging equipment. Adjacent to the museum is
the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Refuge and bird sanctuary, which can be viewed from
a turnout on the island highway.
The Cowichan Valley region is the heart
of Vancouver Island's burgeoning wine country, a place where you can spend a few
hours, or a day or two, sampling award-winning wine and cider, visiting a local
cheese maker, and dining in a cozy orchard bistro.
Head south on Highway 1, branching off to the South Cowichan community of Cobble
Hill. The Cowichan Valley is characterized by diverse and picturesque landscapes
of forests, freshwater lakes, saltwater beaches and marinas, farmland, and vineyards.
Continue to the seaside community of Mill
Bay. The surrounding parks and scenery are lovely - perfect for hiking, cycling
and boating. This is an ideal spot to spend a few days, basking in the sun and
swimming in warm waters.
You may want to stop at Bamberton Provincial Park,
one of the more scenic locations on Saanich Inlet, and from here you look east
towards Mount Baker on the mainland. Visit Goldstream
Provincial Park before continuing south to Victoria. This is a showcase for
provincial parks, and the natural beauty of the environment makes this a special
place to explore at a leisurely pace. You can easily spend an hour strolling through
the impressive old-growth rain forest that is home to 600-year old Douglas-fir
trees and western red cedars.
Return to Victoria on the Trans-Canada Highway 1, which takes you over the Malahat
and scenic view points over Saanich Inlet and the Gulf Islands, and the snow-capped
Mount Baker in Washington State. An alternative to driving the Malahat is to board
a BC Ferry from Mill Bay to Brentwood Bay
on the Saanich Peninsula. This scenic 25-minute ride, dubbed Vancouver Island’s
most Beautiful Shortcut, lets you complete your tour with a visit to the famous
Butchart Gardens and Victoria Butterfly Gardens, before heading south on Highway
17 to Victoria.