The Butchart Gardens
Robert and Jennie Butchart arrived here 100 years ago. Until 1912 this property was mining limestone until the Butcharts began planting trees, shrubs and plants that they collected from around the world on their travels. Now, as autumn unfolds and the days get cooler, you can wander under a canopy of red Japanese maples toward two graceful silver birch trees with striking yellow leaves. All the colours of "The fall" are here to entertain you with over 50 acres of gardens, a coffee house, picnic grounds, fountains and restaurants to add to your experience. The smile on my wifes face was worth the plane ticket, not just the admission price!
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British Columbia's Capital city VICTORIA , located on Vancouver Island, is surrounded by a natural paradise of rocky shorelines, sandy beaches, spectacular ocean and mountain views and lush forests and parkland. The picturesque Inner Harbour is the location of many of the city's top attractions, including the Royal British Columbia Museum and the Fairmont Empress Hotel. The Historic Downtown area includes OLD TOWN, BASTION SQUARE, MARKET SQUARE and CHINATOWN.
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DUNCAN---CITY OF TOTEMS
On Tuesday, June 2, Hans and I stopped in DUNCAN which is the commercial Centre of the Cowichan Valley. The CITY OF TOTEMS is proud of its First Nations Heritage. Yellow footprints painted on the sidewalk, allow you to take a self-guided tour of the 41 Totem Poles erected around town. You can learn more about the culture of the area's First People, at the QUW'UTSUN cultural and Conference Centre, which features totem pole carving and other crafts, theatrical presentations and mid-Day Salmon BBQ'S.
Whale watching: grey whales
There are quite a few companies in Tofino offering whale-watching trips. I can’t now remember why we went with this one, but it was certainly a good choice as we had a wonderful experience. I’ve written about it in more depth on my Tofino page, and included a travelogue of extra photos, but here’s an overview:
One thing we liked about this particular tour was that the boat was fairly small. This means of course that you’re with a small group rather than a crowd, and everyone gets a good seat close to the action. At one point a grey whale swam alongside our boat for several minutes, probably the most memorable experience of the whole trip.
Of course there’s no guarantee that you’ll see whales, let alone get as close to them as we did, but the chances are high. The company make the following offer on their website: on trips that do not see whales we offer our passengers a “Rain Cheque”, a complimentary trip with no expiry date.
Trips last 2 ½ hours and run three times a day from March 1st – October 15th – 10.30 AM, 2.00 PM, and 5.00 PM. You buy your ticket at the Whale Centre Museum on Campbell Street, and it’s a good idea to book ahead, especially in high season.
This isn’t a cheap outing, especially for a family – tickets cost $69 for adults, $59 for students and seniors, and $45 for children aged 4-12. But I really think it is worth every penny and would highly recommend it.
- Whale Watching
Whale watching: orcas
This was one of the highlights of our visit to Vancouver Island (although possibly eclipsed by a later whale watching trip on the west coast at Tofino – see my other tip). The tour was organised by Stubbs Island Whale Watching who operate out of Telegraph Cove.
We left the Cove early in the morning (hot coffee is offered on the wharf as you wait to board, and is needed even in July!) The boat can take about 50 passengers but we were pleased to find ourselves in a smaller group of about half that. As we left the shelter of the cove and headed out to the Johnstone Strait the sun came out (the previous day had been wet) and the water sparkled beautifully. Even if we hadn’t seen any orcas the scenery alone would probably have been worth the trip – but we did!
After a bit of a search of the area our guide tracked down two from a pod well-known to naturalists in the area: Scimitar and her son Nimpkish. We got close enough to these wonderful creatures to appreciate their sleek beauty and get some photos (although you’ll need a good zoom to get close-ups like this). We also saw Dall’s Porpoises and Pacific White Sided Dolphins. A further bonus was that the boat had a hydrophone (underwater microphones) connected to speakers on the deck, so we were able to listen to the whales communicating under the water – amazing! In all, the trip lasted nearly four hours, getting us back to Telegraph Cove in time for lunch.
They don’t guarantee that you’ll see whales on this trip, but they do claim to have a 90% success rate, which is pretty high. Remember to dress warmly, even in sunny weather, and take your camera and binoculars!
- Whale Watching
Float plane, Tofino
This was an experience to rival the whale watching trip in Tofino as “best bit of the holiday” – in fact on reflection this one maybe just takes the prize! We both love flying but had never had the chance to go up in a float plane before, so when we saw this tour on offer we couldn’t resist. We were lucky enough to be the only passengers, and the whole flight was amazing! Firstly, taking off from water rather than a runway was of course new for us. Then, the views as we flew out over Clayoquot Sound were fantastic – deserted coves, unspoiled wooded hills and here and there a picturesque home tucked away on a private bay. Further out we came to the real highlight, viewing some of the grey whales from above, including this mother and calf. Far too soon the 20 minute flight was over and we headed back to Tofino for the final treat, the touch-down on the sea. A truly memorable experience!
Our tour cost $65 (Canadian) per person back in 2002, but I haven’t been able to find out what they charge now. Whatever it is, if you can afford it it’s worth it!
There are more photos in my Tofino travelogue if you’re interested.
- Whale Watching
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve – Long Beach
This national park lies along part of the west coast of Vancouver Island. It consists of three distinct parts. The Long Beach Unit is easily the most accessible and the only one we visited. It lies between the villages of Ucluelet and Tofino, and is named after the 16 km sandy beach of Wickaninnish Bay. The other units are the Broken Group Islands Unit (an archipelago of more than one hundred islands and rocks scattered throughout Barkley Sound and accessible only by boat) and the West Coast Trail Unit (a 75 km backpacking route).
Within the Long Beach Unit are a number of trails of different lengths. We did one of the shorter ones, the Spruce Fringe Trail. This led us through the Sitka spruce forest to Wickaninnish Bay, where we enjoyed the many great photo opportunities and peering into the tidepools. I've included more info aboutt he various walking trails on my Tofino page.
Daily entry to the park was $6.90 (Canadian) for adults, $3.95 for children. The ticket we purchased allowed us 24 hours in the park so after visiting one afternoon we returned the next morning to get our money’s worth!
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Cathedral Grove is a rare surviving stand of ancient Douglas fir and western red cedar in MacMillan Provincial Park in the centre of Vancouver Island. The oldest trees in the Grove are about 800 years old, and measure 76 meters (250 ft) high and up to 9 meters (29 ft) in circumference. They really are worth stopping to see if you’re driving across the island. Loop trails on either side of the highway lead through the mighty forest stands. If you only have time for one, follow the south loop which takes you past the largest Douglas fir trees, with the biggest one measuring over 9 metres in circumference.
It’s almost impossible to take photos of these huge trees so I’ve scanned a postcard instead.
Note that park facilities are limited to pit toilets only.
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CHEMAINUS ---WORLD FAMOUS MURALS
Internationally renowned as the world's largest outdoor gallery, seaside CHEMAINUS is home to 34 huge, professionally painted murals. These artworks brilliantly depict the history and culture of Chemainus and can be viewed on a self-guided walking tour or from a horse-drawn carriage.
Museum at Campbell River
This is an excellent museum for anyone interested in First Nation history and culture. It’s in an attractive modern building in the small town of Campbell River, with large picture windows giving great views over Discovery Passage.
Among the highlights for us was the dramatic light and sound presentation which spotlights a series of masks while the story of The Treasures of Siwidi is related, and there are also a large number of beautifully crafted artefacts.
In addition to the First Nations exhibits, the museum has a number of others related to the history of Vancouver Island, including logging, the salmon fishing industry and the Ripple Rock Story. The latter is a showing of old film footage from the 1950s which describes the major engineering feat that saw the dangerous Ripple Rock blasted to make the nearby waters safer for shipping. Before its destruction in 1958, Ripple Rock had claimed at least 114 lives, and the blast that finally blew it away was the world's largest non-atomic blast at that time. Even in this old and grainy footage we could appreciate the drama of the exercise and of the explosion it produced: 700,000 tons of rock and water erupted in a blast that reached a height of 1,000 feet.
Current admission prices are $6 (Canadian) for adults, $15 for a family (2 adults plus children). There is a good gift shop, and a grassy picnic area with views of the water, but no café or restaurant on the premises (though there is a vending machine).
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Whalewatching from Tofino
Together with Ucluet (another village on the westcoast of Vancouver Island), Tofino is one of the most important whalewatching spots in Canada.
Especially during spring over 10,000 gray whales pass this area when migrating to the north. In summer several dozens of whales are said to stay in this area. As a result, whalewatching can be done during summer as well. Is this a good idea? NO. We spent CAN$ 70 each and all we saw was a gray dot that was the back of a whale for exactly 1 second at a distance of about 100 metres. So the trip "was a success" because after all we saw a whale, Yeah, yeah! Of course, some people are lucky and other aren't but deep inside you all hope to be in that first group. All I can say is if you go whalewatching, do not expect too much of it. The brochures can be a bit too optimistic.
On the other hand the boatride itself was great, because it is the perfect opportunity to see the Pacific Rim National Park area. The official boundaries of the park itself lie a little bit further to the south, but it is the same area, with lots of nice coastlines and small islands.
We went on a family boat, which would be better if you want to film (film what?), but I would suggest to always opt for a Zodiac (speedboat), which might increase your chances. As for comfort, you will feel the waves in a family boat just as bad as in a Zodiac (and have less comfortable seats as well)
- Whale Watching
PACIFIC RIM NATIONAL PARK
The West Coast (Port Alberni, Pacific Rim National Park, Ucluelet and Tofino). Vancouver Island's spectacular West Coast is world famous for fishing, hiking, grey whale watching and stunning scenery. PACIFIC RIM NATIONAL PARK is the location of Long Beach which boasts 19 kilometres of shoreline along the Pacific Ocean.
PARKSVILLE --- COMMUNITY PARK
The centrally located COMMUNITY PARK in Parksville which separates the shopping area of town from the water, is home to the Lions' Venture Playground and Waterpark. There's also an ice rink, skateboard park, beach volleyball courts, tennis courts, BMX track and picnic areas. After dinner, Hans and I went here to just relax and perhaps catch the sunset. And what a beautiful sunset it was.
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Drop in to the VISITOR INFO CENTRE and the staff will help you find a place to stay. A range of accommodations close to Parksville's downtown and the beaches will fit all budgets from camping to high-end condos, beach-front bungalows to cozy B&B's.
TOFINO--BEAUTIFUL VILLAGE BY THE PACIFIC
Located near the Pacific Rim National Park and overlooking Clayoquet Sound TOFINO is a picturesque fishing village surrounded by beautiful forested Islands. Hans and I visited this scenic town on Wednesday, June 4.
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