On my trip out west back in April, one of the things I was most looking forward to was a day long road trip around the southern part of Vancouver Island. All added up, I put about 350km on my rental car on a journey from downtown Victoria to Duncan and Chemanius along the east side of the island, then across the interior to Port Renfrew, before heading down the west coast to Sooke, before heading back to Victoria. My main concern leading up to the road trip day was the weather – the forecast had been calling for very heavy rain. But as I pulled out of Victoria early in the morning and made my way toward Duncan, the skies were almost perfectly blue. My first stop was at Malahat Lookout, about 30km outside Victoria to take in this outstanding view. Not a bad place to enjoy an early morning coffee.
Back in the car, and about half an hour up the road I stopped in Duncan. I came to learn after I visited that Duncan is the smallest city by total land area in Canada. What drew me here was to visit was the collection of totems. I parked the car, grabbed a totem map and set off on about an hour long walk through the town. All of the eighty totems have plaques to describe the significance, symbolism and the history of the artists. These were a few of my favourites.
A bit further north is Chemanius, another of Vancouver Island’s small towns. In the 1980s, the town’s main employer, a sawmill, significantly reduced its workforce. In an effort to keep the town relevant and to foster another industry, Chemanius and its citizens invested in the arts to attract tourists. One of the main efforts was to paint large murals on the sides of buildings through the town. As a lover of public art, I couldn’t resist a stop here. Following the yellow footsteps painted on the sidewalks, I toured the town and saw some really impressive works of art.
As I was getting ready to leave Chemanius, the expected bad weather arrived. The winds picked up and the sky turned an ominous shade of dark grey. Starting the drive across the interior of the island, the rain began to fall steadily. I knew I had close to two hours until I’d be getting out of the car again, so the rain didn’t bother me much. More worrisome were the twisty narrow roads where every 5-10 minutes I’d come face to face with a logging truck barreling around a curve toward me. I wasn’t expecting a quiet road to be quite the white knuckle adventure. Although the weather had closed in, there were still some nice views of trees, hills and mountains along the way through the windshield.
It was still raining pretty hard when I got to Port Renfrew. I pulled the car over for a quick granola bar snack and to check a map (I found the road signs in this area a bit confusing). The sound of the rain hitting the car roof slowed a bit as I drove up to Botanical Beach Provincial Park and the Juan de Fuca Trail trailhead. My plan was to do a short hike here, but the clouds were pretty socked in and there was no view to speak of, so I turned around and headed back toward the town, stopping near the government wharf in Port Renfrew. After walking by some cottages and a restaurant, I was at the end of the dock. Even if I didn’t know where I was, I think I may have guessed that I was standing somewhere on Canada’s west coast in April with what my eyes were seeing.
Under cloud, fog and drizzle, I had a wonderful atmospheric view out over Port San Juan. Perhaps it was my east cost winter starved eyes, maybe it was the romanticism I have for a foggy and overcast day, but I loved the lush green colours and lingered here a while under an umbrella drinking in the scene.
When I was getting ready to leave Halifax for this trip, I hoped for some reasonable weather so I could sit on a west coast beach and listen to the waves roll in to shore. After a brutal winter, dealing with some health scares with my dog and the general stresses of work and life, I was looking for a few meditative moments to recharge on this day trip. I parked the rental car about a ten minute hike above China Beach and made the twisty walk down toward the water. Each step brought the smell and sounds of the ocean closer. When I stepped through the final line of trees onto the beach, the rain had stopped, and I could feel months of tension start to float away.
China Beach is truly a beautiful place. To have it virtually to myself was a special experience.
Anytime I get near a major body of water, no matter the temperature, I feel compelled to dip my feet into it. The Strait of Juan de Fuca is pretty cold in late April, but a tradition is a tradition.
As I dried off my feet after a brief and chilly few steps into the water, I sat on a piece of driftwood for a long spell staring out to the water. It was exactly what I needed and what I hoped for. It’s not everyday you get an entire beach to yourself to just sit and think. I left feeling rejuvenated and invigorated. I shot this short video to remind myself of the beach and the sounds.
On the hike back uphill from the beach to the car, I felt like China Beach had just made my entire trip. One of the things I love about travel is how there is always a collection of experiences that expand your mind or give you some insight into yourself. I knew immediately in my mind that whenever I look back on this visit to the west coast, I’ll always remember sitting on the beach. After a parking lot change of clothes from hiking gear to restaurant-suitable attire, I pointed the car toward Sooke, intending to stop there for a coffee before my dinner plans. But another beach drew me in (not terribly surprising!). French Beach beckoned me to its rugged, rocky shore and even threw in some dramatic cloud cover to set the scene. It’s pretty easy to understand why people love living on the west coast.
The last stop of my trip was a bucket list item that I’ll save for another post. I’m a foodie and promised myself if I ever found my way anywhere near Sooke, BC, I’d stop for a meal at the Sooke Harbour House. The setting and the meal itself were a perfect cap to a day trip I’m so glad I had the chance to take. I’ll detail the meal in my next post… you might not want to read it on an empty stomach!