There’s a whole lot of Wild West Coast on Vancouver Island, from rainforest hiking to hot springs. To help you narrow your focus, here are five ways to explore Victoria and Vancouver Island that will ignite your adventurous spirit:
If you’re driving on the Alberni Highway, stop at Cathedral Grove at MacMillian Provincial Park to see ancient Douglas fir trees. It feels a bit like Jurassic Park walking among these 800 year old giants, like a T-Rex might burst through the mossy rainforest at any given second.
The Hupacasath Nation have been using Cathedral Grove for thousands of years. The area has spiritual significance to the Hupacasath people, and was historically used as a travel and trade route before European contact. Today, many of their people still collect medicine plants and Cedar bark for making baskets, hats, and other traditional regalia. Visitors should remember that the Hupacasath Nation never surrendered the land and it is still recognized as their traditional territory.
In the 20th-century, Cathedral Grove was owned by a lumber company. Thankfully, H.R. MacMillan, a well-known forester, donated the land in 1944, and the area became a provincial park. So that’s how we can continue to marvel at these ancient giants today.
Overlooking Victoria’s harbour, the Fairmont Empress Hotel has been a historical landmark and top tourist attraction, dating back to 1908. To learn more about its history and architecture (and some scandals), take a guided tour with Walkabout Historical Tours. You’ll also learn some quirky tales, like how British Prime Minister Winston Churchill smuggled whiskey into his tea during the Prohibition years, or how the bee hives in the Centenary Gardens are used to make honey beer.
To see Victoria from an alternative angle, go kayaking along the harbour. Ocean River Sports offers a guided 3-hour urban kayaking trip, with a chance to spot wildlife and learn about waterway’s history. Paddle out of the harbour to snap photos of the Olympic Mountains in Washington, watch seaplanes hit the runway, and explore the floating neighbourhood of boathouses.
Wander the Streets of Victoria (in a Non-Sketchy Way)
Make sure to explore Victoria on foot. It may be small, but it has a vibrant downtown. The streets are scattered with patios, bookstores, live music, hipsters, and gastropubs serving local craft beer. Chinatown also had cafes that serve interesting teas, some of which include alcohol.
Go on a Beer & Biking Tour of Victoria
What’s Victoria’s best kept secret? This city is the craft brewing capital of Canada – with 9 breweries and 4 brew pubs. With that in mind, The Pedaler has a Hoppy Hour Tour – a half day guided bike ride to craft breweries within the Victoria area. This isn’t your average pub crawl – it’s a real opportunity to explore West Coast beer culture in Victoria.
Over three hours, bike to several local breweries for tastings and learn why locals choose craft beer over big box breweries. It’s a fresher and more authentic style of beer without chemicals and preservatives. As Brewmaster Sean from Hoyne’s Brewery explains: “beer is like bread – it needs to be consumed in 24 hours.”
The breweries operate much like a daily market – customers pick up freshly brewed beer and drink it the same day. It’s no wonder that locals love the Growler – a large, reusable jug that only costs $10 to refill and is a greener option to buying a six-pack. For Sean Hoyne, craft beer-making is also about reclaiming an industry that has been usurped by big corporations.
“Beer is meant to be local,” says Hoyne. “Every little town had local brewery, bakery, and brothel. But after World War II, big corporations took over the beer industry.”
Politics aside, the visit to Spinnakers Brewery included a pairing of beer with chocolate truffles. There was nothing controversial about this tasting.