Plenty to do, see and EAT on The Island

Victoria’s abundant parkland a favourite for travellers

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The views are regularly spectacular. Ocean waters framed by majestic mountains—punctuated by glimpses of some of the other islands which are a part of what is known simply as The Island to many BC residents! It is a region where you can hike under the umbrella of overhanging rainforest trees, visit lush gardens, and experience fishing where whales and seals capture your attention while waiting for the next bite.

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The views are regularly spectacular. Ocean waters framed by majestic mountains—punctuated by glimpses of some of the other islands which are a part of what is known simply as The Island to many BC residents! It is a region where you can hike under the umbrella of overhanging rainforest trees, visit lush gardens, and experience fishing where whales and seals capture your attention while waiting for the next bite.

While I had visited the beautiful city of Victoria on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island before, with everything there is to see and do there, I seldom left this BC capital city to explore much beyond its urban borders. That is, until this past fall when—what was supposed to be a golf vacation on the Vancouver Island Golf Trail—turned into a fascinating, unforgettable experience in a destination region I knew little about.

Our motivation for this journey was about what—before Covid—was almost an annual 30+ year reunion between me and two of my best friends, Randy Williams and Louis Rodriguez. We planned to do a little bit of anything and everything—in what it turned out to be a trip of exceptional discoveries.

Photos by Ron Pradinuk / Winnipeg Free Press

Outstanding views from the platform of the Malahat Skywalk.

Only about a 30-minute drive from Victoria is one of the island’s newest and most interesting attractions —the Malahat SkyWalk.

Opened in July of 2021, it is located entirely in the natural environment of the ancestral and traditional lands of the Malahat Nation.

As described by Ken Bailey, general manager, it is a 20-metre-high spiral tower at the end of a 600-metre walkway, which because it also is high at almost seven metres—“gives visitors a unique perspective of the forest floor where you can also see birds perching around their nests. The circular spiral has no hard edges while the number of rotations makes it an easy climb for most people”.

At the top, 250 metres above sea level, the views are amazing from anywhere around the 360 degrees platform. If you don’t feel like walking back down, at a point in the return you can climb onto the thrill slide ride which flashes you down to the SkyWalk base. From there you can choose to walk back to the gate along a equally interesting forest trail—or return on the elevated walkway.

While it is fair to say that most of the islanders are conservation conscious and protective of the wildlife that exists throughout the island—a visit to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre proved to highlight that in a significant way.

Robin and Sylvia Campbell owned a grocery store in 1969 when they came across an injured owl. A newspaper published the story of how their dedication and caring personalities saved the bird. Before long, in the back of their store, they were housing injured deer and other animals people brought them.

It became a non-stop commitment—until they finally purchased an eight-acre property—and became what Sylvia defines is a “non profit organization that cares for ill, injured and orphaned wildlife”.

At any given time, there are between 700 and 800 wildlife patients in their care—either in their onsite hospital—or on display for visitors to view as they recover. “Our goal is to educate the public,” Sylvia added. “People have really responded and our bequests are huge. That’s what has built this place”. It is also a large number of volunteers who help keep the operation running smoothly.

Robin, without a design education, clearly is a creative genius on his own. He is responsible for creating the statues and structures which enhance the walk through this truly overwhelming display of compassion and commitment.

There is a constant turnover of wildlife. “While some come too injured to save, we are always walking a tightrope in our efforts to rehabilitate”. Those which are saveable may be seen in recovery—with recover time for birds a month or two—with bears staying as long as 18 months.

Some residents—like the Barred Owl who lost an eye in an automobile accident—are permanent in the centre. It is frequently walked through the centre with its volunteer handler so guests can photograph it up close.

Recovery Centre is near Parksville which has become a major summer family attraction because of its many beaches and provincial parks in the area—adding an energy to the region that was, and still is, also a retirement community for Canadians—particularly those from the other Western Provinces.

It is rare for the rejoining of our three amigos who came together for this journey—not to include fishing as a primary activity. Until this trip, it was always for freshwater fishing—mostly in the waters of Lake of the Woods near Sioux Narrows, where I owned a cabin.

Salmon fishing in the deeper sea waters of Vancouver Island would be an education, that came with the experience. But the experiences we had were exceptional.

Dean Parsonage is the owner of 50 degree (symbol for degree) North Adventures, an immaculately kept vessel—which he motivates his guests to keep clean while on board as well. He piloted big charters around Australia before he discovered Campbell River. He and his wife loved the quality of life, the natural beauty and relative quiet—and expresses no desire to go back.

Soon after we set sail, he pointed out Quadra Island—one of the other more popular islands—and before we even got close to our destined fishing grounds—he was drawing our attention to Humpback Whales frolicking not fare away. As we approached a route marker, we were astonished to see several seals resting on it—or swimming and diving nearby.

A volunteer carries permanent resident Barred Owl at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre.

The Chinook were biting, and after five hours we were happy, exhausted, and ready to head back to our Crown Isle Resort property—with our limit of fish to process for plenty for sharing before transporting them back home.

Sooke is a community only 38 kilometres from Victoria. We were able to rent a condo unit at the Sooke Point Resort—with views so beautiful I was tempted to buy one. I didn’t, but Randy did.

Hopefully future invitations will be forthcoming—because it is a dynamic area and our next fishing outing with Spencer’s Sport Fishing out of Sooke—with affable host Cal Young—was as fantastic as the first.

The Sooke Point Resort was developed by former Manitoban, Michael Thornton. He owned the land for over a decade before he was able to proceed with his dream—but spared no effort in creating the quality property he envisioned.

Interestingly both Sooke Point and Crown Isle have been prizing options in Manitoba hospital lotteries.

With our second fishing adventure and a third to that followed, it would be fair to say my freshwater fishing addiction, now has an added saltwater dimension.

What makes Vancouver Island such a good outdoor destination is that it is easy—as we did—to fish in the morning and golf in the afternoon.

Add to that the many tourist options, excellent restaurants, and dramatic scenery—it is hard to find a better all-round place for a holiday—and it is purely Canadian.

If you go:

While staying at the Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort in Parksville—voted the #1 spa in Canada—we dined in their award-winning Cedars Restaurant. Don’t pass up the wonderful Salmon Wellington.

We also enjoyed the whale watching tour aboard the Prince of Whales. We got as close as allowed to a number of pods—and witnessed an array of other sea life. Note: You may want to turn off your cell phone or you will have to convince your carrier you were not actually in the US—since the tour goes close enough to be dominated by cross border signals.

pradinukr@shaw.ca

Ron Pradinuk

Ron Pradinuk
Travel writer

A writer and a podcaster, Ron's travel column appears in the Winnipeg Free Press every Saturday in the Destinations and Diversions section.

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