Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Exploring historic avenues with haunted hotels, hiking in misty mountain rainforests, picnicking on a remote beach or being surrounded by countless Orca’s as they lunge out of the ocean in a spectacular display during a whale watching tour. This is Victoria, Canada, Vancouver Island’s main city. It’s much more laid back than nearby Vancouver and is a great base to explore other corners of the island. Whether you like Wine, Whales, History or nature, Victoria will stay with you long after you leave its shores.
Exploring Victoria’s Historic China Town
Victoria’s China town is the oldest in Canada and boasts a fascinating history of Opium dens, Buddhist temples and of course, delicious eats. As you enter the area you will see the Gate of Harmonious Interest or Tong Ji Men, a classic Chinese piece of architecture dawning bright red, gold and hints of emerald colours throughout. This piece was a collective effort of several communities within Victoria, there is a theme throughout the gate representing harmony, peace, unification and protection.
Delving deeper into the neighborhood you will start to notice a plethora of eccentric shops, authentic cuisines and the tiny but famous, Fan Tan Alley. Being the narrowest street in the country its easy to miss, but its definitely worth searching for. The area reminded me of a scene from Harry potter with its quirky signage, floating lanterns and small shops full of fascinating intricacies.
Sampling Local Craft Beer in Victoria’s Pubs
The Drake Eatery – Conveniently located downtown, The Drake Eatery offers some of the best selections of West Coast Craft Beers. This eatery was named after the Drake hotel and Beer Parlour which opened back in 1954, it was the first pub to open after the prohibition was lifted. Complete with brick walls, British pub style serving and enthusiastic patrons, this pub offers up a captivating atmosphere.
Swans Brewery –The Swans Brewery provides a unique selection of food and many deals on a wide range of beverages. The duck burger is a must try and the view from this ideal location is breath taking.
Day Hikes around Beautiful Victoria
Outside of Victoria being as mountainous as it is provides plenty of opportunity to escape the city and venture into ancient inland rainforests. The parks also have plenty of hidden beaches amongst its remote coastline where you can camp overnight.
I hiked the trails around Gowlland Tod Provincial Park and Mystic Beach. Gowlland Tod being just 30 minutes north of Victoria is filled with well beaten paths that climb the Parks Mountains. There are many viewpoints that give a great perspective of Vancouver Island stunning islands doting the bays. There is also great beaches in the park to relax and have a picnic at.
Mystic Beach on the other hand is all about Vancouver Island gorgeous coast which has a waterfall pouring over a hill into the ocean. Mystic beach is located 45 minutes up the West coast Road.
A Walk in Victoria Harbour
Walking along the inner harbour you will discover stunning architecture, historic monuments and great views of downtown and the marina. We started our journey at the Sea Plane harbour and slowly made our way down to the Empress hotel, ensuring to take in the waterfront and salty ocean air as we walked. Built in 1908, the lower level of this hotel is free to explore.
This hotel is well known for its history of murder and ghostly encounters, if you look to the art pieces throughout the hotel or have the opportunity to view the archive located in the basement of the hotel you will see menus, photography, cutlery, and many more glimpses into its scandalous past. After the hotel we made our way down to the parliament building, during the evening the building is lit up with white lights and looks stunning.
Spotting Orca’s and Humpback Whales
Leaving Victoria’s Fisherman Wharf behind us with Eagle Wing Whale Watching Tours, the engine roared and the boat zipped across the ocean waves at a mind blowing 80km per hour. As Victoria disappears over the horizon, the rugged and remote coastal island emerges. Grey rocks covered in moss and snorting seals, dark waters with the odd 100 foot kelp coming from the depths and soaring misty mountain peaks in the distance, it’s a truly stunning scene.
Our knowledgeable guide explained this regions unique and complex eco system as well as the history behind Canada’s southernmost landmass which features a beautiful lighthouse brought from Scotland. After our Biology lesson we heard word of Orca and Humpback whales in the distance over the radio. We sped after them coming close, but not too close to affect their natural behaviour.
At one point there had been up to 50 Orca’s surrounding our boat periodically surfacing a fin or popping half their body out of the water to curiously peek at is. After the Orca’s we furthered back towards Victoria and were surprised with a pod of Humpback whales. Their massive tails and blow holes surfaced every so often as they emerged from the dark depths.
This was easily one of the best experiences I had in Victoria. I highly recommend whale watching and with Eagle Wing Whale Watching Tours. Their large boat was comfortable (and yet incredibly fast) and the guide was very knowledgeable.
Fish and Chips at the Fisherman’s Wharf
Victoria’s Fisherman Wharf is filled with house boats, Seafood restaurants and conveniently where Eagle Wing Whale Watching Tours is located. After a day of whale watching it’s great to have a local beer and eat some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had here at the wharf.
Walking around the wharf, the colourful house boats are interesting to see as locals water plants, walk their dogs, and hop in their small boats to the downtown living as if they were on land.
As you can imagine Whale Watching Tours is a competitive industry in Victoria. I chose Eagle Wing Tours as they are one of the oldest and most experienced companies in the city. Their guides are “whale nerds” and give great perspective into Vancouver islands marine biodiversity. They are also very conscious of nature and fiercely protect this fragile environment. If you want to see whales I highly recommend Eagle Wing Whale Watching Tours and cannot wait to head out with them again! Check out their tours HERE!