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Vancouver Island’s Pacific Marine Circle Route

& the Saanich Peninsula

Story and video by Lynn Rosen, photos by Steve Giordano   October 1, 2010

  French Beach, Vancouver island  
China Beach - West Coast of Vancouver Island
  We were so psyched. Got up at two in the morning, packed our bags and the cooler full of goodies, climbed into the car and headed out on the four-hour drive to catch the M.V. Coho Black Ball Ferry in Port Angeles to Victoria’s Inner Harbour. A three-day adventure was about to unfold and who knew what treasures we might discover? We were off to travel the legendary Pacific Marine Circle Route and make a short tour of the Saanich Peninsula with a first-day stop in Victoria.  
  M.V. Coho Black Ball Ferry      
  M.V. Coho Black Ball Ferry  

M.V. Coho Black Ball Ferry staff and customs in Port Angeles were quite civilized and smooth. Show our passports and answer a few questions about what we were carrying and then onto the ferry. Having a reservation makes this process much quicker and easier. for more info.

The fog was thick on the morning of our trip so, instead of taking pictures of the glorious passage, we read the morning papers, chatted with some fellow passengers and took naps. Just before pulling into Victoria’s Inner Harbour, we visited the on-board bookstore and were gobsmacked by the amazing selection of books. Honestly, this has got to be the best floating bookstore on the Seven Seas. “Fabulous and interesting” we overheard some fellow passengers remark as they made substantial purchases.

M.V. Coho Black Ball Ferry courtesy Black Ball
  Olympic Peninsula   Fairmont Empress Hotel  
Olympic Peninsula
Fairmont Empress Hotel
  The fog lifted a bit to reveal the legendary Fairmont Empress Hotel and Parliament Buildings as we floated into Victoria’s Inner Harbour, all looking very magical in the mist.  


Victoria is always a wonderland of adventures and we had so little time. Just an afternoon in the city before we headed out on our tour of the Saanich Peninsula and then the following day, the Scenic Marine Drive which follows the Pacific Ocean around the southern coast of the city, looping along highway #14 to Sooke.

After strolling Government Street while nibbling on local Roger’s chocolates,, we checked out LoJo, or Lower Johnson Street, which has got a new buzz of gentrification—“Herit-Edge.” Lots of fresh, hip shops in renovated heritage buildings with locally owned restaurants, boutiques and coffee houses.

Couldn’t miss a visit to Chinatown, the oldest in Canada, but always so cool and so hip. Fan-Tan Alley—the narrowest street in Canada—never ceases to amaze. Don’t miss the newly developed Dragon Alley and be sure to visit the small, locally owned shops with exotic merchandise. Dim Sum is served all day at some restaurants along Fisgard. Check the sidewalk menus for the daily repast.

  Red serpent sculpture  
Serpent near Victoria's Chinatown
Royal British Columbia Museum
  After a quick stroll along Fort Street’s Antique Row, we visited the Royal BC Museum to see the Behind the Scenes exhibit exposing every department behind the scenes at the museum. Fascinating and worth the effort. From late 2011 to 2012, the Chinese terracotta warriors will stop at the museum as part of a Canadian tour. This exhibit will be a once-in-a-lifetime show and not to be missed. Go to for more info.  
Royal British Columbia Museum courtesy RBCM
  We checked into the Queen Victoria Hotel & Suites, just a few blocks from the Coho Ferry landing at the Inner Harbour and across the street from the Royal BC Museum. We could look out the windows and step out on the decks of our lovely corner kitchen suite and see the Harbour, The Empress, the green Bocce ball courts and Beacon Hill Park. The 146-room /suite Queen Victoria is owned by a local family and offers a first class restaurant, Samuel’s, on site as well as an indoor pool, sauna, fitness area and a courteous and helpful frontline staff that speaks many languages.  
  Saanich Peninsula      
  Butchart Gardens  

We headed North out of downtown Victoria along Blanshard Street for a short tour of the Saanich Peninsula just 20 minutes from downtown Victoria. Rich in agricultural land, this region provides Victorians and the southern island with fresh, local produce and the entire area with fine wines, ciders and, more recently, fine gin! We turned off highway 17 at Keating Cross Road that winds towards Buchart Gardens, which is even gorgeous in the rain.

A stop at Butterfly Gardens proved a spectacular rain-stop with hundreds of iridescent butterflies flittering amidst the amazing tropical flora they share with a koi pond reigned over by two elegant pink flamingoes.

Butchart Gardens


  Butterflies   Butterfly  
Butterfly Gardens residents
ButterflyGardens observer
  flamingoes   Atlas moth sign   Atlas moth  
Warning sign for the Atlas moth
Atlas moth

We next made a loop that included a number of wineries along Old West Saanich Road and surprise! We came upon Victoria Spirits and Barking Dog Vineyards. Owners Bryan Murray and Peter Hunt have launched British Columbia’s only handcrafted artisan gin distillery, producing the smoothest gins that will ever pass your lips. The vintners blend a dozen botanicals from juniper berries to rose petals and distill in small batches for an amazingly soothing sipping variety of flavoured gins, each with its own distinctive character. This is not your ouch/harsh/euwww gin off the shelf. Smooth and special to be sure.


Be sure to leave time for stops along the way at a number of farms, wineries, cideries and views before jumping back onto the mountainous Malahat Highway on your way back to Victoria.

Adrena Line Zipline Adventure Tours

From downtown Victoria, we set out toward Sooke for an exciting morning adventure with Adrenea Line Zipline Adventure Tours. Located under the 17 Mile Pub Liquor Store on Hwy #14 about 45 minutes outside the city, we found a cozy, friendly basement office full of very savvy, cool people.

  Zipline   Zipline   Zipline  
Having a wonderful time at Adrena Line Zipline Adventure—wish you were here!

With four other adventurers, we anticipated our zipline adventure as two young, enthusiastic, experienced guides ran us through our instructions and paces. They then led us up to the first and easiest of our 8 scenic Ziplines through the rainforest forest in the Sooke Hills.


A well-narrated, educational and entertaining combination of walks and an exciting ATV ride, not to mention two suspension bridge dangles contributed to our wow factors of traveling through the woods then climbing into the tree houses before stepping off into the void and sailing 150 feet off the ground for up to 1,000 feet across valleys and forests below. Nothing to match the exhilaration and joy of that kind of flying. There was even a phantom camera mounted on one of the trees. (See results of one of our writers in pure joy zipping through the trees.) For those customers totally in love with the experience, job application forms were available in all their washrooms.

Sooke Potholes Park

Sooke Potholes Park
  Sooke Potholes Park  
Former resort development at Sooke Potholes Park
Overlook at Sooke Potholes Park

After taking a turn just off Highway #14, we drove alongside the Sooke River, past a number of potholes which are popular places to swim to Sooke Potholes Park near to top of the potholes where we paid a $3 parking fee and hiked down to the double waterfalls. The adjacent private property was once a resort development that has been abandoned and now makes for a curious look-see and the foundations of what must’ve been a grandiose plan at the top of the gorge. The Sooke Potholes are a result of thousands of years of erosion by the rushing Sooke River and the vistas from the top of the waterfalls are stunning.

  coffee sign   Sooke has no square blocks, so the Stick in the Mud Coffee Shop is hard to find, but worth the trouble. Good vibes, warm atmosphere, tasty food and hearty coffee. The staff and owner share lots of local lore. Turn right at second stoplight onto Otter Point Road, then first left onto Eustace. It's right there on the left.  

East Sooke Regional Park

East Sooke Regional Park is a hiker’s paradise. Views from the park of Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic Mountains beg to be photographed. You might see seals and/or whales.

Cougar’s Crag Extreme B&B

Just one hill over from Ash Mountain on another high point in Metchosin, we had the privilege of spending the night at Cougar’s Crag Extreme B&B. Although it’s just 30 minutes from downtown Victoria, it seems the most remote and quiet spot on Vancouver Island. A large lodge-style structure built by its owners, the B&B is now in its seventh season and consists of two side-by-side two-story townhouses on one side of the main house connected by an office next to the main house where breakfast is served. Steve Schweighofer, one of the owners, served us a hearty, healthy repast and chatted with us about his property.

  Cougar's Crag Extreme B&B   Cougar’s Crag Extreme B&B   Cougar’s Crag Extreme B&B  
Scenes at Cougar’s Crag Extreme B&B in late Fall, a half-hour drive from Victoria, British Columbia

Q: Why do you call this an Extreme B&B?

Steve: “When I hear "B&B", the image I have is a small bedroom in somebody's house where you share the living space and, often, the bathroom. Generally there are no pets allowed and, given the "doily" atmosphere, hiking equipment, muddy boots, etc., are frowned upon. Perhaps this is not a fair image, but I think it is a common one. Our "extreme" label stems from our offering small, split-level suites with fridge and microwave, no size limit pet policy for dog owners, and the setting itself, which is definitely not the downtown or roadside location. We try and be a destination rather than just a stopover accommodation.

  Italian Maremma dogs at Cougar's Crag Extreme B&B   Cougar's Crag Extreme B&B   Cougar's Crag Extreme B&B  
Jake and Will, Italian Maremma dogs
Cougars on the entry door
Arbutus (Madrona) behind the B&B
courtesy Cougar's Crag

Q: You are such a good cook, do you ever offer dinners?

Steve: “We used to offer dinners but found that I had no life!  I will do the odd dinner for long-term guests upon request, but it is not a practice that we advertise.

Q: How can potential guests find out about you?

Steve: We are affiliated with most B&B websites (B&, BC Innkeepers, etc), pet friendly sites ( and, and, of course, Tourism BC, Trip Advisor, Canada Select, etc.  We rely on our website and Facebook page to give potential customers a good idea of what to expect.  We also donate/participate in numerous fundraising events for animals, wildlife, and the local community.


Find more at and be sure to give Banjo a squeeze when you visit. A black & tan rescue hound, barks but is friendly, he’s the dog you’ll see on the B&B logo and when you check in and then, again, when you have breakfast.


Pacific Marine Circle Tour

The Pacific Marine Circle Tour is a short 255km (158 mi) journey along Vancouver Island’s remote coasts that offers spectacular views of the Juan de Fuca, Haro and Georgia straights and is best experienced over a two to four-day trip. Sections of the loop are secondary interior, cross-island roads with narrow passages, single-lane bridges, hairpin turns, bumpy dirt roads and detours due to construction sites. The cross-island section is best planned for an afternoon drive on a full tank of gas, as there are no facilities along highway #18 between Port Renfrew and Duncan.

  China Beach  
  Juan de Fuca Provincial Park          
  French Beach          
  French Beach   The grassy lawns and rocky beaches strewn with driftwood and artsy, smooth, polished stones afford many spots to linger, look, languish and loll as well as strike out on treks and take beautiful pictures. Again, views of the Straits and Olympic mountains across the waters are stunning. A great spot for strolling and picnicking.   French Beach





  China Beach      
China Beach
China Beach
  A hike through a forested area down to the beach is well worth the effort. Relish the views and opportunities to beachwalk, sit and ponder and watch for wildlife.  
        Port Renfrew          
  Port Renfrew   Harris spruce sign   Harris Spruce  

The Village of Port Renfrew has a rep for fab coastal scenery, world-class hiking, freshwater/saltwater fishing and SURF. The beaches along this stretch of coastline are becoming increasingly popular with surfers, especially those looking for the wilderness experience. Port Renfrew is also the trailhead for the West Coast Trail and the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, two of the well-known multi-day hiking trails on Vancouver Island. Don’t miss the Harris Creek Spruce Tree, one of the largest spruces in Canada. It grows just outside the downtown village.

Cowichan Lake & Carmanah Provincial Park

Cowichan Lake, the second largest lake on Vancouver Island, is a hot spot for families and freshwater sports. Cowichan Lake is the gateway to the windsurfing mecca of Nitinat Lake and the coastal rainforest trails in Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park, one of the most remarkable wilderness areas on the Island. We met a couple from Calgary who had come in their RV to camp and fish on the Island and found their favourite spot at Cowichan Lake.

Cowichan Bay

After driving the amazing Pacific Marine Circle Route, mostly two-lane road, some of it dirt but mostly paved with one-lane bridges and detours, we arrived at Cowichan Bay just beyond Duncan.

  Cowichan Bay   Cowichan Bay   Cowichan Bay   Cowichan Bay  
  It is a throwback to the 60s of hippy La Conner or early Sausalito—a lovely, funky, un-developed but cool artsy spot on a quiet bay with a busy fishing community and earnest population.  
  We stayed at a large property at the end of the one main-street town, Oceanfront Grand Resort & Marina, a five-story palace of a place seemingly out of sync with the rest of the village. Although the restaurant was closed and the property seems to be going through a transition, our suite was a large corner apartment right on the water with views off our two balconies of fishing boats, sailboats and native canoes on the water.  
  Oceanfront Grand Resort & Marina   Cowichan Bay  
Oceanfront Grand Resort & Marina
Cowichan Bay from the hotel room

If you want a very special evening, make reservations at The Masthead Restaurant on the main street overlooking the bay. Very posh and delightful with a menu to match. It’s casual but I would suggest coat and maybe tie.

  Cowichan Bay   Raincoast Rowboat   Cowichan Bay rowboat  
  We walked the village main street in the morning to smell the marvelous waft of fresh bread from the True Grain Bread & Mill, bought a loaf and proceeded to Hilary’s Cheese and Deli for a bit of lunch to go. On our way back, we stopped to say hello to First Nations artist Arthur Vickers at his Shipyard Gallery and were treated to a back-story visit to one of his workshops under the showroom. He wanted to share with us the rowboat/art form a friend of his was building in his spare time from his fishing career.  
  Cowichan Bay   Cowichan Bay   Cowichan Bay  

Arthur is a remarkable open and friendly soul, quite generous with his time and stories for all of his visitors. His art forms tell his life stories which he is most delighted to share.

Galloping Goose Trail

Along our path back to our Coho Ferry ride back to Port Angeles, we stopped off in Victoria at Cycle BC, just behind The Empress Hotel to pick up a couple of bikes for a ride on the Galloping Goose Trail. Seeing the city on two wheels is easy and fun, especially with maps and recommendations from the shop. Visit

M.V. Coho Black Ball Ferry

  Coho Feffy   Again, we had a seamless transition through customs and immigration on our trip across the strait to Port Angeles aboard the Coho. Another visit to that fabulous bookstore and then, after an hour and a half, we were at the dock in the U.S., with memories, stories and images of beautiful Vancouver Island.  


For further information about Victoria and Vancouver Island, go to and

Find the M.V. Coho Blackball Ferry’s website at

The Queen Victoria Hotel & Suites site is at

Royal BC Museum

Butchart Gardens

Victoria Spirits and Barking Dog Vineyard

Adrena Line Zipline Adventure Tours

Cougar’s Crag Extreme B&B

Juan de Fuca Provincial Park

Cowichan Bay

Ocean Front Grand Resort

The Masthead Restaurant

Cycle BC

Galloping Goose Trail

  Lynn Rosen can be reached at  

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