EXPLORING VICTORIA BY FOOT AND BIKE
Victoria in the Spring is a breath of fresh air. Tulips poke their flowery heads above the soil in a chorus of bright color and cherry blossoms explode into bloom, dressing the city in a cheery pink. Up early and ready to bike, my nine-year-old daughter Maya and I head out on a morning bike ride with Charles Horn, owner of the bike tour company The Pedaler.
Our first stop is the Goat Run at Beacon Hill Park’s petting zoo, and we arrive in the nick of time to watch the action unfold. At 9am daily goats of all sizes, ages and colors scramble along a pathway from one end of the zoo to the other. With their expression-filled faces, their scruffy beards and their kicking hooves, the goats’ five-minute run is a spectacle greeted by claps and cheers from onlookers, and it’s guaranteed to put a smile on the most serious face.
Back on the road, we discover the city’s favorite sites and overlooks are easily accessed by bike with minimal exertion. And as a local with many years of island life under his belt, Charles’ tour is peppered with fascinating anecdotes and insights. He leads us along Dallas road past Ogden Point, a breakwater stretching a half-mile into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, noting that when it was completed in 1918 it was built by hand, one massive stone at a time. We careen alongside steep bluffs that descend into crashing surf, long stretches of quiet beach littered with logs, and Ross Bay cemetery, the city’s oldest and the resting place of many early settlers, including the coal baron Robert Dunsmuir.
The combination of sunshine and flowers brings dog-walkers, lovers and families out to the city’s favorite spots, many of them just a few minutes’ worth of pedaling from the downtown core. We end our tour with a plate of hot chips from Jackson’s Ice Cream at Fisherman’s Wharf, a popular gathering place for ice cream, fish and chips. A harbor seal swims lazily between the many float homes and live-aboard fishing boats that berth there, and the aroma of fried fish sizzling fills the air.
In Saanich, a half-hour drive north of the city, we explore the 55-acre Butchart Gardens created by Jennie Butchart, whose husband Robert owned a successful cement plant in 1904. A woman with a natural green thumb, she turned an excavated limestone quarry into a spectacular sunken garden filled with brilliant seasonal color and winding pathways. When neighbors started whispering about her beautiful grounds, she invited them over and was soon hosting curious community members and dignitaries who came to see the fruits of her labor. To all she extended a generous hand, inviting them to look around freely and offering tea and refreshments. Her great granddaughter continues that tradition to this day, though an entrance fee has become essential to keep the Butchart Gardens in meticulous condition – an effort requiring 75 full-time gardening staff in the height of the season.
Easily our favorite aspect of Victoria’s beauty is her wild side. We get a taste of her untamed beauty on a couple of hikes we do before leaving town. The first is at Goldstream Park, a few minutes’ drive from the manicured lawns of Butchart Gardens and a setting that contrasts dramatically. Goldstream is home to 600-year-old Douglas fir trees and forests draped in moss. We followed the gushing river on an easy trail to Goldstream Falls, inhaling the sweet, deep scent of the rainforest and promising to return in the Fall to see the spawning salmon.
By the time we reach Gowlland Todd Provincial Park for our second hike, the weather is blustery and grey day but it doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm of our guide, Marc Vukobrat, owner of Hike Victoria. The 3.8-mile hike up the mountain takes us through a forest and up on an escarpment adorned with the dramatic, orange-brown trunks of Arbutus trees. Along the way Vukobrat entertains us with anecdotes about the massive pileated woodpecker that swoop-dived him once on the trail, the blue grouse that scared him half to death and the nurse logs we path along the way. “Even in death these logs continue to provide nourishment to new trees, creating new life,” he explains carefully.
For the efforts of our climb to 1,350 feet we’re rewarded with spectacular views of Finlayson Arm, a winding glacial fjord carved millions of years ago that cuts deep into Vancouver island. Turkey vultures soar nearby and the wind whistles around us as Vukobrat directs us to ‘jump rock’ for photographs. “If you jump right here, it will look as if you’re jumping right off the cliff,” he explains. Getting into position nearby with a long lens, he captures our jumps vividly, moments of joyful exuberance against the backdrop of a heart-stopping view.
IF YOU GO:
• Tourism Victoria (www.tourismvictoria.com) is a great resource for trip planning
PHOTOS: As attributed below.
1 & 2. Amy Exuberance & Wind in our Hair: Mark Vukobrat, owner of Hike Victoria, leads hikes to spectacular overlooks of Finlayson Arm, where his participants literally jump for joy.(photo credit Mark Vukobrat)
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