Long-time residents of Victoria describe this past winter as the worst one in 30 years and this spring as arriving about a month later than usual. Mostly, I have found the weather to be mild and pleasant, but even I am longing for more warmth and sunshine, especially when I see temperatures ‘back home’ in Manitoba reach the 20’s and we are still struggling to reach 14 degrees amidst all this cloud cover and drizzle.
No matter where I am, the best antidote to the weather dragging me down is always to go outside and do something active. Rather than wait for perfect conditions, just get out the door and you’ll probably find that it’s not that bad after all. As was the case this past weekend, when Chris and I embarked on the Pacific Marine Circle Route.
This 300 km driving route took us in a loop from Victoria, going up the west coast, across the island, and down the east coast to return home. You can do this drive all in one day, or spread it out over several days, as there is much to see and explore along the way!
Here are some of the stops we made along the route:
- Whiffin Spit Park, Sooke
The ‘spit’ is a naturally-formed breakwater that protects the Sooke Basin from the open waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It’s nice to walk along and enjoy the lovely views on either side. There are many benches along the spit and a pebbly shoreline to explore.
2. French Beach
20 km of twists and turns past Sooke is French Beach Provincial Park. Unlike some of the other beaches in the area that involve a hike, this beach is close to a parking lot, making it an easy choice for families with small children or on days when you are more interested in lounging on the beach than hiking.
As you can see, French Beach is not a sandy beach, but the rocks didn’t stop Chris from taking a nap in the sun. Meanwhile, I checked out the interesting driftwood that had washed up all along the beach.
4. Jordan River
Jordan River appears to be just a few abandoned houses and a funky little bakery/cafe, at least from the main road, but the friendly girls working in the cafe claimed that their town has a few hundred residents. We recommend stopping at the cafe for an Americano and a ‘Bliss Ball’, and if you’re curious, maybe find out where all Jordan River’s residents live.
3. China Beach
I like China Beach even more than French Beach. The walk through the forest is enchanting and the beach has sand. It would be a great spot for a picnic and to spend an afternoon. We sipped our coffees from Jordan River while sitting on a log and watching the gentle waves lap the shore. Idyllic.
5. Botanical Beach
While walking down the gorgeous forest path to Botanical Beach, within the Juan De Fuca Provincial Park, another couple cautioned us that they had just seen a black bear! Since they said the bear was heading in a different direction than us, we continued on to the beach, but clapped our hands and made extra noise to be on the safe side.
I was prepared for another wide open ocean beach similar to the previous two, but Botanical Beach surprised us with its uniqueness. It is a protected cove with calmer water, and the beach surface is mostly flat rock with lots of little tide pools. The rock formations, drift wood, and little pools are fun to explore and the area feels very peaceful. Fortunately, no bears were sighted!
6. Renfrew Pub
All the walking we had done worked up our appetites. Fortunately, we found a pub in tiny Port Renfrew, right on Snuggery Cove. After a quick stroll down the dock to check out the view, we settled into a corner booth with a view of the hockey game and were treated to excellent food and a craft beer selection that earned Chris’s approval. The atmosphere was really laidback and the service was friendly. It was a perfect conclusion to our active day in nature.
Port Renfrew is only roughly the halfway point on the Pacific Marine Circle Route. At this point, the route turns inland and crosses over to the east side of Vancouver Island. The road used to be gravel and its condition was unpredictable, but now it is a smooth, paved ride, albeit very twisty and remote.
We spent the night in Lake Cowichan before heading south toward Victoria. There is lots to see and do in the Cowichan Valley, but since the next day was rainy, and we were a little worn out from the previous day’s activities, we mostly headed straight home.
We did try to hike to a waterfall, but we never found it. The mossy trees, fresh air, and exercise made it worth the effort.
There are also lots of other worthwhile stops between Victoria and Port Renfrew that we haven’t explored yet or that I didn’t mention. Chris and I have driven the circle route twice now, and I’m sure we will do it again! We recommend you try it yourself when you visit Vancouver Island!