South Vancouver Island stretches from the rugged coastline of Port Renfrew in the West to the Ferry Terminal of Swartz Bay in the East. In between these communities is the provincial capital city of Victoria, the artisan town of Sooke and the marinas of Sidney. Two highways lead out of Victoria, Highway 14 heads west terminating at Port Renfrew while Highway 1 heads north over the Malahat. The Malahat is a mountain range and the highway climbs from Goldstream Park to a summit of 356 metres (1,156 feet) with stopping points along the way that grant spectacular views of the Saanich Peninsula, the Gulf Islands, and Mount Baker in Washington State.
The West Coast Road (Highway 14) ends 104 km from Victoria at the quaint village of Port Renfrew, known for fresh and saltwater fishing, canoeing in the San Juan River, and dense forests of massive trees. Port Renfrew also marks the southern end of the West Coast Trail. The friendly local pubs and inns are havens for hikers from all over the world embarking on or completing their treks on the West Coast Trail or the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail.
Highway 14 is an ocean-hugging stretch of road dotted with provincial parks and panoramic views that extend across the Juan de Fuca Strait to the snowcapped peaks of the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. Along the way visitors should stop at Sooke. Once a thriving Coast Salish settlement, Sooke is known as one of the best locations on the Island for salmon fishing year-round. Annual festivities include the historical longboat races, Vancouver Island's largest juried Fine Arts Show and All Sooke Day. The Juan de Fuca Marine trail is accessible from the scenic West Coast Road as well as several stunning beaches including French Beach, China Beach and Botanical Beach.
Victoria with a population of over 326,000, was originally established in 1843 by James Douglas as a fort for the Hudson's Bay Company. Bastion Square marks the site where a portion of the fort once stood, although all that remains now are two iron rings set into the rocks at the foot of Fort Street, next to the old Customs House. Victoria's historic Chinatown is small but charismatic with great restaurants and authentic Asian markets. To gain a fresh appreciation for the talents and skills of First Nations people visit the Royal British Columbia Museum, a world-class repository of native artifacts. Take a horse drawn carriage ride around the old downtown, walk the sea wall and browse the artisan's displays, or ride the water taxi around the harbour, or walk through quaint gardens, relax in a pub or take high tea. Victoria has earned a reputation as a mecca for adventurers drawn by the limitless outdoor activities available in the city and throughout Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
Situated at the north end of the Saanich Peninsula near Victoria Airport and the BC Ferry terminal at Swatz Bay is Sidney. Good things come in small packages and there's no better evidence of this than sunny Sidney-by-the-Sea - just ask the boaters from all over the Pacific Northwest who have been docking at Sidney's marinas year after year. Scenic seaside walks, beautiful water views, enticing attractions and activities, plenty of great shops and restaurants, and friendly locals.
The beautiful rolling landscape of the Saanich Peninsula is dotted with farms, communities, parks, forests, lakes, and ocean inlets. Two main routes run between Sidney and Greater Victoria: Highway 17, known as the Pat Bay Highway, and Highway 17A, also called West Saanich Road. Highway 17 is the most direct route to Victoria, while Highway 17A offers a more relaxed drive through the scenic rural areas of the Saanich Peninsula. Both routes are wonderfully scenic and lead to the Peninsula's many delightful sights and attractions. On the Saanich Peninsula is The Butchart Gardens, a year round floral show garden. This privately owned 22-hectare National Historic Site dazzles close to a million visitors per year. Close by is the Victoria Butterfly Gardens with over 6000 butterflies and 75 species. The Butterfly Gardens feature stunning blooms and thousands of tropical plants, including foods of the world and carnivorous plant displays.
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Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia