With Dad extending his stay in Canada, we planned for a day trip to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia which is situated in Vancouver Island across Georgia Strait from Vancouver. This means we had to take a ferry across from Tsawwassen in the south of Vancouver. With that in mind, we left home early from downtown Vancouver heading to the ferry terminal and near Richmond, there was some slow peak hour traffic, but nothing major and we reached Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in time for the 9.oo am ferry. Having boarded the Merak – Bakauheni Ferry crossing in Indonesia countless times, the clean and modern BC Ferries was a very huge change. For a start, we were on board the ‘Spirit of Vancouver Island’ which is the largest of BC Ferries’ fleet with the capability of taking up to 2,100 passengers and crew as well as 410 vehicles. This makes it much larger than the ferries plying Indonesia’s waters. In fact, the ferry is more like a cruise liner with its clean car decks, and wide range of amenities from a lounge, restaurants, kid’s play area, outdoor deck and best of all, it offers a great view of the Gulf Islands on the way from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay.
As it was a Friday, the morning cruise was teeming with people visiting Victoria for work, and play. There was senior tourists enjoying a day out cruising, school children on board for an excursion and people traveling the busy straits for work. With the weather being sunny, passengers in the ferry were crowding around the deck, relaxing under cool winds and sunny skies – a truly remarkable way to cruise in a ferry. Inside, there was ample seats for passengers and the cafe also served a good variety of snacks and meals. However, we got none of those cafe foods as we had breakfast earlier on, and got caramelized apples on the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal Market before boarding the Ferry. As we crossed the Active Pass between Mayne and Galiano Island, I got a glimpse of the ‘Spirit of British of Columbia’, the 2nd S-Class ferry, and the sister ship to the one we were boarded on.
Along the way towards Swartz Bay, we had nice view throughout which kept me out on the deck and occupied as I took in this beautiful scenery. I would have to say that the ferry crossing is considered one of the highlights and is a must-do for tourists even if they do not intend to visit Victoria proper. From the deck we could also see vacation waterfront homes on the Gulf Islands and one should be reminded that none of these Gulf Islands are connected by bridges which mean that dwellers in these homes can access their abodes only via ferries. These homes, however, are very nicely built and faces a very nice view, making it suitable for a vacation home in summertime!
Time truly goes faster when you’re enjoying it. Unlike the Merak-Bakauheni ferry, where I can’t wait to disembark, it seemed minutes before we reached Swartz Bay even though the journey took around 1 hour and 20 minutes. Another thumbs up for BC Ferries was the rapid turnaround time for disembarkation and embarkation, and there was no wait for the ferries when they reach the terminal. Upon arrival, we headed straight to Butchart Gardens which is located halfway between Victoria downtown proper and Swartz Bay. On the way, we passed by Victoria International Airport before reaching the entrance of Butchart Gardens which is located some distance from the main highway connecting Swartz Bay and Victoria. The fame to Butchart Gardens is its flowers and it did not disappoint as even the car park was lined with beautiful flowers in bloom. The first thing one sees on entering the Gardens is a Visitor & Gift Centre with a Cafetaria. There is a courtyard with a water wheel on one end as well. From the main entrance, the first stop for most visitors would be the Sunken Gardens, which is also a main highlight of the Butchart Gardens. The area was sunken as it was used for a mine and has since then been converted into a nice beautiful garden. in the middle of the sunken garden lies an outlook with a nice oak tree on it.
Visitors could choose to take the stairs down immediately into the Gardens or move around it on a gradual slope downwards into the Gardens. A large variety of flowers in all kinds of colours abound in the Gardens and visitors could refer to the maps and flower and tree guide which was handed out when purchasing the tickets. The gardens was landscaped initially by a lady called Jennie Butchart, hence the name of the Gardens. Well maintained and beautifully arranged, it is a delight for every botanist and gardener to walk past this garden. Summer between the months of July and August is perhaps the best time to visit as most of the flowers would be in full bloom by that time, according to the flower guide which details the blooming season of the varieties of flowers in the Gardens.
At the end of the Sunken Gardens lies a water fountain that changes is pattern regularly and it is a joy to sit by the benches in the gardens to view the fountain. After viewing the fountains, I changed my lens into prime lens for the depth of field effect and obtained some nice photos of the flowers in the Gardens.
From the sunken gardens, we went back up towards the Rose Garden. As the name implies, there are varieties of roses in that area from places all over the world. They come in various shades of colours too, from the deep red, orange and to a variety which comes in 2 colours.
As we followed the pathway in the Rose Garden, we came to a sidewalk which will lead us towards Butchart Cove where there are scenic ferry cruises for an additional fee. Around the area, one could also obtain a scenic view of the Cove from a lookout which was carved out of a bush. By following the pathway, one will instead reach the traditional Shinto archway signifying the start of the Japanese Garden. Unlike much of Butchart Gardens, the Japanese Garden has more trees and little flowers to look at. However the cool shade provided by the dense Japanese maple tree in the gardens and the trickling sound of water in the area made it a relaxing walk.
Beside the Japanese Garden was the Italian Garden which had a distinctively European flavour complete with water fountains and a gelateria beside this garden. The Italian Garden had the most concrete in perhaps the whole Butchart Gardens and didn’t feel as special compared to the rest of the area we have seen so far. With that, we completed our tour of the Gardens and thought of having lunch in the area, but as the food served wasn’t to our flavour, we decided on having snacks to fill our stomachs first. We did that by ordering some nachos, muffins and fruits from the Coffee Shop at the main entrance. After that, it was all the way to Victoria.
From Butchart Gardens it took us around half an hour to get to Victoria, which meant that it would take less than an hour to travel from Swartz Bay to Victoria. I have already decided on heading towards the Fisheman’s Wharf for the famous Fish & Chips in Victoria. The Fisherman’s Wharf is actually a floating boardwalk with shops, pizzerias, fisherman’s homes and Barb’s Place Fish & Chips, where we ordered our lunch from. It was still crowded at around 2.00pm when we reached there and we had to queue to order. As it was Barb’s 25th Anniversary, drinks and a dessert of Chocolate Cake was served complimentary for diners. This was given on top of our order of Atlantic Haddock Fish & Chips, Calamari Rings, and Seafood Chowder. It was a satisfying meal and their Fish & Chips was truly good.
With such a heavy lunch, we took a walk along the Fisherman’s Wharf for some photo-taking and to take in the scenery. It is easy to see sea-planes taking off from the Wharf and landing at the harbour which is close to downtown Victoria. Tourists could also take a small boat out to sightsee from the Wharf. Otherwise, there was still the quaint small homes moored to the floating platform. In fact we saw one such home being sold for close to C$300,000. And that was only a 1 bedroom + 1 den, if I remember correctly.
After digesting the food, we went to explore the city of Victoria proper. One thing the city is famous for is its castles. One such castle that we visited was Craigdarroch Castle, commisioned in 1887 by Robert Dunsmuir and completed in 1890. The Dunsmuirs was the richest fanily in western Canada at the time with interests in coal mining, railway and properties. The castle is at the top of the hill close to downtown Victoria, allowing visitors to obtain a good view of the city from the Tower Viewpoint.
There was still enough time to visit another castle in Victoria, but as we left Craigdarroch, we couldn’t really locate where the other castle is. Though there was Hatley Castle which James Dunsmuir, the eldest son of Robert Dunsmuir built. However as it was too far from city centre, we decided to skip that. This brings us back to the Inner Harbour for an evening walk. The Inner Harbour is perhaps the most beautiful area in the city as it is surrounded by 2 grand heritage buildings, namely the Empress Hotel managed by Fairmont and B.C’s Legislative Building. It isn’t a very well known fact that Victoria is in fact the capital of British Columbia, and not Vancouver, though the latter has the distinction of being the largest in the province. We parked close to the Inner Harbour and set off for a walk along the harbourside, and entering the Empress Hotel to explore its lobby and common areas.
Diagonally across the Empress lies B.C’s Legislative Building with a statue of Queen Victoria at the front. It is anybody’s guess that the city of Victoria was named after the Queen, which at that time was also the Empress of India.
Between the Legislative Building and the Empress Hotel, lies the Royal BC Museum, another place of interest that tourists might want to visit. As we aren’t visiting the museum, we trailed back towards our car, passing by downtown Victoria, where The Bay is located at. Along the way, we got some sweet popcorn and also got to admire a nicely painted heritage building in a black and white scheme. I also got to glance across an SL63 AMG parked in one of the alleyway parking. Once we got back on the car, we headed straight towards Swartz Bay, and picking up Starbucks-to-go along the way. However, by the time we reached Swartz Bay, we realized we were late for the 7pm ferry which leaves us stranded in the Ferry Terminal. As we didn’t want to head back, we had a simple dinner at the Terminal while we waited for the 9pm ferry. It was a lesson in mind to keep note of the ferry departure and arrival times before planning your trip. While waiting for the ferry, I discovered that BC Ferries had recently taken arrival of 3 new ferries built in Germany and painted with the motifs B.C’s landscapes in addition to murals of winter sports in support of Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. However, we did not get to board these new vessels as we were boarded on Spirit of British Columbia, which we saw earlier in the day.