Pacific Marine Circle Route in Vancouver Island

Building inukshuks
Building inukshuks in Avatar Grove

It’s time for another roadtrip journey! With the oil prices at a low, and warmer weather, I embarked on a roadtrip around Vancouver Island. Prior to this, I have only ventured to Victoria and never outside of the provincial capital. This route brought me from Swartz Bay ferry terminal to Sooke before continuing on to Port Renfrew. At Port Renfrew, I stayed overnight at Soule Creek Lodge while taking the time to hike and kayak. On the return trip, I drove towards Nanaimo’s Departure Bay to take the evening sailing back to Horseshoe Bay. With this trip I drove 2/3 of the newly inaugurated Pacific Marine Circle route which is supposed to be sort of a loop around back towards Victoria, BC.

Strolling around the Gardens
Strolling around Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens would naturally be most visitor’s first stop into Vancouver Island as it is situated between the Swartz Bay ferry terminal and Victoria. Usually, half a day is adequate here but I had previously visited the gardens so it was straight to Sooke for me.

Fairmont Empress Hotel
Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria

Victoria is the next stop along the way and could also be a stopover point as there is much to see in the city including one of the Fairmont grand chateau hotels and BC’s Legislative Assembly located along the waterfront. The city has a very walkable downtown and has some hidden gems as well. Having been there before, I am adding some photos from my past trips here, and proceeded to the suburb of Sooke.

BC's Legislative Building
BC’s Legislative Building

Sooke embodies what the island is all about. Vast open green space and water views. We made it a point to drive around East Sooke park and took a stroll to a waterfront spot for some rest. Wildflowers were at full bloom as well so this was some nice way to start the summer!

Wildflower by the bay
Wildflower by the bay in East Sooke
Bayview pit stop
Bayview pit stop in Sooke

The small town of Sooke also houses one of the first surf shops in Canada so that is another piece of history.

Canada's oldest surfshop
Canada’s oldest surfshop in Sooke

From Sooke, we head back on the main road heading north, stopping only at China Beach. Road-trippers should ensure their gas are topped up since there is no gas stations along the way from Sooke to Port Renfrew. The next major gas station is at Lake Cowichan.

At China Beach
At China Beach along the way to Port Renfrew

China Beach is a nice stretch of beach that is accessible by a short downhill hiking trail. The beach is good for just relaxing and even for swimming with soft sand. There are also a lot of white sea-shells to collect in the area if you’re into that sort of thing! Ardent backpackers would do well to note that there is a very prominent backpacking trail called the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail that goes from China Beach all the way to Botanical Beach in Port Renfrew.

Logs for resting
Logs for resting at China Beach
Under the shade
Under the shade at China Beach

However as we were rushed for time to arrive in Port Renfrew, we continued the short drive from China Beach into the small town. The afternoon drive also meant witnessing the rise of the fog as it envelopes the coastal region before rising further above the skies, making the evenings cooler.

Uprooted
Uprooted at Avatar Grove

Our first thing to do once we reach was to head to Avatar Grove located north-east of the town for a short hike. The grove is accessible by a gravel road north of the Port Renfrew marina and roads are not well-marked on GPS but they are marked by signs. The hiking is split up into the Lower and Upper Avatar grove and they are both easy hikes that goes in a loop, with each one taking about 30-45 minutes. Tall cedar, fir and hemlock trees provide coverage in the grove and hikers can marvel at the size and growth of these trees. We even got to see some uprooted trees and saw the entanglement of the roots.

Hiking in the sunset
Hiking in the sunset

The Avatar Grove is also home to what is known as the gnarliest tree in Canada and makes Port Renfrew become referred to as the Tall Tree Capital of Canada. The gnarliest tree can be found in the Upper Avatar Grove trail and there is even a small grove that is suitable for a nice rest along the way to build some inukshuks! Hiking here certainly feels different from some of the hikes I have done around Vancouver and Avatar Grove is somewhere one must head to if they visit Port Renfrew!

Gnarliest tree in Canada
Gnarliest tree in Canada

On the return trip back to the lodge, we stopped by a small watering hole near the exit from the Avatar Grove to take some photos.

Watering hole
Watering hole in Port Renfrew
Driving the 335is at Port Renfrew
Driving the 335is at Port Renfrew

Then we stopped by the main beach in the town to savour the sunset. Due to the fog, the sunset was made somewhat more special and mystifying. I was glad to visit the town in summer to experience this natural phenomena.

Sunset at the beach
Sunset at the beach in Port Renfrew

The next morning, my friend had booked us on a kayaking trip. We started the kayaking by heading to the rentals area by Snuggery Cove and for a few hours we had a little fun kayaking to a nice spot but we could not make it to Botanical Beach due to the strong waves. The beautiful view made it very worth to head out in the sea, even if the water was a bit cold in spring time.

View of Snuggery Cove
View of Snuggery Cove

After half a day of kayaking, we had lunch at the Port Renfrew Pub and Hotel which has a nice outdoor patio with a view of the Snuggery Cove where we started kayaking from. It was time to just savour the summer sun and enjoy a plate of Fish & Chips.

Beer-battered Cod Fish & Chips
Beer-battered Cod Fish & Chips at Port Renfrew Pub

With a satisfying lunch, we dropped our friend back off at the lodge before proceeding on a afternoon drive into Lake Cowichan. We drove past a mountain pass along the way and it was a nice relaxing cruise with little cars along the way, and just sunshine to accompany us.

At the Visitor's Centre
At the Visitor’s Centre in Lake Cowichan

As a small community on a Sunday, there was little that was open in town. Even the visitor’s centre was closed for the day. With that, we just drove around until reaching a small pier by the lakeside to savour in the views of the lake and hang out a bit before continuing on the journey.

Summer by the lake
Summer by the shores of Lake Cowichan

The last phase of the roadtrip to Nanaimo from Lake Cowichan was short and we passed by larger towns before reaching Departure Bay where we waited for the next ferry that would bring us to Horseshoe Bay. With that, a mini summer roadtrip has come to an end, and that short 2 days showed me a lot of the island life that British Columbia has to offer.

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