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British Columbia Ancient Forests News
Vancouver Island circle route: Drink in the wine, the scenery, the air
The Oregonian, May 19, 2012
There is air, there is fresh air, and then there is the brisk, briny, oxygen-thick air that rides in on wild ocean waves.
That's the air you'll breathe when you round the tip of southern Vancouver Island and follow the Pacific Marine Circle Route. This 158-mile scenic drive begins in Victoria, hugs the western coastline to Port Renfrew, then travels across the island to Cowichan Bay before returning to B.C.'s capital.
You could drive it in a day, but don't. Take time to enjoy the natural beauty, outdoor adventures and fine food and wine along the route. Consider these nine locations where Oregonians can, quite literally, come up for air. College scholarships for women
Capital start (Victoria)
Wildplay West Shore Victoria, 1767 Island Highway, wildplay.com. Hatley Park National Historic Site, 2005 Sooke Road, hatleypark.ca.
Ultra outdoors (East Sooke)
If lazing on sun-warmed rock is more your thing, visit Sooke Potholes Regional Park, where ice-age-carved canyons and polished rock pools (the "potholes") offer clear, cold water for swimming.
East Sooke Regional Park, crd.bc.ca/parks/eastsooke. Adrena Line Zipline Adventure Tours, 5128C Sooke Road, adrenalinezip.com. Sooke Potholes Regional Park, crd.bc.ca/parks/sookepotholes
Splurging and seaweed (Sooke)
At low tide, take a tour of the ocean's garden in front of the inn with Diane Bernard, aka "the Seaweed Lady." On my two-hour tour, Bernard, who supplies chefs with edible seaweed and makes a line of seaweed-based skin care products called Seaflora, has our group taste different seaweed (surprisingly not gross) and rub the gel-like substance found on rockweed (a kind of marine aloe vera) on our skin.
Sooke Harbour House, 1528 Whiffen Spit Road, sookeharbourhouse.com. Seaflora wild seaweed tour, sea-flora.com.
Make a point (West Coast Road)
There's something intoxicating about a restaurant where binoculars are provided on each table. Point-No-Point Resort is the perfect stop for lunch (think creamy seafood chowder, cold smoked albacore tuna, seafood linguine) or, if a private cabin with no television, Internet or cellphone service appeals, a stay.
Surf's up (Jordan River)
Further on, popular China Beach, part of the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, is a great place to see roaring surf and, if you're lucky, whales, seals and sea lions. This is also the southern trailhead for the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, a 29-mile route that rivals the West Coast Trail, with two significant differences: No reservations are required, and there are multiple access/bail-out points. Sombrio Beach, farther north, is another sweet surf spot.
Shells Fish and Chips, 11950 West Coast Road, Jordan River. Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks
Trails and fish tales (Port Renfrew)
At low tide, hike the 1.7-mile Botanical Loop to Botanical Beach to peer into rich tide pools filled with anemones, urchins, starfish and other colorful sea creatures. Reserve a cabin at the Port Renfrew Resort and join hungry hikers and fishers downing platters of fresh crab and pitchers of beer on the resort's deck.
Port Renfrew, portrenfrewcommunity.com. Port Renfrew Resorts, 17310 Parkinson Road, portrenfrewresorts.com
Canada's biggest trees (Avatar Grove)
Thanks to the alliance, Avatar Grove is now protected and mapped. But with no location signage and primitive trails, you'll need a map (available on the alliance website) or, better yet, a guide, to find the giants. Watt is happy to lead groups to the most impressive trees, including, in his words, "Canada's gnarliest."
Keen for more? Detour off the circle route on poorly maintained gravel roads to see the Red Creek Fir (the world's largest Douglas fir) and the San Juan Sitka spruce (Canada's largest).
Ancient Forest Alliance, ancientforestalliance.org
Bountiful (Cowichan Valley)
Make a reservation for lunch at Merridale Estate Cidery, where you can learn about cider- and spirit-making, then wash down tasty bistro offerings with a flight of six cider samplers.
By the bay (Cowichan Bay)
Check in to the Oceanfront Suites at Cowichan Bay, where every room has a kitchen. Slide open your oceanfront windows, lay out your bounty, uncork a bottle of local wine and make a toast -- to fresh food, fresh adventures and fresh air.
Shops on Cowichan Bay Road: Hilary's Cheese and Deli, hilarycheese.com; True Grain Bread, truegrain.ca; Cowichan Bay Seafood, cowichanbayseafood.com; Udder Guy's Ice Cream Parlour, udderguysicecream.com. Oceanfront Suites at Cowichan Bay, 1681 Cowichan Bay Rd., oceanfrontcowichanbay.com.