By Brian Henry
Total distance 208km, plus more for exploring
I love to explore as many things on the Island as I can. The Pacific Marine Circle Route includes so many opportunities to see the true Vancouver Island experience – completing the route on a motorcycle was a must.
This quick trip was an exploratory mission to understand many of the things we can put onto a new Ocean River Adventure tour. Who said work can’t be fun, right?
Imagine group trips where you can go paddling in the amazing waters of the Gulf Islands National Park and then drive out to the west coast for the true island experience. Finish the tour by exploring the peaceful Cowichan Valley, full of vineyards and rolling fields.
I had to test out this route myself to see what it was I could offer to those looking to visit Vancouver Island. Is this circle route the perfect west coast Vancouver Island experience? I believe it is.
Leaving Sooke, we headed west. We rode towards Shirley and had to stop at Shirley Delicious Café as we had recently heard it was a gem along the winding west coast roads. It surely was delicious. We noted that we need to stop at the Gin Distillery when we make this route into a tour.
The mist rolled in giving the road a true west coast feel for our drive to Jordan River. This is a favourite haunt for surfers, as the west coast swells come into the river mouth to create some super formed waves for surfing.
The road was winding and offered breathtaking views down onto the rugged shoreline and Olympic Peninsula on the other side of the Straights all the way to Port Renfrew. This town is part new and part old. New development is teaming and very geared to tourism and rightly so because this place is unlike any other on earth and that is why we stayed for the night.
In the morning, we walked across the road to the famous Coastal Kitchen. We had an exceptional breakfast and great coffee before heading out to check out the rest of Renfrew.
Botanical Beach is not far down the road and is an amazing exhibit of tide pools. This is the most West Coast marine feature you can imagine.
We drove our bikes up to Soule Creek Lodge, on top of a hill overlooking the area. This great lodge is renowned for its beautiful and quiet Yurts. Two brothers, Jon and Tim started the Lodge 15 years ago and continue to run it giving it a comfortable and familiar feel you only get with a small west coast family business.
While we were here he had to check out Avatar Grove and after about 8 km of very rough gravel road, we came to the signs that let us know we were there. We enjoyed a short hike to Canada’s Gnarliest Tree surrounded by some of the biggest trees in the world.
We didn’t manage to hike up to see the Lonely Doug, one of the biggest Douglas fir in the world, which stands alone above everything. I had to save something for next time.
We enjoyed another winding journey through the zigzagging roads of the circle route seeing lakes on one side of the road and mountain ranges on the other. We started to forget about society and other people until we hit Lake Cowichan which was alive with the excitement of summer.
The Cowichan Valley has many world class vineyards, offering great wine tasting while you relax into the slow Cowichan Valley lifestyle.
The raptor sanctuary, where injured raptors of all kind are nursed back to health, is an exciting and educational break from rows of grapes and bottles of local vintages that can leave you in awe of these amazing birds.
We then head down Island over the famous Malahat Drive, for scenic views of the Saanich Inlet back to Victoria.
The Pacific Marine Circle Route is definitely something that locals and visitors all should do and we at Ocean River are excited to start working to offer a packaged tour of the full west coast experience along this route.
“You will visit West Coast beaches and parks, world famous ancient forests and mammoth trees. It will take you from the East Coast of Vancouver Island through the mountains to Lake Cowichan, along the West Coast and back to your origin, along the way you can enjoy restaurants, spectacular scenery and quaint shops in the unique coastal communities.”