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Circling British Columbia's West Coast Splendour

Author: Margaret D.
Date of Trip: May 2009

Wondering where you'd like to spend your summer vacation this year? Try B.C.'s scenic coastal attractions. Enjoy a leisurely family trip, cuddle up in romantic hideaways with your sweetheart, or explore the highways and by-ways in the company of a good friend.

If you have a week, the B.C. Ferries' CirclePac excursion is a fun sail 'n drive trip. Catch a ferry from Tsawwassen (Delta) to Swartz Bay (Victoria) or to Duke Point (Nanaimo). Drive Vancouver Island's east coast up to Comox, ride the ferry over to Powell River, then take the coastal route to Saltery Bay and sail to Earl's Cove. Wheel along the Sunshine Coast as you head to Gibsons where the Langdale ferry will bring you back to Horseshoe Bay terminal in West Vancouver.

Glide by islands with holiday homes tucked between evergreen forests, watch triangular-sailed boats flit past, click photos of snow-capped peaks glimmering against the sky, and depending on the season, enjoy the thrill of seeing killer whales making their way through the channels.

A few highlights en route:

• Victoria: B.C.'s capital city is charming. Stroll the waterfront, browse the shops on Government Street. Plan a picnic in Beacon Hill Park. Explore the mysterious Orient on a guided tour through Chinatown. Above all don't miss this year's special exhibition at The Royal B.C. Museum: on loan from the British Museum is a collection of 300 rare artefacts spanning 1.5 million years of human history. And, of course, no visit to Victoria is complete without a trip to the world-famous Butchart Gardens in all their summer glory.

• Cowichan Valley: Drive north along the scenic Malahat along Highway 1. The Cowichan Valley is now a major wine producing area on Vancouver Island so be sure to sign up for a wine-sampling tour. Enjoy fresh farm produce at restaurants that pride themselves on using locally grown organic fruit, vegetables and herbs.

• Duncan: Sign up for a tour at the Quw'utsun Cultural Centre. Wilson Jr., a Cowichan Band elder, and accomplished story-teller spins intriguing legends, tales and folklore.

• Enjoy a nostalgia trip through history at the B.C. Forest Museum on Highway 1. Kids of all ages get a kick out of riding the train as it clatters merrily along a narrow gauge line through wooded glades, over wooden trestles and past Somenos Lake. If you're lucky you'll catch a glimpse of their resident brown owl snoozing in the trees. Peek into vintage logging bunkhouses and linger in front of archival photographs in the Museum.

• Chemainus is renowned for its murals-- a vast outdoor art gallery with its heritage proudly emblazoned on the walls of its streets, restaurants and commercial buildings. Take in a live performance of the musical Oklahoma! at the elegant Chemainus Theatre.

• Nanaimo: Stroll the Waterfront Walkway and pop into the newly renovated Museum where the first Nanaimo Bathtub Race bathtub is on display. The town's old neighbourhood on Fitzwilliam Street is picture postcard pretty: pedestrian cobbled streets flanked by art stores, curios, crafts, books, and perfumed boutiques. Don't leave town without munching on a Nanaimo Bar.

• Parksville & Qualicum: Immerse yourself in a sensuous environment of scented oils, thermal wraps and soothing rubs with a spa experience at The Grotto (Tigh Na Mara Resort) and then indulge in a epicurean meal at their Treetops Tapas Restaurant. Expensive but worth every cent.

• Laze under an umbrella on the wide sands at Rathtrevor and Qualicum beaches, where the water in summer is sometimes a balmy 20oC. Bike or hike the Parkway Trailway, try spelunking at Horne Lake Caves (kids will love this) or simply...go fishin'.

• Mid Island: If the outdoors is your thing, take in the rugged scenery of Englishmen's River and Little Qualicum Falls, or do a leisurely stroll through MacMillan Bloedel's Cathedral Grove. Click your camera at the goats on the roof at Coombs Old Country Market, and buy trinkets or curios at the adjoining funky arts and craft shops

• Don't miss: The World Parrot Refuge in Coombs with over 700 parrots, cockatoos and mackaws. It's more than just a huge aviary – it's a place where orphaned or previously abandoned birds joyously socialize with each other (at the top of their voices!) and adore meeting visitors. A moving and unforgettable experience.

• Comox: A small town with quiet charm. Explore the town's heritage on a self-guided walking tour. Best kept secret? The captivating Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park with its rustic lodge, nine acres of flowering shrubs, west coast cedars - and resident deer that love posing for pictures.

• En route. The scenery along the forty-minute B.C. Ferries crossing from Saltery Bay to Earl's Cove, is sheer West Coast panorama: a backdrop of magnificent snow-peaked mountains, with inlets threading between islands that lie fold upon fold, dark green in the foreground and purple or pale blue silhouettes in the distance. The route winds past fish farms and the occasional rustic cabin half hidden in stands of evergreens.

• The Sunshine Coast is an enchantment of dappled forest glades, hiking trails, hidden coves and small communities that fringe the coastline. It is also home to an extraordinary range of handicrafts ranging from blown glass, crystal ornaments, wood carvings, enamel ware, pottery, oil and water colour paintings, woven rugs and shawls…and much more! Follow the Purple Banner signs that indicate that an artist's studio is open to visitors. A mere sampling: Fibreworks Studio & Gallery (housed in a yurt!) near Madeira Park, Blue Dot Art Studio (south of Sechelt), Cutting Edge Stained Glass (Roberts Creek), Fire & Ash Studio (stoneware/porcelain)

Gibsons Landing: The town catapulted into fame with the TV Series The Beachcomers, and Molly's Reach restaurant is still an iconic landmark in Lower Gibsons. Several boutiques and art galleries line Marine Drive (Lower Gibsons) including the curiously named Waltzing Whippet, as well as elegant galleries such as the Spirit of Place and Gift of the Eagle. The town has a cornucopia of trendy little restaurants, among them Smitty's Oyster House where on a summer evening, residents and visitors alike vie to sit elbow-to-elbow at their 27-ft spruce dockside table, while tucking into fresh oysters, mussels, clams and prawns.

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