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TRAVEL JOURNAL INDEX > British Columbia-Capitol-Victoria

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada  11/19-27/06 (Day 208-216)
British Columbia-Capitol-Victoria

The low-key mid-sized city of Victoria looks like it might (just barely) be the capitol of Vancouver Island on which it’s located. It is, in fact, the capitol of the entire province of British Columbia—and it’s got the Parliament Building to prove it.

The best way to get a grip on Victoria is on foot so we head out along the coast wandering through parks and neighborhoods until we reach the neighboring community of Oak Bay—which feels like it was transplanted from New England by way of Ireland—then we return to the Magnolia Hotel & Spa where our room looks out over the aforementioned Parliament Building and the inner harbor.

The next day, after a lovely lunch at JJ Wonton Noodle House (ask the owner, Lillian, what’s good), we drive to nearby Sooke Harbour for a couple of nights at Sooke Harbour House, one of the most playfully elegant manifestations of fantastic (mostly organic and local) food, fine wine, eclectic art, comfort, nature and life (read Karen's full review of Sooke Harbour House for iTraveliShop.com).

From Sooke we drive further north to hunt down the one place in Fanny Bay that sells their famous name-sake oysters to the public (Hint: it’s behind  a gas station nowhere near the Fanny Bay Oyster plant itself). At around $5 (Canadian!) per dozen we go nuts and walk out of the tiny shop with three dozen oysters and a brand new shucking knife (how hard can it be?).

Heading back to our room for a decadent dinner-on-the-half-shell (and, hopefully, no accidental digit removal or impalement) we can’t help but ponder the fact that Pam Anderson was born on Vancouver Island in a town called Ladysmith (not making that up). We consider driving over to check out the place that spawned Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Rock, but our oysters are calling (they’re surprisingly loud). Also, we don’t really care.

The next morning it’s snowing and the roads are treacherous even in our truck, but we have to cross the island to get to Tofino, birthplace of storm-watching tourism. As such, we fully expect the weather to get worse and worse as we get closer to the notoriously weather-beaten West coast of Vancouver Island. However, we slowly drive out of the snow storm as we approach Tofino where the weather turns out to be cold but clearer. No howling wind. No crashing waves.

We’re actually a bit disappointed by the tame conditions as we check into the Wickaninnish Inn which is at the forefront of storm-watching thanks to its unparalleled location on a rocky outcropping backed by old-growth forest and fronted by the tempestuous Pacific and eminently walkable Chesterman Beach. When weather does come in, it comes in here and guests of the Wick have a front row seat.

Looking on the bright side, the calm weather means we can head out from the town of Tofino to Hot Springs Cove to soak in hot springs that have (thankfully) not been  “improved” from their natural rugged state. But first we have to get there. Despite the mild weather our boat ride to the springs involves what feels like hours of leaping over cresting swells before slamming back down on the other side. Thud! By the time we reach Hot Springs Cove our bodies are cramped from tensing up on impact.

This, of course, makes a nice long session in the hot, steamy and blessedly unadulterated pools (no pavement, no cement, no steps, no benches, no soda machines), even more appealing. What we find after a short walk from the dock to the springs is a small changing room near a cleft in the rocks where hot water spills out of the earth then cascades down the cleft collecting in a series of small shallow pools as it travels.

With most of the kinks soaked out we make our way along the slick mile-long boardwalk and back out to the dock where a lovely boat is moored next to ours. Climbing aboard we are awestruck at the main sitting area (fireplace, rugs, art, comfy leather club chairs, huge dining table) and the hospitality of Shaun Shelongosky who owns and operates the boat as the InnChanter, a floating houseboat B&B featuring gourmet meals and an unbeatable address.

Built in the 1920s and recently refitted, the InnChanter has five comfortable staterooms below and one above (each can accommodate 2 people) plus a library, a 700 square foot sundeck and an onboard chef (Shaun). It is with reluctance that we return to Tofino. We would have loved to have stayed for dinner (lamb is on the menu) and a midnight soak!
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