I was so hungry after picking up my Nissan Note 2016 rental. The helpful Enterprise guy Riley suggested Jams Café a few blocks south - but there was a long line. So I decided to head on to Sooke, exited early, and landed in Langford.
A guy in a gas station recommended Floyd’s Diner at 10-721 Station Avenue (in Langford tel # 778 440 1200 - there’s one in downtown Victoria too). It was quite difficult to find because the right exit is somewhat hidden by a building, not well-marked, and came just a few meters right after a major turn off. Brunch was good but not the best at – CAD$16.60 for fried chicken with waffles.
Then finally off to Sooke but not quite as I perchanced 10 minutes later an intriguing name Metchosin. Made a south detour and entered mostly a farming area. An interesting old school house is now a museum - open only during the summer weekends.
For a village, Metchosin has a nice restaurant MyChosen Café (a play on the name Metchosin) which has a café, a pizza joint, and a coffee corner with sweets called Sugar Shack - all in one big cottage. A server at the café suggested I take a hike at Witty’s Lagoon. A lovely 20-minute hike, past Witty’s Lagoon the trail ends in Witty’s Beach lined with stinking decaying long rubbery seaweeds. Across the San Juan de Fuca Straight, you do get a sight of the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. The name Metchosin is the anglicized version of the native term "Smets-Schosen", which means "place of stinking fish".
If you find yourself in Metchosin on a Saturday, and you have a cooler, drop by the Stillmeadow Farm which in partnership with ParryBay Sheep Farm sells meat (pork, roaster chicken, lamb, sausages, bacon, sometimes eggs) Tel: 1-250-478-9628, 12 N – 3pm Stillmeadow Rd. To get here you make a right on Witty’s Beach Road which is off Metchosin road that leads to Witty’s Lagoon. See MapQuest.
Metchosin also boasts of its Galloping Goose Sausages. You can buy it in their factory or in other outlets (call 250-474-5788). Open Tues, Wed, Thurs 8 am – 12 N or call the house 250 474 0667 (ask for Mark) for other days/hours so someone can meet you at 4484 Lindholm Road.
So finally I made my way to Sooke. After paying my camping fee of $25 a night at Sooke Sunny Shores Campground, a grandmotherly Sophie with a charming inflection from Poland said there are cabins for a CAD $100 a night for 2 people with kitchen. The campground toilets needed more cleaning but tolerable.
It was too early to snooze, so on a grey overcast dusk I went to Whiffin Spit. Now I know why it’s called a Spit. A sand deposition that is narrow and elongated facing a body of water on both sides like a tongue spitting out.
Early Sunday morning, I was Off to Port Renfrew with several stops.
There are no gas stations in Port Renfrew so make sure you get a full tank at Sooke or Lake Cowichan.
Route 14 (also called the West Coast Road or Juan de Fuca Highway) from Sooke to Port Renfrew (71 km) is one of the most scenic drives in British Columbia. Another one is Highway 7 or Lougheed Highway between Mission and Harrison Hot Springs – rambling through farms and side sweeping the Harrison River and parts of Fraser River. Route 14 hugs the coast with a view most of the time of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and in the far off horizon the Olympic Mountains in Washington State.
There are several trails to the coast from the road. I would do five this day. See Travel Map from Sooke to Port Renfrew.
Right after breakfast at Shirley Delicious (see my article) – a local couple I got to chat with - because of their chubby husky -fox breed called Jawz, a gentle fellow - suggested I see the Sheringham Point Lighthouse just a mile away from Shirley Delicious. This was a short picturesque walk facing postcard-pretty lighthouse. There is something transfixing about lighthouses.
Back to Route 14, a stop at French Beach (www.frenchbeachpark.com) named after local pioneer James French who loved this area. A parking lot precedes a well-mowed grassy picnic table area and the pebbly beach is just right there.
This is where I got to talk to friendly Ed – the Park Ranger who recommended I do next China Beach and Mystic Beach - same entrance – further up Route 14. Do not confuse with China Beach Campground which is more south.
But first Sandcut Beach, a short lovely path to a natural branch and vines O opening to the beach. Alas, there was no sand ins Sandcut – pebbles and stones.
Nine miles later the entrance led to two parking lots. The lower one on the left leads to China Beach – a ten- minute walk with a view similar to the French.
The upper lot on the right was packed for a reason. You will see serious hikers preparing their gear. This is the location of the zero marker for the 47 km Juan De Fuca Marine Trail which goes through Mystic Beach. I of course will just venture the 2.5 kilometer trek to Mystic Beach and back. This part of the trail has a shaky fun suspension bridge, swaying, bouncing as it hangs high above the Pete Wolf Creek (more like a river). You can look down through the steel mesh with holes enough to swallow ladies shoe heels. Goose bumps!
|Juan De Fuca Trail Suspension Bridge on the way to Mystic Beach - fun!|
It took me an hour plus each way because I was taking my time. But it was a good up and down workout on sometimes muddy footpath. The reward was Mystic Beach - another good water view – how can it not be? If you veer left once you hit the sandy (yes sand!) beach, you will see a swing hanging from a tree cantilevered around 50 feet high up a cliff. A short slab of timber tied in the middle wasn’t that comfortable to the crotch. But I had to do it. A few feet away from the swing was a light waterfall spraying down the cliff.
Except for Mystic Beach, the coastline along Route 14 is rocky and the water cold in early October – Canadian Thanksgiving Long Weekend. During March and April, you may be able to chance upon the grey whale migration.
On my trek back, I was having a sweet time again with the suspension bridge all to myself. I got back to my car at almost 5 pm. Back to Route 14, and this time it was a more forested highway with occasional glimpses of the water as I drove straight through to Port Renfrew and listening repeatedly reflectively to Kristin Chenoweth’s For Good.
Port Renfrew was quiet this October but it is a crowded summer tourist town as I would find out later. The inlet at Port Renfrew is still called by its old name Port San Juan – so don’t get confused.
A set turkey plate dinner for CAD$ 22.00, pumpkin pie at an extra CAD$ 10.00 at the Port Renfrew Hotel to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving the following day? Overpriced. I asked the server if there was a room available - and the hefty manager told the server there was none – but based on the way the server looked at me – it wasn’t true. The parking lot was quite empty.
Trailhead Resorts has CAD$70 Hikers Huts. I knew they had plenty left because earlier in a restaurant the guy who had the only unit taken told me that every other wooden cabin was unoccupied. Yet the Resorts Lady said no vacancy. To make sure, you better book online at http://www.trailhead-resort.com/ as this is the cheapest place in Port Renfrew you can find short of camping. The huts can only accommodate a max of 12 people. There doesn’t seem to be an Airbnb alternative.
So I settled for Camp Pacheedaht (tel 250 647 0090) with spectacular views (two locations actually - one near the bridge on both sides and three miles further east where the office is - also facing the inlet). The campground dirt roads in both locations are studded with deep potholes.
Run by the Pacheedaht First Nation (the Canadian term for North American Indian groups), the camp’s shower facilities were soily, cramped and unkempt for CAD$2.00 – unlimited hot water though. Showers close at 7 pm and won’t open till 10 am the following day! I saw a microwave near the office. It was $20.00 my tent/car site without a view. Unless you are on a very tight budget or looking for a scenic sight of the inlet, I would avoid these campsites. Wi-Fi for a fee only works if you are near the office and all sites are not. Go figure. Did I mention theft has known to occur?
On Canada’s Thanksgiving Day, I decided to see the academic-sounding Botanical Beach to Botany Bay 2.8 kilometer loop. I thought I would be there for an hour and that’s it. But I was there from 8 am till 11 am past. The juxtaposition of an actual forest sublime quiet with tall trees and the coast-pounding sea with its salty air was a reeling divergence. Botanical Beach was surprisingly and interesting: the tide pools, and the intertidal life: sea stars, chitons, anemones, barnacles, brown algae – that is why it is called Botanical.
Five minutes away is handsome Botany Bay.
The play of light streaming through the forest, the sound of undulating waves, the intertwine of tall cedar and spruce trees standing amidst modules of bush, boardwalks to rock pathways, branches twisting curving at every angle while a look on the other side is the Pacific - made me linger. Then there was Noah’s Ark – my own anointed name to a lovely island. It is actually a long boat-like rocky outpost with stately Douglas Firs.
I was getting hungry.
For lunch, other than the pricey hotel, only Tomi’s was open. Burger at Cad$ 16.00 – nope. Hot Dog without mustard and relish CAD$4.00. Yes. But condiments mustard and relish were an additional CAD$ 2.00!
I had to go to the only store in town - the General Store (tel 250 647 5587) which opens only from 11 am to 7pm with a very limited selection – somewhat like a dimly lit drab 7-11. Get the picture? Thankfully, it has a microwave for public use. I got pre-packaged two "Double Double Cheese Beef Burgers" (named Quality Classics from HQ Fine Foods in Edmonton Alberta) at CAD$ 5.98. It tasted like McDs. Satisfying and at that price!
Then I was off to Lake Cowichan as part of the BC Heritage Circle Route. Took a detour to the Avatar Grove to see Canada’s gnarliest tree but the road became severely potholed after crossing the magnificent Gordon River bridge so I had to turn around. You can see salmon returning to their spawning grounds down the river.
I got back on Pacific Marine Road, passed by Fairy Lake – lovely name for a meh meh lake, and began the lookout for old big Harris Creek Spruce tree after passing by Lizard Lake Forest Service Campground. I saw the small signage.
|Easy to Miss Signage|
The Spruce Tree is covered with moss and a huge base fenced all around
so you can’t touch it. It is just on the banks of the swift Harris Creek.
|Old Big Harris Creek Spruce Tree|
I did not drive to the Red Creek Fir, the world’s largest Douglas Fir because the logging road I was told was not maintained. For directions, maps and other tree wonders such as the Big Lonely Doug and the San Juan Sitka Spruce, Canada’s largest, see the Ancient Forest Alliance website or call its Admin Director Joan Varley at 250 896 4007 or e-mail her at Joan@ancientforestalliance.org. A good blog is Vancouver Island Big Trees.
Then it was non-stop to the town of Lake Cowichan which has one of the best campgrounds I’ve ever been. Well-maintained, right next to the lake and the showers/toilets are very clean, all part of the off-season $20.00 a night tenting rate. I was ecstatic. See Lakeview Park Campsite
A good place to have a meal even breakfast is the Country Grocer supermarket complete with a sit-down area (tel: 250 749 6335 at 83 Cowichan Lake Road, 7 am – 8:45 pm). I had a grilled Monte Cristo Sandwich with a creamy pea soup for CAD$9.45 (including tax).
|A classic Monte Cristo|
The following day I drove back to return the rental car and took the bus back to Swartz Bay for the ferry to Tsawwassen in the mainland. It was a great 4-day holiday.
If you need pictures of any specific area, I will be happy to provide. Just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org