Tag Archives: Vancouver Island

Meet Whales Again

Sunday 21 August 2022 – Unusually, for us on holiday, we had a relaxed start to the day, as our main activity was set for the afternoon. We had an outline plan in our minds that the morning could be spent going for a walk before brunch before another walk.  We were, it turned out, sufficiently leisurely that the initial outline plan of going for a walk before brunch was replaced by simply going to brunch.

We were thus slightly startled, sitting in our hotel room, to hear the faint strains of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” from somewhere outside.  Jane looked out of the window to see what we could see and, to our delight, it was a dance of the cute little water taxis that ply their trade across Victoria Harbour, over a background of classical music.  Our view was somewhat obscured, and you can’t hear the music, but the dance is undeniably charming – apparently they do this every Saturday and Sunday.

For brunch, we returned to Milestones and once again had a short wait before being led to our table, despite turning up bang on time for the reservation we had carefully made. As ever, short staffing was the main reason.  Our waitress (am I even allowed to use that description any more?) explained that Victoria has the highest number of restaurants per unit of population in the whole of North America; and eating out is practically the norm, so there’s a huge competition among restaurants for serving staff.

Anyway, we had our brunch, which was sufficiently leisurely that the rest of the morning plan went by the board and we simply returned to the hotel to get ourselves ready for the afternoon’s activity – whale watching.  We’d already (you’ll remember, since you’ve been following in detail, haven’t you?) had a go with some success in Juneau; but this time, instead of being on a reasonably large boat (such as the one we saw departing whilst we brunched),

we were to be on a Zodiac RIB with a maximum of 12 passengers in total. Thus we needed to be dressed reasonably robustly and I needed to take along a waterproof bag for my camera, in case the conditions got wet.

Our whale watching was courtesy of Orca Spirit Adventures, whose offices are just by the seaplane departure point (which we get to use in a couple of days). We got there promptly, as we had been directed, for 1.30 – and then hung about waiting for 20 minutes for something to happen.  Eventually a chap called Mick came out and got us all kitted up in our flotation suits and climbing on board the RIB.

Mick explained that the RIB had a 500 horsepower engine and would go pretty fast, so even though the sun was out, it would be cold. Bundling up in the suits was a good idea even if you didn’t end up in the water.

We covered a total of 48½ miles, going out and back broadly WSW of Victoria Harbour.  For the first while or so, Mick explained some things about Orcas (Killer Whales) and said he was sanguine about seeing one, but couldn’t guarantee it; one had been spotted several miles off the coast, heading away from Victoria, so he wanted to head it off at the pass so we could maybe catch a glimpse. So, once out of the harbour, Mick let loose the horses,

and even though there was no big swell, the ride was, how shall I say?, exhilarating.

The top line was our speed, the bottom my heart rate.  There wasn’t much breeze, but what there was came from the south-west, so the journey out was not particularly rewarding. I had made the mistake of wearing a Tilley hat with a brim, and so I had to clutch on it for dear life; if I’d let go, the neck cord would have decapitated me.

After 45 minutes of this, Mick suddenly slowed down because he’d seen an Orca.  Then everyone else spotted it. Then even I could see it.

Just.  It reminded me that there’s a great deal of luck involved in whale watching, and one spends a lot of time taking photos which are basically worthless, every time something exciting happens, such as when the whale takes a breath.

I think God for digital;  I took 400 photos of this whale and its companions (there were about five in total)

and only about three are any good, and that’s because we got lucky and the Orcas turned in our direction

Mick then suggested we’d done enough Orca chasing and that we go and look elsewhere.  Luckily we found a humpback whale, which toyed with us for a bit, merely coming up a few times to blow raspberries at us.

However, eventually the whale took pity on us and came over for a closer look

and then obligingly did the tail fluke thing before buggering off entirely.

All in all, then, a very satisfactory whale watching experience, consisting as it did of both watching and whales.  Mick then said he’d find us some other wildlife, and so headed over to the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve, where we saw a Steller sealion, who really didn’t think much of us as a group,

a Californian sealion, who lolled over to give us a sleepy once-over,

a seal, who posed for us

and a colony of sealions who were so busy arguing amongst themselves that they paid us no attention whatsoever.

Mick had one more treat for us.  Among the kelp that litters the area, he spotted a Sea Otter, apparently the only one in this area, doing its otter thang.

Ollie the Sea Otter.  He looks cute, but apparently can be really vicious towards other otters.

And that was it; our time was over so we had to head back to Victoria.  This was a slightly less challenging ride since the wind was behind us, but it was still pretty bumpy at times.  Thus ended a very interesting session, which was surprisingly tiring, given that I’d only sat down for three hours, occasionally standing up to get a better angle.  Anyway, we were really glad that we’d done it and got so close to some whales and other sea life.

On getting ashore, we headed back to the hotel and managed to persuade them to serve us some food and drink, which were quite welcome by this stage. To round off the day, we went for a stroll up into the Chinatown area of Victoria, the oldest Chinatown in Canada.

before walking back along beside the water to the hotel

and retiring for the night.

Having ticked one standard tourist box in whale watching, tomorrow sees us tick another – a visit to Butchart Gardens.  The weather forecast is propitious and I hear good things about it.  I hope to be able to present you with some great photos of flowers and that, should you come back to the blog tomorrow.  See you then!

Well Empressed with Victoria

Saturday 20 August 2022 – The plan for the day was pretty straightforward – catch a coach to take us to a ferry to take us across the Straits of Georgia to Victoria, on Vancouver Island, dead south of Vancouver city itself.

A coach duly appeared and we climbed on board, to find that we were the first passengers to be picked up and that there would be several more stops to collect more before we got to the ferry.  The driver made the ride very entertaining, and not by the usual means of commentary about landmarks or other tourist matters of interest.  Jane immediately picked up from a few spoken words that he was a Brit, and it soon became clearer, even without him saying very much more; it was the way he drove.  Drivers in North America, and particularly bus and coach drivers, have a very relaxed way of getting around, waiting patiently at lights or for decently long gaps in the traffic before carrying on.  Our driver, Paul, who turned out to be originally from Guildford, drove like a Brit: edging forward at lights before they changed; edging out at junctions and going for small gaps in the traffic; and generally taking no prisoners as he swung the bus around.

As well as that, since we were sitting just behind him, we could hear the muttered commentary he was making about other road users as he went along.  It didn’t help that his efficiency – for he was undoubtedly an experienced and competent driver – got him to the cruise terminal for his penultimate pickup some ten minutes early, so he sardonically explained that he was driving round the blocks to pass the time, and wasn’t actually lost.  This is Paul, at his final pickup, where he was impatiently awaiting the final people to turn up and board his bus.

When he was using the microphone to talk to the passengers, Paul was (largely) exemplary and free from editorialising. But in other places, when pedestrians were slow to cross the road, or when other drivers dithered or drove erratically, his subvocalised comments were very pithy.  The ferry terminal was chaos because several sailings had been cancelled due to lack of staff, and his comments about that, and the argument he had with officialdom, contributed greatly to the entertainment value of the ride.  The queue of cars, and indeed of hopeful passengers waiting to board, was not insignificant.

Paul’s view was that not everyone would be allowed on board our ferry, and that we should give ourselves a pat on the back for being on the bus, which had a guaranteed place.

The ferry we rode was a big one, capable of carrying over 2,000 passengers.  For most of it, we simply sat in a lounge, though the coffee that Jane went to buy was very welcome and the chat we had with a chap called Bob, originally from Manchester some 40 years ago, was diverting. Also somewhat disconcerting was a sign at each urinal in the gents.

Sources tell me that these signs were up in the ladies, too.

After an hour or so of crossing open sea, we neared land and popped out to take a couple of photos.

Paul found out that there was a big bicycling event, the Tour de Victoria, on, for which local roads in downtown Victoria would be closed, so, in his characteristic way he set our expectations low about how much fun the journey would be.  However, in the end, the roads he needed to use to get to his drop off points were eerily quiet, so he reached the grandly-named Capital City Bus Station with ease.  This actually turned out to be no more than a place where three buses could pull up behind each other, but no matter.  From our point of view it was Our Stop and so we collected our luggage and wheeled it round to the front of our hotel, an enormous slab of masonry called the Fairmont Empress.

Outside, it had lawns of great lushness – a distinct contrast from the dried up turf we’d seen elsewhere – and inside a sizeable reception atrium.

Our room is nice enough; not huge, but with rather a decent view over the harbour.

Our original plan had been to take it easy for the rest of the day, as we have a couple of days here getting up to various things.  But the weather was so lovely that we couldn’t resist going out for a quick walk around and to check up on where we had to check in for those activities.  We passed a harbourside restaurant called Milestones, which could fit us in in about 10 minutes, so we used that time to wander about and take a couple of photos of an undeniably photogenic location.

At lunch, one of the gins on offer was Empress Gin.  The name is not a co-incidence; apparently the Empress Hotel collaborated in its elaboration, and provide the pea blossoms that enable it to turn colour from its naked state

when you add tonic.

(Empress Hotel in the background – see what we did there?)

After lunch we wandered round some more.  There was Something Going On whilst we were lunching which involved some really quite ghastly screeching and caterwauling that was accompanied by a band.  Someone clearly fancied themselves as Clare Torry, but “The Great Gig In The Sky” it was not.  Fortunately this unfocussed keening was eventually replaced by something a bit more ear-friendly, so we wandered over to gawk. The source turned out to be a part of  Victoria’s first ever BIPOC music festival. BIPOC means Black, Indigenous and People of Colour and the festival is an event by BC Black History Awareness Society.

We also visited the Netherlands Centennial Carillon, cunningly arriving there just as it struck 5.

There are 11 carillons in Canada.  I don’t know why.

I think we’re rather going to like Victoria – certainly around the harbour area, it’s very attractive, and there are any number of interesting statues around,

even in the very edges of steps and lawns.

Cars are not the only mode of transport

and there are some lovely displays of flowers and topiary by the Empress.

There was a nice sunset

and when darkness fell, we took a further wander to see if what we had been told earlier, that the Legislature Building was nicely illuminated at night, was true.

Since we were out (and, to be frank, since the noise from the festival was going to stop us from getting any sleep) we extended our walk along Government Street, which was extremely lively.

Even as late as 9.30pm, many shops were open

and, it being Saturday night, there was a great buzz about the place. Thankfully by the time we had finished our meanderings the loud festival music had stopped!

We shall discover more over the next couple of days.  We  have a couple of formal tourist activities planned, but it looks like there’s much scope for wandering around and stumbling across good things. So please check in to see what we got up to and what we found.