For Cole Evans and Lyly Osbourne, visiting the new Malahat SkyWalk on its opening day on July 15 was a highlight of their vacation.
The couple, who are vacationing from Mission, said they read about the SkyWalk, which is located just north of the Malahat Summit, and wanted to check it out on their way home from spending most of their time off visiting tourist locations in the Cowichan Valley.
“It’s really cool and the views are amazing,” said Evans from the sightseeing lookout at the top of a 40-metre high spiral tower that offers visitors magnificent views of the Saanich Inlet, Finlayson Arm, the Gulf Islands and distant coastal mountains.
“It was certainly worth the time to come here and check it out.”
The approximately $15-million Malahat SkyWalk project, a partnership between the Malahat Nation and A.Spire by Nature, a company led by two of the founding partners in the successful Sea to Sky Gondola near Squamish, combines nature-based tourism with a cultural tourism experience.
It opened with a small ceremony and ribbon-cutting on the morning of Thursday, July 15 after approximately a year and a half of construction.
Guests begin their tour of the site on the TreeWalk, a 600-metre long elevated walkway that rises 20 metres from the forest floor, to explore the tree-top canopy of the arbutus and Douglas fir forest.
Rest stops along the route offer information about the surrounding natural environment, and Indigenous art by Coast Salish First Nations is also on display.
The TreeWalk leads to the majestic wooden spiral tower that has a slowly elevating spiral ramp that gently rises 40 metres to the top of the 10-storey architecturally inspiring lookout, the first of its kind in B.C., which offers the tremendous views from 250 metres above sea level.
Also at the top, daring guests can walk on an 84 square-metre adventure net that is suspended partially across the centre of the spiral tower for another breathtaking perspective on the spiralling structure below.
On the way back down, guests who are older than five years old have the option of returning to the base of the tower by taking an exhilarating ride on a 20-metre enclosed spiral slide.
Ken Bailey, general manager of the Malahat SkyWalk, said there was to be a big grand opening when the facility opened its doors to the public, but management was reluctant to make any major plans for it because of the uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, and decided to keep the ceremony small.
But he said a larger celebration will be planned later in the summer when health authorities say it is safe to do so.
“There’s certainly a lot of excitement among the guests on our first day because so many people wanted to see what we were building,” said Bailey from the facility’s Welcome Centre & Gathering Place, which has ticket sales, a cafe and a gift shop.
“There’s still not very many tourists who are not local due to travelling restrictions, but it was our original intention to open the facility mainly for the local community and we’re happy to be here and be part of the community. We intend to be open 365 days, 12 months of the year and we’ll have themed events at Christmas and other special days.”
Bailey said it was a long road to finally get to opening day.
“We started this project in January, 2020, and since then we’ve had to deal with the pandemic, the heat wave and the economic downturn, but we got through it and here we are.”
Jason Singham, from Victoria, said he was “gobsmacked” by the TreeWalk and spiral tower.
“I read about it and wanted to check it out,” he said.
“I’ll definitely be back, and I’ll bring more people with me next time.”