In a city surrounded by water, knowing where to find the best spots to spend a day on the water is more than just a good idea, it’s a necessity.
To help some of those not yet familiar with the local waters, Angus Matthews has agreed to share some of the favourite spots he’s found in the more than 40 years he’s plied the waters around Victoria.
“The idea that you can escape from a city in 20 minutes, It’s pretty unusual for you to be able to do that,” said Matthews. “From literally the moment you leave shore, you’re in a different head space.”
He points to the wildlife found along the waters as the thing that makes the area so special.
“It really is astonishing. I don’t go a summer without seeing killer whales five or six times. The bird life is amazing. It’s one of the very few ecosystems we see animals returning to.”
On the western shores of the Capital Regional District, the Spit at Sooke and Race Rocks have become popular spots with boaters. The Whiffen Spit is sandwiched between the protected Sooke Basin and the open waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait. Matthews said one of his favourite things to do is to anchor behind the spit and row ashore for lunch at the Sooke Harbour House. “It’s the ying and yang of small boating.”
Race Rocks is a marine ecological reserve at the eastern entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Located at a narrow part of the strait in Canada’s southernmost point in the Pacific, the area covers three square kilometres of ocean, rocks and reefs, with the historic Race Rocks Lighthouse located nearby.
“People cannot go ashore there and can’t fish there, but it is an ecological reserve and the bird life and marine mammals, especially in the fall, is incredible,” said Matthews.
Heading eastward, boaters can make their way to Victoria’s magnificent Inner Harbour. “It’s kind of fun to think of moving your entertaining to different locations, and the Inner Harbour is a fantastic one,” he said, adding there are several docks operated by the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. “It’s a great setting. It’s quieter at night in the Inner Harbour than most people would think.”
As you reach the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island you’ll come across Trial Islands, and ecological reserve that you can see from the Victoria Golf Course in Oak Bay. Also found in the area are the Chatham Islands and Discovery Island
“They are sort of the turning point where the ocean becomes quite different, not always placid but certainly much calmer,” said Matthews, adding you can get swells coming in off the Pacific as far in as Race Rocks. “The ride from Trial Islands to the Inner Harbour can actually be the roughest part of any trip.”
While Matthews said there are a couple of spectacular beaches found on the Chatham Islands, they are part of the Songhees and Esquimalt reserve and permission is needed to go ashore.
“Having said that, the beach in the channel [at Chatham] is probably one of the greatest secrets on the coast. It is truly astonishing,” he said. “The frustrating thing with the Salish Sea is you look ashore from your boat and say, ‘Oh what a beautiful white sand beach.’ And you go stand on it and cut your feet to ribbons because it’s white shell.”
Farther up the coast you’ll find D’Arcy Island.
“The southern bay on D’Arcy Island is great anchorage. It’s got a wonderful beach that looks like it belongs on the west coast of the island.”
The island used to be a leper colony, and Matthews said it is a great spot for a hike as you can make your way around the entire island comfortably in a few hours.
To the north of D’Arcy is Sidney Island, with the northern half of the island part of the Gulf Islands National Park.
“This is the most amazing park on the West Coast and nobody knows that it’s there. It’s a whole combination of little bits and pieces of property on all of the southern Gulf Islands,” said Matthews, adding a foot passenger ferry operates in the summer months from Sidney Wharf.
Another of Matthews’ favourite stops is Russell Island at the mouth of Fulford Harbour, also part of the Gulf Islands National Park.
“Ten years ago I wouldn’t have told you about Russell Island but the secret is out,” said Matthews. “Secret places aren’t so secret anymore.”
He said nearby Portland Island is great kayaking territory. The island was originally given to Princess Margaret during a Royal visit in 1958.
“I think she forgot about it for quite a while,” said Matthews, adding the princess eventually gave the island back to the people of British Columbia.
He said the island has a great trail around it, and you are able to cover the whole island in a three- or four-hour hike. Matthews suggests keeping an eye out for the clearing where a horse racing track used to be located. “It was some mad Englishman’s idea of something to bring to the colonies.”
Another highlight for boaters is dropping anchor in Tod Inlet on a Saturday night to watch the fireworks from Butchart Gardens.
More great facilities for boaters can be found at Beaumont Park on Pender Island. “There’s a good beach there and a really great hike. You can hike up Mount Norman and see this most amazing view of the whole of the Gulf Islands.”
He said more nice spots can be found around Saturna, with Tumbo Island along the southeast corner of Saturna.
“The tide there is some of the fastest tide in this part of the coast, so you want to time it so you’re travelling with it, especially if you’re in a kayak because you’re going nowhere if you’re fighting it.”
Tumbo Island is another part of Gulf Islands National Park.
“For all these lands to be set aside on these islands, we’re really lucky to have them and they’re really well managed by Parks.”