Carless and carefree: Vancouver to Victoria on Vancouver Island
by Sue Frause
Cars line up at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal for the 90-minute sailing to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island. Buses get priority. (Sue Frause)
I prefer road trips that don’t include me as the driver. And now with the gas gods scowling down on us, even folks who would never leave their beloved vehicles at home are opting for alternative ways to roam. Plus, lots can happen when you’re not behind the wheel. You can read. Listen to tunes. Eavesdrop. Take a snooze. Or see familiar sights with fresh eyes. My favorite way to travel to British Columbia is a combination of trains, buses, boats, and planes. This is the third in a series on my carless, carefree getaway to BC. Depending on your time and budget, cut and clip as necessary.
I’ve taken the bus from downtown Vancouver to Victoria on Vancouver Island a number of times, and it’s far less stressful than driving: You won’t get lost on your way to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal or left behind on the dock. Plus, it’s only $40 one-way for the four-hour trip, which includes the 90-minute sailing aboard BC Ferries. In comparison, this summer it was $60.15 one-way on the BC Ferries from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island.
Pacific Coach Lines has frequent departures from the bus station in downtown Vancouver, located at Pacific Central Station (where Amtrak departs and arrives). They also pick up at a select number of hotels during some of the morning departures. Ask at your hotel or call PCL for more details on hotel pick-up.
Although the ferry was 30 minutes late departing Tsawwassen, we still made it to Victoria in time. The bus station is located just behind The Fairmont Empress Hotel and is truly a big zit on this city’s lovely facade. Actually, it’s somewhat similar to Seattle’s seedy station.
I think one of the most fun ways to see and learn about a city is on a guided walking tour. John Adams of Discover the Past in Victoria is a historian who really knows his stuff, but also presents it in an engaging and entertaining way, as do his other guides. They offer a variety of tours, including ghost tours (yes, Victoria is haunted!): discovery walks of Victoria’s heritage neighborhoods (it’s fun to get away from the Inner Harbour); and a 90-minute tour of Chinatown, which is 150 years old this year (making it the oldest Chinatown in Canada). Ask John or one of the guides for a restaurant recommendation for lunch or dinner.
Where to stay: As far as hotels, I have my favorites. The Magnolia Hotel & Spa, a lovely hotel just steps from the Inner Harbour (but skip the spa; it’s nothing special); The Oswego Hotel, a new boutique hotel in the quiet James Bay neighborhood; and Fairholme Manor, a century-old restored Italianate mansion in the tony Rockland area of Victoria.
What to do: Go on a kayak tour in Victoria’s inner and upper harbours and up the historic Gorge Waterway with Ocean River Sports; have cocktails in The Fairmont Empress Bengal Lounge; dine on fish ‘n chips outdoors at the enviro-friendly red fish, blue fish; enjoy a Westcoast Seaweed Body Treatment using local seaweed at Sapphire Day Spa; pick up the new Downtown Victoria Art Galleries guide, available at the Tourism Victoria Visitor Centre, 812 Wharf Street.
Last leg: Bellingham to Vancouver
Next leg: Victoria to Courtenay on VIA Rail Canada