We stood on the top deck of the ferry, breathing in the familiar salt air and watched the black vultures fly high overhead, small quivering v-shapes up in the blue sky. We floated past the Gulf Islands, tree-green with rocky cliffs and private beaches, passed white sailboats and looked for otters and whales below us during this most beautiful ferry crossings in Canada. The drive from the ferry took us north of downtown Victoria bringing us to our old home, the less-busy, family-friendly, seaside communities of Langford, Colwood, View Royal, Highlands and Metchosin, known collectively as the Westshore. Our nearly ten-year-old had requested a trip to the island for his birthday to visit all his favourite ocean beaches and the forest playgrounds he had grown up with. So if you are looking to get outside of downtown Victoria to lesser-known beaches and forests, this is where you need to take the kids this year.
Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse
A National Historic Site, Fort Rodd Hill is a favourite for family picnics, so we packed a lunch and headed out to revisit this west coast artillery fortress. The kids gasped at the large black cannons three times their size and explored secret tunnels connecting the bunkers and storage rooms. Later, we sat by one of the beaches with lunch as the kids played on the sand, found crab shells, and climbed boulders. We continued to the Fisgard Lighthouse, the oldest one on the west coast of Canada. Inside, they pretended to be master mariners and man a ship’s wheel, pressed the buttons of different lighthouse lights to learn how the lens expanded or focused light, and saw displays of lighthouse life back in the day.
Hatley Castle and Gardens
If you are feeling the need to walk back in time and visit an ivy-covered castle and its stately gardens with the kids, think of Hatley Castle. Wondering why it looks familiar? It might be because you’ve seen it as Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in the X-Men series, as Oliver Queen’s home in Arrow, or Lex Luthor’s mansion in Smallville. As part of Royal Roads University, the castle’s interior is closed to the public, but the castle gardens, grounds and the surrounding forest trails are free to explore. The kids loved smelling the flowers in bloom and exploring the paths down to the Japanese gardens and the pond.
Esquimalt Lagoon and Beach
With miles of sand looking out to the beautiful Olympic Mountains on one side and the Esquimalt Lagoon National Migratory Bird Sanctuary on the other, the Esquimalt Lagoon is double the fun. On the lagoon side, the kids loved seeing the swans, ducks and geese. Bald eagles and herons come for the fish. The driftwood logs are endless on the beachside and are great for climbing and making into forts and tunnels. The kids played in the waves, built sandcastles, dug pools and rivers and found shells and pretty rocks. The other special thing about this beach is the driftwood art gallery. It started with McNarly the Beach Ent and then an eagle, then a raven, and then an owl. The driftwood sculptures kept appearing like magic on Esquimalt Lagoon beach and now have become an attraction all on their own. Come Friday to Sunday in the summer, and you can skip the meal planning because food trucks will be parked on the beach.
We love Witty’s Lagoon because the trail has everything from a waterfall, a forest and a beach. The kids always stop on the walkway overlooking Sitting Lady Falls to hear the roar and watch the water crash below. We continued on the 1.2 km trail that winds through a beautiful west coast forest with arbutus and Garry oak, keeping an eye for herons and other birds who like to hang out at the lagoon. We stopped at the little bridge crossing the marsh to check for minnows that like to hang out there and then continued to the beach. The beach at low tide stretches for miles exposing sand all the way to the nearby islands. With the shallow water, it is a dream beach for kids. Lower tides leave smaller pools that are warmed by the sun and perfect for splashing. The smooth sandy beach is perfect for the skimboarders and sandcastle builders in the family.
Goldstream Provincial Park
Goldstream Provincial Park is a place to hug ancient giants that are up to 600 years old. It is a short walk through tall trees to the estuary. When it is open, the Visitors’ Centre is a favourite stop for the kids with their exhibits and selection of nature-themed books. Goldstream has many beautiful hikes for all levels, but a definite kid-favourite is an easy one to the hidden falls. When the water levels are low in the summer, taking the trail to the Visitors’ Centre and then going through the darkened tunnel under the highway is a great adventure for the kids. Walking beside the creek bed, we followed the little brook around the corner to the gorgeous Niagara Falls crashing 47.5 metres down a moss-covered rock cliff. It is narrower and not as tall as Ontario’s version but still so beautiful. If you are coming in the fall, make sure you don’t miss the annual salmon run, which also brings with it a high concentration of bald eagles feasting on the salmon.