Clutching the back of the little seat in front of me I peer out the cabin window of our seaplane mentally preparing myself for my first aircraft water landing.
Bumpy, hard, smooth or shaky I consider every landing of these mechanical birds a ‘good one’ if there’s no need to activate the emergency slide. I’m not sure what a seaplane water landing should feel like, but I’m becoming increasingly concerned that our ‘runway’ is a patch of harbour teeming with other seaplanes, yachts and dinky little green ferries – flying the national maple leaf flag of British Columbia – weaving at a decent speed through the harbour traffic like mopeds in Rome.
With military precision, the tangle of craft in our way clears a path for our seaplane to glide like silk on top of the clear and cool water of Victoria Harbour on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, which is actually an International Airport complete with its own air traffic control tower.
Within seconds our ‘runway’ is again consumed by dozens of watercraft until the next seaplane take-off or landing, which comes within minutes and then again and again in a never-ending stream. Later I learn seaplanes have right of way at all times except, of course, when there are killer whales on the runway!
It is a rock-star way to arrive in the beautiful, historic and very British coastal city of Victoria, the capital of British Columbia.
The inner harbour is indeed the beating heart of Victoria, flanked by landmark buildings from the Edwardian era throwing breath-taking reflections of historic architecture across its gently rippling surface.
The namesake of one of greatest monarch ever to rule, Victoria, in its early days was a favourite location for royalty, Hollywood starlets and world leaders seeking respite and solace. Today, while it sees its fair share of celebrities, it attracts millions of visitors from all over the world who come to soak up the history, architecture, art, gardens, wildlife, hospitality and food on offer. Trust me, you’ll need at least a week to enjoy the best parts of this glorious city and make sure these things are on your must-do list:
High Tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel
Follow in the footsteps of royalty and partake in the century-old tradition of ‘Tea and the Empress’. Luckily calories don’t count on holidays, so enjoy guilt-free shortbread, raisin scones with clotted cream and strawberry lavender jam and caramel banana cake (rumoured to be Prince Harry’s favourite), while sipping a delicate teacup of sustainably sourced tea blends. Pinky up is optional.
Stroll Victoria’s iconic gardens
A former limestone quarry and now national Historic site of Canada, The Butchart Gardens, is a paradise for plant and nature lovers, with over 900 varieties of botanical specimens creating a kaleidoscope of colour in every direction. While The Butchart Gardens are well worth a visit, the public parks and gardens of Victoria are just as impressive with velvet soft lawns and mass plantings of fragrant and bright blooms for you to enjoy. So grab a rug and enjoy people watching and spotting squirrel amongst the blossoms.
The Royal BC Museum
Immerse yourself in the rich culture and history of British Columbia at the Royal BC Museum which houses some of the region’s most treasured artefacts from First Nation totem poles and ceremonial items, to dinosaurs, 19th-century relics and a Victorian Era submarine
Inner Harbour Ferry Tour
Experience the hustle and bustle of the inner harbour while drinking in the views of the city from the comfort of a gorgeous and surprisingly manoeuvrable Harbour Ferry. Between dodging seaplanes and rowers the enthusiastic captain shares an enormous amount of local history, pointing out sacred First Nation territories and historical landmarks. Half the fun is bobbing around in something resembling a child’s bath toy!
Fisherman’s Wharf Float Home Village
A short walk from downtown Victoria you’ll find a vibrant little community of float homes, living peacefully alongside a busy tourist wharf offering whale watching tours, street entertainment, fish and chips and ice-cream. Float homes, unlike houseboats, are not motorised and, if not for the slight bobbing on their moorings, could be mistaken for little country cottages. It is evident the owners take great pride in their lodgings, tending lush flowers window boxes, stringing fairy lights and painting their float homes in cheerful colours.
If you’re not lucky enough to see a whale on the seaplane runway, then hop on a Prince of Whales whale watching tour. It’s not just killer and humpback whale they seek, the tour includes a visit to otter, sea and seabird colonies and a wealth of information shared along the way. Hot tip: Rug up well!
Harbour front dining
Steamship Bar and Grill in the Heritage Steamship Terminal is THE place to relax over-looking Victoria’s mesmerising harbour while enjoying world class local wine and seafood. Offering ‘inspired West Coat food’ from local halibut and sockeye to oysters, island dairy and cheese, it’s the perfect spot to pull up a stump after a busy day enjoying the best of British Colombia’s beautiful and historic Victoria.
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