Victoria BC is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. The fact that we’re at the centre of the world’s highest concentration of killer whales has something to do with it, but so does our setting.
Vancouver Island is beautiful at any time of year, and while out on the water, you’ll be treated to some of the most spectacular scenery you’ve ever seen.
During your whale watching tour, your captain and crew will show you the interesting landmarks and geographical features that make our region so special. Depending on where the whales are, here are a few of the highlights you might see:
Race Rocks Lighthouse
Race Rocks Lighthouse is an imposing icon on the Vancouver Island coastline. Its striking black and white tower rises 24 metres above the sea, safely guiding mariners through the Juan de Fuca Strait.
Built over 150 years ago, Race Rocks is the second oldest lighthouse on Canada’s west coast. Today, it’s part of an ecological reserve that is home to a vast array of wildlife, including California sea lions, Northern sea lions, harbour seals and even the occasional elephant seal.
What’s really special about the Race Rocks Lighthouse and Ecological Reserve is that you can access it remotely, via webcam. There are three live video feeds to check out, including one that’s 12 metres underwater!
This historical lighthouse is on the mouth of the Esquimalt Harbour. Its white tower and adjoined red brick house are impossible to miss as we head west towards Race Rocks.
Fisgard Lighthouse was built in 1960, making it the oldest lighthouse in Western Canada. It’s part of a National Historic Site of Canada, and has become a major tourist attraction along with its sister site, Fort Rodd Hill.
Victoria is set against the magnificent backdrop of the Olympic Mountains. No matter where the whales take us, the beautiful snowy peaks are always within sight.
The mountains are directly south of us, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
On a nice clear day, you’ll be treated with views of Mt. Baker, one of the most picturesque landmarks you can see from Vancouver Island. This active volcano is located over 100 km east of Victoria, in Washington State. It’s one of the snowiest places in the world. In 1999, Mt. Baker’s ski area set the world record for recorded snowfall in a single season: 1,140 inches (29 metres).
If it’s an especially clear day, you might also catch of glimpse of Mt. Rainier. This massive volcanic peak is 87 km southeast of Seattle, and appears as a faint cone in the distance.
Ogden Point Breakwater
The Breakwater is a favourite stroll for tourists and locals alike. It’s an 850-metre (half-mile) walk to the end, where’ll you’ll find the iconic red and white beacon that guides boats into the Inner Harbour.
The Trial Islands can be spotted as soon as we leave the harbour and get past the breakwater. Look for the lighthouse, located on the largest of the islands.
This group of islands is an ecological reserve that was created to protect rare and endangered plant species. Access to the islands is restricted, but we often spot harbour seals and eagles as we pass by.
Discovery Island is a Marine Provincial Park that offers sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains and surrounding area. It’s located northeast of the Trial Islands, just off of Oak Bay. Visitors are welcome to the island, making it a popular place for kayaking, hiking and wildlife viewing.
The lighthouse at Sea Bird Point, the eastern end of the island, marks the border between Canada and the United States.
The Gulf Islands stretch along Vancouver Island’s eastern coastline, from Victoria to Nanaimo. Salt Spring Island is the largest, most populous, and the most frequently visited of all the islands. If you arrived in Victoria via the Swartz Bay ferry terminal or the Victoria International Airport, chances are you saw this hilly, heavily-forested island.
Another island near Victoria that’s easy to spot is James Island. Look for the unmistakable sandy bluff on its southern shore. The island was bought by U.S. telecom billionaire Craig McCaw in 1994 for $19 million. He transformed the island from an abandoned industrial town to a star-studded retreat, complete with a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, a fake western village and a fleet of themed electric cars. Not surprisingly, James Island is protected by incredibly tight security.
San Juan Islands
The San Juan Islands are an archipelago in the Salish Sea belonging to Washington State. There are four main islands—San Juan, Orcas, Lopez and Shaw—plus over 170 smaller islands and more than 600 islets, rocks and reefs.
The largest island, San Juan Island, is just a 30 minute ferry ride from Sidney BC. It’s a popular place for whale watching and wildlife viewing, but it’s also home to an incredibly important organization: the Center for Whale Research. This non-profit organization is dedicated to the study and conservation of the Southern Resident killer whale population in the Pacific Northwest, and conducts an annual photo-identification census of all ecotypes of orcas occurring in western Washington State and southern British Columbia.
This natural lookout is on Dallas Road, just east of Beacon Hill Park. It’s a great place to enjoy spectacular views of the Olympic Mountains or watch cruise ships go by as they make their way to and from Ogden Point. With its brisk breezes, Clover Point is an especially popular place for windsurfing, kiteboarding and kite flying. Sometimes, you’ll even see paragliders taking off from the nearby cliffs.
East Sooke Park & Becher Bay
Further west, past Race Rocks, is East Sooke Park. A local favourite, this expansive coastal park features 50 km of trails that take hikers along the windswept rocky coast, through rainforest, over hilltops and to hidden coves. Mount Maguire is East Sooke Park’s highest point and offers views of the park and the Olympic Mountains across the Juan de Fuca Strait.
On the east end of the park is Becher Bay, a picturesque marina and campground.
sdf Mt. Douglas is a prominent hill just 10 km north of downtown Victoria. With an elevation of 213 metres, it’s not the highest peak in region, but it’s certainly the most accessible. You can hike, drive or bike to the top for a 360-degree view of Greater Victoria, the Juan de Fuca Strait and beyond. Mount Doug (as locals affectionately call it) was named after Sir James Douglas, the second governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island.