The Meaning of Adventure in Victoria

Hiking at Gowlland Tod with Hike Victoria

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

I wasn’t always an adventurous soul. Or perhaps I was, but my anxiety growing up masked it well and prevented it from coming out very often. I used to be scared of everything and anxiety would call the shots in my life.

I’m thinking of writing up that account of my past at some point, but long story short, I confronted that side of myself back in high school & college and decided to overcompensate with seeking out adventure in my life forevermore.

I’m a culinary adventuress as well as an adrenaline one. There’s not much I won’t try between cuisine and activities, and most of those things don’t even make me anxious anymore – which is a testament to how much I’ve grown through facing my fears and trepidations. It works people!

I was excited when I was setting up my trip to Victoria, because I realized just how many adventure and outdoor activities there are to do in the city – tons! I had some sort of adventure tour for most of the days I was in town, and I wanted to share with you three experiences in particular that stuck with me and made me come away with the best kind of impression about Victoria.

Victoria is seen as one of the most outdoorsy and fit places in Canada, along with Vancouver, and you can tell in the general bright outlook and friendliness of locals just how great their standard of living is on the island. There were constantly people walking, cycling, kayaking, you name it. It’s a bustling city of activity and adventure, definitely my kind of place.

If you’re hoping to discover your own kind of adventure in Victoria, these are the ones I had that were interesting, unique, and gave me a well-rounded time in the city.

Kayaking

I’ve never been a big water person. I remember the first time I tried stand up paddle boarding and my legs were shaking so uncontrollably from fear of tipping over, that I probably made it way harder than it needed to be.

When I tried surfing for the first time last year I was anything but a natural at it and I was constantly pounded by wave after wave, fighting back panic attacks every time I’d see another big swell building up just for me.

Kayaking was different. It’s one water sport I actually eased into nicely. Maybe it’s because it can be such a calm activity, but kayaking never gave me that usual trepidation besides a mild curiosity about what I would do if I actually tipped over, or if I’d be able find my way out if I did.

Kayaking in Victoria, Canada

Kayaking in Victoria, Canada

I had kayaked a few times previously in my travels, but I knew I wanted to try it out specifically in Victoria since it’s situated in a location that is so abundant in wildlife and marine animals. I ended up going out with Ocean River Sports on my first one-on-one kayaking tour around the harbor and beyond. It was pure magic.

My guide, Leya, was probably the most relaxed person I met in Victoria and informative, but not in a scripted way, about the natural surrounds and geography. We paddled from the harbor and through the Gorge Waters to a more residential side of the city. We went from industrial to scenic and back in the matter of 3 hours and learned about the history of Victoria along the way.

She talked about the house boats that people lived on, the fancy houses out of the water, and even where to find an inexpensive place to eat lunch after the tour.

Kayaking in Victoria, Canada

Not far from the start of our journey, an adolescent group of seals came to say hello, one even tried to hop on the back of my kayak! They would follow us throughout the whole trip, popping up at random times, looking over at us to show their inquisitive or playful nature. I grew up with seals and marine animals of all sorts being from the Monterey Bay, but this was still an incredible experience to have.

Further along, we stopped by a small islet that we weren’t allowed to go on due to it being a sacred place and old burial site for the First Nations. The small islet is called Halkett Island and it used to be a place that was covered with sheds, burial boxes, and human remains, until a group of three Victoria boys burned it down in 1867.

The islet went under government control in 1924 and was finally given back to the Songhees in 1993 by a court order. You could feel the rich history emanating from the islet as we sat there and pondered the sad and destructive memories it held.

As we continued the tour, Leya told me about the reverse rapids, or standing waves, that sometimes occur after the third bridge from the harbor when the tide is just right. The rapids were flowing once we got to that point, so we turned back from there and took our time on the return, intermittently saying hello to the friendly seals on the way.

Kayaking in Victoria, Canada

On this side of the gorge, we hardly came across any of the cute checkered water taxis that populate the inner harbor. It was just me, my guide, and the seals on a beautiful afternoon in Victoria. If you’re looking for an authentic and relaxing water experience in the city, this is it.

Whale Watching

How do I even begin talking about the amazing time I had on my whale watching tour and the fact that I saw a group of resident orcas in the wild?! I couldn’t believe how much I lucked out in my interactions with marine animals throughout my tours, but I hit the lottery in Victoria.

Whale watching in Victoria, Canada

I had only been whale watching once before in San Diego, and although we saw a glimpse of a grey whale’s tail from far away, I honestly found it to be a little boring. That could’ve been the seasickness medication as well though, that made me overly drowsy and just a tad out of touch with my surroundings.

I never thought much about going on a whale watching tour again until I arrived in Victoria, which is known for its variety of whales that come near the peninsula. I also made the discovery that I was visiting in the perfect season for whale watching. When I found out that there was an option for a zodiac whale watching tour, I was so in.

Part of the reason I didn’t find the San Diego tour to be all that thrilling was because we were on a huge boat and felt so far away from the sea and the animals that lived beneath it. With a zodiac, we would be able to zip around the water and be almost at the same level as potential whales that would pass by.

Whale watching in Victoria, Canada

I was staying at the Oswego Hotel at this point, which was only a few minutes walk away from the Orca Spirit Adventures shop – the start of my adventure. After I checked in and met my group of about 12 people, our hilarious guide came out and went through how to put on our bulky floatation suits, a few safety instructions, and soon led us to the boat for take off!

Whale watching in Victoria, Canada

Whale watching in Victoria, Canada

Our guide had a great sense of humor and was up for making the ride just as good as the watching. We zipped along with the wind whipping at our faces and the water parting behind us. We rode waves and did sharp turns to get a little wet & wild on the journey and back to the harbor. We spotted a bald eagle on its perch, chubby seals bathing in the sun, and yes, we saw orca whales!

Whale watching in Victoria, Canada

The moment I saw the dorsal fins of about three orca whales pop up in succession, I lost all thoughts about anything else. I just stared and took in this miraculous sight. Seeing whales properly for the first time in the wild is a wonderful experience, and I didn’t quite realize just how cool that feeling would be until I saw it for myself.

We found a group of resident orcas that the naturalists had named J-Pod, and they consisted of a family of over 17 or so whales. One of them was called granny and had been alive since the early 1900s, I had no idea that orcas lived for that long!

Whale watching in Victoria, Canada Whale watching in Victoria, Canada

For the next 30-45 minutes, we followed J-Pod along quietly and watched them smoothly cut through the water. We didn’t get any slow motion Free Willy jumps, but I was more than happy with the show we received from just watching them move so gracefully in the water and breaching from time to time.

It was one of those moments that stood still for me. Yes, I did try and capture as much as I could with my camera, but I also took plenty of time to just take it all in and fully witness what I was seeing in front of me without the help of a camera lens. The orcas stole my heart that day.

I was impressed with the amount of knowledge our guide had about the area and about the variety of whales that live and move through the islands. I enjoyed the fact that he gave us a family background to the particular orcas we were seeing. He guided us in understanding what we were seeing, how to read dorsal fins, and explained why orcas travel in families that they stay with until their death.

If you only have time or money to go on one tour in Victoria, I would highly suggest spending a day with Orca Spirit Adventures on a zodiac boat. It was one of the best afternoons I had in the city and I came away with the feeling that I had truly witnessed something profoundly special that day. 

In case you missed my last post, make sure to check out the recent short video I made about my time in Victoria – including a glimpse at my whale watching experience, here

Hiking

Last but not least, I have to talk about my time with Hike Victoria – a tour company based out of Victoria and run by a man named Mark. Mark guides you on beautiful adventures through remote areas just outside of the city and takes professional pictures for you and your group as an added bonus (he’s a photographer as well as guide so the tours are well documented in all of their glory).

Mark has been a Victoria resident for 24 years and has been hiking around British Columbia for 28 years, if you couldn’t already guess, he’s highly knowledgeable about local trails, fauna, and the best hidden spots around Vancouver Island.

I went on his Top of Gowlland Tod hike and I was rewarded with grand vistas, beautiful scenery, and an education in the local and invasive species that populate the trails around Gowlland Tod Provincial Park.

hike-victoria-adventure-canada-british-columbia-travel
Photo via Mark Vukobrat at Hike Victoria

The hike was a good amount of difficult, with slight ups and downs and off trail adventures for some stunning scenery shots, but not overly tiring. He provided me with a pack, hiking poles, water, sunscreen, and the most delicious oat bars I have ever tasted in my life (I’m still drooling over them), from a place called Cakes Etc. in Victoria.

We passed by dainty purple flowers called lady slipper orchids, the golden peeling bark of Arbutus trees, and the invasive yellow scotch broom everywhere. He also pointed out whenever we came across the purple flowers of camas, a plant that used to be dug up and eaten by the First Nations regularly.

The highlight of the day had to be reaching the top of Gowlland Tod, with a view of the deep blue fjord called Finlayson Arm down below. To any of you who have followed my journey for some time and know about my fondness for hiking, you probably also know quite well by now my fondness for fantastic views. I mean, who doesn’t?

Hiking at Gowlland Tod with Hike Victoria

This spot was up there with some of the most stunning hiking views I’ve seen in my travels. And of course, we had to take silly jumping photos to capture that moment just that much better. And don’t worry, I wasn’t actually near the edge in these photos, that was just Mark being a talented photographer and using angles to his advantage to create a crazy looking shot.

Hiking at Gowlland Tod with Hike Victoria
Photo via Mark Vukobrat at Hike Victoria

The hike in total was 3.6 miles and climbed about 650 feet by the peak, so definitely doable no matter what your fitness level. Mark also takes a lot of stops to make sure you’re doing well and to take artsy shots of you if you’re interested in capturing your hike that way.

Hiking at Gowlland Tod with Hike Victoria
Photo via Mark Vukobrat at Hike Victoria
Hiking at Gowlland Tod with Hike Victoria
Photo via Mark Vukobrat at Hike Victoria

We took a lot of stops since, you know, I’m a blogger and I’m always looking for more pictures, but he was very communicative and respectful about asking whether it would be fine to stop for a picture or not. The great thing about going on a one-on-one guided hike is that you can make the tour whatever you want it to be. If you want to take a ton of pictures, awesome! If you’d rather just remember it in your memories and not focus on photos, that’s totally cool too!

And I just have to finish with saying that Mark was a very personable and gracious host. He was easy to talk to, intelligent, and a super interesting guide to explore nature with. This was my first guided tour experience, since I usually hike by myself or with friends and/or boyfriend, but I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed learning more about an area I knew nothing about – and hiking with a professional photographer is a pretty great way to remember your trip without having to do any of the work yourself.

I also felt like I learnt so much about photography just through this tour, and it wasn’t even one of his photography in nature tours – which he does as well.

Hiking at Gowlland Tod with Hike Victoria
Photo via Mark Vukobrat at Hike Victoria

If you’re looking for a unique individualized experience with either the group you’re traveling with or by yourself, I could not recommend a better experience to have when you want to explore the natural beauty that lies so close outside the city of Victoria.

Have you been adventuring in a new place recently? What are your favorite adventure activities or tours you like to experience while traveling? 

Many thanks to Ocean River Sports, Orca Spirit Adventures, Hike Victoria, and Tourism Victoria for hosting me on these tours, as always, all opinions are my own. 

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The Meaning of Adventure in Victoria

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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