Botanical Beach Provincial Park is
one of the most amazing places on the entire West Coast, particularly
at low tide. This is when visitors can walk a long way out across
flat sandstone and granite outcroppings to view tide pools filled
like jewel boxes with brightly coloured marine animals.
fascinating world is on display at low tide
and orange starfish and sea urchins, blue mussel
shells, white gooseneck barnacles, and green sea anemones
and sea cucumbers only begin to hint at the spectrum of intertidal
life that thrives here. So significant is this location that a research
station was first established here in 1900 by a team from the University
of Minnesota. Visitors find their way to the beach along the same
rough road used for most of this century.
The distance from the dock in Port
Renfrew to the beach is 5 kms Only four-wheel-drive vehicles
with high clearance should attempt the rough road past the parking
area close to the 3 km point. Beyond here the road narrows, parking
is limited, and turning around is all but impossible. Better to
bike or walk in. Allow 45 minutes on foot from the parking lot.
As you near the beach the trail divides: take the right fork to
reach Botany Bay; go left for Botanical Beach and the tide
Ridges of shale and quartz jut up through the basalt at Botanical
Beach to create immense tableaus in places such as the awe-inspiring
Devil's Punchbowl. The Punchbowl, flanked by smaller bowls
on either side, features a gallery of caves rising above two huge
cedar logs and a field of driftwood kindling. Although you wouldn't
want to be anywhere near here at high tide, it's staggering to imagine
how conditions must boil in there during winter storms. There formations
are located at the north end of the sandy beach and require some
scrambling to reach. Wear rubber boots, as the going is always wet.
Even during the lowest tides of year - December and January, June
and July - the prospect of being caught out here will make your
adrenal gland flutter.
Plan ahead so that you visit here when the tide is falling. At this
point on the coast there is often only one major tide per day, and
you can spend several hours waiting for it to recede if you arrive
at the wrong time. The best local tide chart to consult is the one
issued for Tofino. The store at the Port Renfrew Hotel is a good
local source; so is Parks Canada's West Coast Trail office in Port
Renfrew, as well as the Sooke Info Centre (contact details at the
foot of the Sooke town page).
in the Strait of Juan de Fuca
(or orcas, the largest members of the dolphin family) and grey whales
are often seen swimming offshore from French Beach, China Beach
and Botanical Beach Provincial Parks.
Although orcas live in these waters year-round, the best time for
spotting grey whales is during their annual migration in March and
April, when they are en route to Alaska from their breeding grounds
in Baja, Mexico.
California and Steller sea lions
appear from August to March as they follow migrating fish stocks.
You'll almost always spot from these beaches the smooth-domed head
of a curious harbour seal bobbing offshore.
It's not unusual to spot black bears
in early spring on some of the beaches as well, particularly around
China Beach (Juan de Fuca Provincial Park)
and Mystic Beaches. Bears are unpredictable creatures, especially
when they emerge hungry from winter denning. If you see one, back
away slowly. Do not leave food or garbage lying around: a fed bear
is a dead bear!
Spring and fall present remarkable opportunities to view birds as
they travel along the Pacific Flyway. Some of the protected areas
where they pause and refresh themselves include Hecate Regional
Park in Cowichan Bay,
3 kms east of Hwy 1, about 50 kms north of Victoria; Art Mann
Park on Quamichan Lake near Duncan, and nearby Somenos
Lake, where the Nature Trust of BC maintains a waterfowl nesting
and wintering habitat. Not to be outdone, BC Wildlife Watch has
a viewing station at the Morrell Wildlife Sanctuary in Nanaimo.
Wildflowers don't return in the fall like birds, so you must be
on site in the spring to appreciate them. The south side of Cowichan
Lake is a particularly pretty place to be, including the Honeymoon
Bay Wildflower Ecological Reserve, where pink easter lilies
begin blooming in late April, surrounded by dozens more blossoms
that continue to perfume the air and colour the landscape throughout
the summer. The reserve is located 9 miles west of Cowichan Lake
on South Shore Rd near Gordon Bay Provincial