Tiny Tidal Taco Shack earns a big following – for good reason

TTS Sign‘Dining out’ has a whole new meaning when you eat at Qualicum Bay’s Tidal Taco Shack.  There is no other option – you eat at the picnic tables overlooking the sweeping vistas of Georgia Strait and the Coast Mountains, or you can eat in your car.

Tidal Taco Shack at Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Tidal Taco Shack is tiny….

Tidal Taco Shack is one of those secret gems with a humble beginning that has grown into something of a local phenomenon. And, we discovered recently, for very good reason!

The tiny hole-in-the-wall eatery opened in 2014 as a project to keep owner Ashley Martz occupied.  It has certainly done that, and then some – she now has three employees helping out at her operation, and judging by the constant flow of customers she may need more in the future.

Beef burrito at Tidal Taco Shack, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Beef burrito – no lack of good food here!

The Tidal Taco Shack is a tiny built-from-scratch structure located just off Highway 19A (the Old Island Highway) on a leased chunk of waterfront.  But its’ lack of stature belies the wonderful food that comes through the order window on a regular basis.

Picnic at tidal Taco Shack in Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Picnic tables, water and mountain views and great food – it doesn’t get any better

The menu includes both burritos ($7.50) and tacos ($4.50) with a variety of generous fillings ranging from chicken to beef to fish and shellfish.  The burritos are huge – enough to keep anyone going through an active day – and if we order them for a late lunch they get me off the hook for cooking a big dinner.

Fish burrito at Tidal Taco Shack, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The fish burrito combines panko-crusted whitefish with a cornucopia of other flavourful ingredients

We recently took guests from Alberta to the Tidal Taco Shack for lunch, and every burrito that hit the table was consumed with gusto and sighs of contentment. Sitting at a picnic table on a lovely autumn day, taking in the spectacular scenery, provided a quintessential Vancouver Island experience for the drylanders – and for us.

Diners at Tidal Taco Shack, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Taco lovers of all ages flock to Tidal Taco Shack – and it’s dog-friendly, too!

A word of warning – the Tidal Taco Shack is open from noon – 7 p.m., Thursday-Sunday  during autumn, winter and spring, and keeps longer hours during the summer months.If you arrive near ‘traditional’ meal times, be prepared to wait 45 – 60 minutes for your meal. Everything is made fresh, and with the pile-up of customers at lunch and dinner hours you need to be patient.  We usually head there between the rush hours and have never waited more than 15 minutes.

On a recent wind-blown pouring-rain day my husband drove by the place and even then, there were folks sitting in their cars enjoying the fruits of the labours of Ashley and her staff’. The fact that customers drive up to an hour each way to get to the Tidal Taco Shack is further testimony to the excellence of the food that comes out of that miniscule cedar shake-clad edifice.

So, another new ‘dining’ favourite for us – great food in plentiful quantities at good prices, topped off with a spectacular setting.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

            The Tidal Taco Shack doesn’t have a website, but further information can be found on their Facebook page at:


wheelchair-lPrice rating: $

The Tidal Taco Shack is located at 6001 Island Highway, Qualicum Bay

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.402917  Long. -124.626482

 N 49 24.175  W 124 37.589


Cowichan’s bucolic splendour reveals an historic footnote at Fairbridge Farm School

Stone cairn commemorating Fairbridge Farm School at Cowichan Station, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The stone cairn on the left commemorates the Fairbridge Farm School

What would it have been like, I found myself wondering, to be a young urban child taken from home and family in England and plunked in to the middle of a lonely rural setting at Cowichan Station near Duncan?  I can only guess at the emotions of the 329 youngsters who arrived at the Fairbridge Farm School between 1935 and 1951. Little of that era remains, but what is left stirs the senses and piques the curiousity.

Cook's cottage at Fairbridge Farm School, Cowichan Station, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The original cook’s cottage, now a private home

Sign at cook's cottage, Faribridge Farm School, Cowichan Station, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaAs is not uncommon during our travels on Vancouver Island we stumbled upon the old 1,000 acre farm thanks to a chance comment made by someone we had been talking to about an entirely different subject. We were heading in the general direction of  Fairbridge in any event, so decided to take a little detour and check it out.

The Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm (formerly Pemberlea Farm) was established with the idea of assisting underprivileged children from England to grow up in a healthy environment, learn a trade and make a new and better life for themselves in Canada. Boys were taught mixed farming skills while the few girls were taught household proficiency, with an eye to them becoming domestics at maturity.

The home farm consisted of a cluster of cottages, outbuildings and a chapel, which served as the heart of the community.  The children lived in the cottages with house mothers and, in addition to their schooling were expected to help with various chores such as chopping and piling firewood and kitchen duties.

dormitory at Fairbridge Farm School, Cowichan Station, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Another of the original farm buildings, reincarnated as a private home

The farm came under a fair bit of fire during its 16 year existence.  Government rules and the involvement of child welfare advocates often made things difficult for the administrators of the plan, and by 1951 Fairbridge had said farewell to the last of its students.

The farm sat vacant for many years save for the presence of a caretaker.  The buildings were intermittently used as housing for immigrants and a dairy company took over the farming operation when the farm school closed.

House at Fairbridge Farm School, Cowichan Station, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Rural surroundings and peace and quiet continue to predominate at the site, which is now a high-end strata housing development

In 1975 a real estate developer purchased the property. Refurbishment of some of the original buildings got under way, converting them to private homes on a bare land strata.  A total of 39 homes now sit on the original ‘village’ site, surrounded by the rural loveliness that has always been synonymous with the Cowichan Valley.

There is a cairn at the entrance to a stunningly beautiful farmscape that commemorates the Fairbridge Farm School – it was the first indication that told us we were in the right area.  We back-tracked to the housing development and meandered along a quiet road where we discovered charming heritage buildings lovingly restored.  Many of them have signs at the edge of the property signifying the original use of the building and the year that it was constructed.

Fairbridge Farm Chapel, Cowichan Station, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The chapel has been taken under the wing of preservationists

One of the most impressive restorations is the Fairbridge Chapel, now overseen by the Fairbridge Chapel Heritage Society. Situated in a secluded spot in the community, the chapel no doubt offered comfort to any of the youngsters who were feeling homesick or uncertain about their new lives.

In the end, the Fairbridge Farm School was deemed not to be the best solution to assisting underprivileged youngsters. But its heritage and history live on, bringing an intriguing glimpse into the past of the Cowichan Valley.

            Further information on Fairbridge Farm School can be found at two websites:



            For those wishing to see the ‘real thing’, the loop road that encircles the strata site is located at the junction of Koksilah Road and Fairbridge Drive. A leisurely drive or stroll will take you past many of the historic buildings and the chapel.

Posted in ATTRACTIONS, DUNCAN/COWICHAN, SPECIAL PLACES | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Haig-Brown Festival honours two lives well-lived

HBF Overview It’s not the biggest or most impressive event on Vancouver Island, but the Haig-Brown Festival held each September in Campbell River resonates for the plain and simple fact that it is dedicated to paying tribute to a pair of local luminaries who contributed much to society.

Ann and Roderick Haig-Brown

Ann and Roderick Haig-Brown

Roderick Haig-Brown is best known for his contributions as one of Canada’s early conservationists in the 1930s.  He was an avid fly fisherman, so the family’s 20-acre property and home along the banks of the Campbell River must have been the perfect venue.  His beautiful study, which was open to the public during the festival, has walls lined with 4,000 books.  It also contains the desk where he wrote (in longhand) 25 books and more than 200 papers.  There are mementos from his fishing days, a fireplace and comfortable furniture that invites anyone entering to linger a while.

Fishing flys designed by Roderick Haig-Brown at the Haig-Brown Festival, Campbell River, Vancouver Island

The legacy continues…..

Although Roderick’s  expertise in the wildlife conservation and fishing fields were the things that made his name familiar around the world, Haig-Brown was also a revered provincial court judge. His reputation in this discipline for fairness and common sense was legendary.

Ann Haig-Brown (nee Elmore), in addition to raising four children, typing her husband’s copious literary accomplishments, working at a local school and participating in the farming activities, was a great support for women and children who needed to leave abusive relationships.  There was always sanctuary for victims of domestic violence at the Haig-Brown residence.  As a result of her dedication to this cause (along with many others) the first transition house in the Campbell River area was named after her.

Vendor at the Haig-Brown Festival in Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Books penned by Haig-Brown were on display

The Haig-Brown Festival has just celebrated its fourteenth year.  It is a pretty low-key gathering on the grounds of the Haig-Brown residence, now an historic site operated by the Campbell River Museum.

We found a number of tents lined up along the lower lawn, offering information and demonstrations for all ages.  One enterprising fly fisherman had taken some of Haig-Brown’s fly designs, constructed them and presented them matted and framed.  They were true works of art that would, I am sure, be a welcome addition to the home of any fly fishing enthusiast.

Ann Elmore Transition House booth at the Haig-Brown Festival, Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Representation from the transition house named after Ann Haig-Brown were on hand to talk about her contributions to the community

Several other booths displayed unique artisan efforts, and one vendor had a marvelous display of some of the books penned by Haig-Brown.

Representatives of the Campbell River and North Island Transition Society were also on hand to elucidate on Ann’s many contributions to their efforts.  Their booth included a rare photo of Ann, along with a framed note that was sent after the opening of Ann Elmore House to let the society know that her home was still open to those needing shelter if the transition house couldn’t accommodate them.  There are stories galore about this remarkable woman, who inspired her own share of reverence in the community for her many contributions.

Fishing fly art at Haig-Brown Festival, Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Matted and framed fishing flys, many based on patterns designed by Roderick Haig-Brown

Overall, the Haig-Brown Festival says as much about the couple’s continuing contributions as it does about Roddy and Ann themselves.  He died in 1976, and Ann passed away in 1990.  To the end though, they created legacies internationally and in their own community that continue to impress and inspire.  Two lives, truly well lived.

Further information on some of the Haig-Brown heritage and contributions can be found at the following websites:



 Haig-Brown Heritage House is located at 2250 Campbell River Road

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.  50.0345967625092  Long.  -125.27904594999336

N 50 02.076   W 125 16.743

Posted in EVENTS, KID FRIENDLY, NORTHEAST ISLAND | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sooke Region Museum yields up intriguing history of Island’s southwest coast

Children making bannock at the Sooke Region Museum, Sooke, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Historical footnotes at the Sooke Region Museum include learning how to make and cook bannock

Who knew?  We certainly had no idea that there had been a minor gold rush on Vancouver Island. And, while I was very aware of the Graveyard of the Pacific, where hundreds of ships foundered and many lives were lost, I had no idea of the huge scope of that moniker – until we visited the engrossing and very welcoming Sooke Region Museum.

Map showing Graveyard of the Pacific at the Sooke Region Museum, Sooke, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

This map delineating the Graveyard of the Pacific and the shipwrecks that were endemic there certainly gives pause for thought

We stopped at the museum originally because it also serves as a visitor centre and looking, as ever, for information and story ideas, we always find these places a treasure trove of information. We certainly weren’t disappointed in that respect, but the added bonus of 90 minutes spent perusing the museum displays enhanced our appreciation of the area that much more.

Moss Cottage at Sooke Region Museum, Sooke, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Moss cottage, the oldest standing structure outside of Victoria

The Sooke Region Museum is an indoor/outdoor experience, scattered over spacious, well-kept grounds.  The main building houses the visitor centre as well as many historic artifacts and displays highlighting the history of this area of the southwest coast of the Island.  There is a gift shop downstairs and upstairs there are more displays, which vary depending on the time of year.  When we visited there were beautiful hand-made items on display from the Sooke Arts Council (which prompted me to start my Christmas shopping several months early!)

Hand woven First Nations baskets at the Sooke Region Museum, Sooke, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Beautiful hand-woven first Nations baskets are on display in the main building

In addition to the main building presentations there are many exhibits on the property that offer a glimpse into life on the southwest coast of the Island more than a hundred years ago.

One-room accommodation in pole makers shack at Sooke Region Museum, Sooke, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The humble accommodation in the pole makers shack

We meandered to the covered outdoor exhibit that houses much of the ancient machinery used in the ‘good old days’, including a horse-drawn cutter.  Moss Cottage, the oldest standing structure west of Victoria, offered a glimpse into home life in the 1870s. At a huge sheltered outdoor fireplace we discovered a pair of volunteers teaching school kids how to make and cook bannock, and a little further along a meandering pathway we discovered the authentic pole makers shack, complete with very humble one-room accommodation.

Fabric Art at Sooke Region Museum, Sooke, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Fabric art was on display upstairs in the main building during our visit

There is even a vintage lighthouse on the property, relocated from Triangle Island on the northern coast of Vancouver Island.  Built in 1910, the cast iron and glass fixture was decommissioned despite its ability to throw light up to five miles away.  The problem with the light came with the fact that it had been built so high that its beam was often obscured by clouds, making it useless to mariners.  A decade after its installation it was taken out of service, eventually ending up as a display piece in Sooke.

While museums are generally not my thing, I found plenty to like about this little treasure and all that it offered in the way of information about life in the area. It was easy to imagine living on the southwest coast during the 1800s and 1900s, thanks to the museum and the talented employees and volunteers who make it all happen.

            Further information on the Sooke Region Museum can be found at the website:


Sooke Region Museum is located at 2070 Phillips Road, Sooke

 GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.384240  Long. -123.706423

N 48 23.054  E 48 23.054

Posted in ATTRACTIONS, DUNCAN/COWICHAN, KID FRIENDLY, WEST COAST | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wild Mountain Food & Drink serves up the best of the west coast


Wild Mountain Food and Drink in Sooke, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The little blue house at the end of the road…..

We had one of the best restaurant recommendations ever back in the late Spring, when we were travelling on the southwest coast of the Island.  Our bed and breakfast hostess had suggested we try Wild Mountain Food and Drink in Sooke for dinner. It had opened only three weeks prior to our visit – generally we like to give a new dining spot three months to settle in, but being that we had only one night in Sooke we took a leap of faith and made reservations.

Sweet potato soup at Wild Mountain Food and Drink in Sooke, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Sweet potato soup worthy of the highest accolade

Right off the bat our hopes for a good experience were raised by the fact that the place was packed solid. On a Tuesday night, no less – and it wasn’t even tourist season yet.

Wild Mountain Food and Drink is operated by the husband and wife team of Oliver Kienast and Brooke Fader, who between them have some very serious chops in the culinary world.  The couple is wholly dedicated to producing meals that feature the best seasonal local ingredients that they can get their hands on.  They work in harmony with area farmers, foragers and fishers as well as growing much of their own produce, and those bright west coast flavours shine through in spades.

Perfectly prepared lamb

Perfectly prepared lamb

The small blue house that serves as home for Wild Mountain Food and Drink seats maybe 30.  It’s noisy and cheerful and bursting with energy.  There are water views, and there is plenty of good people-watching to while away the time as you are waiting for your meal.

We began our culinary adventure with a luscious creamy sweet potato soup that had me ready to lick the bowl. (Or at least mop it clean with a piece of the very excellent bread from Fry’s bakery in Victoria – which I did).

Asparagus risotto at Wild Mountain Food and Drink in Sooke, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Risotto that was the essence of Spring – asparagus, spinach, wild mushrooms

Our entrees offered up the best of Spring. My husband thought he had died and gone to heaven with the lamb dish, braised and roasted to perfection, accompanied by  local asparagus.  My creamy fresh asparagus risotto combined with wild mushrooms and fresh spinach was no less enticing. We both needed more bread to sop up the few remains that were on our plates.

Desserts were nothing short of heavenly.  My husband ordered the Peruvian chocolate pudding, served in a small mason jar with a cookie, praline and cream.  I managed to get one small taste of this decadent offering before he devoured the rest. All I can say is it was the best chocolate pudding I have ever had the pleasure of consuming.

Strawberry-rhubarb tart at Wild Mountain Food and Drink in Sooke, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The crowning glory – strawberry-rhubarb tart

My dessert was most definitely in tune with the season – a short-crust tart filled with lemon curd and topped with seasonal rhubarb and strawberries. It arrived encircled by a pool of not-too-sweet caramel sauce that was a nice complement to the tartness of the rhubarb and lemon.

Although service was a little on the slow side it was nonetheless excellent.  I am sure that by now, almost five months in, that the staff at Wild Mountain Food and Drink have those glitches sorted. And I notice that the menu has evolved to highlight the bounty of the late summer and autumn months.  It might be time for another trip to Sooke!

            Further information on Wild Mountain Food and Drink can be found at the website:



Price rating: $$

             Wild Mountain Food and Drink is located at 1831 Maple Avenue South, Sooke

 GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.369942  Long. -123.728064

N 48 22.197  W 123 43.684


Duncan’s Somenos Marsh Conservation Area is wildlife heaven

Wooden boardwalk and viewing platform over wetlands at Somenos Marsh Wildlife Preservation Area near Duncan, Vancouver Island

Sturdy boardwalks take visitors out over the wetlands to view hundreds of varieties of birds

We tripped across another not-so-hidden gem recently when we were looking for a quiet spot to enjoy a picnic lunch on the way to ‘somewhere else’.  The Somenos Marsh Conservation Area is located just a little north of the city of Duncan.

Tree swallow at Somenos Marsh Wildlife Preservation Area near Duncan on Vancouver Island

A tree swallow surveys his domain from the top of one of the many nesting boxes

The 500-acre (202 hectares) conservation area has resisted the invasion of development thanks to the efforts of the members of the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society, which was incorporated as a charitable society in 1989.   Located on the Pacific Flyway, the marshlands serve as resting and feeding spots for about 200 species of winged creatures.  It is such a popular spot among the feathered set that the area is now designated  as an international globally significant important bird area (IBA).

Gravel walking trail at Somenos Marsh near Duncan, Vancouver Island

One of the well maintained gravel trails at the site

What you will see when visiting varies depending on the time of year you stop by.  Species include everything from Trumpeter Swans to rare Red Throated Loons and Tundra Swans to Blue Herons.  There is also other wildlife at the marsh, including beaver, river otter, muskrat and raccoons.

Entry way to outdoor classroom at Somenos Marsh near Duncan, Vancouver IslandWe saw very few people during our visit, but enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the gravel pathways and the wooden boardwalks. Secure viewing platforms offered great views in several directions, and we managed to find a bench on one where we enjoyed our lunch before moving on.

Interpretive sign about Ospreys at Somenos Marsh near Duncan on Vancouver Island

Interpretive signs help visitors understand the species at the marsh and the importance of wetlands

One of the best things about this beautiful spot is that it is wheelchair accessible, thus making an outing well within reach of visitors with varying degrees of mobility.

Picnic table at Somenos Marsh near Duncan on Vancouver Island

Picnic tables for those who want to enjoy an al fresco meal

There is also an outdoor classroom at the marsh, and a variety of nesting boxes and nesting platforms constructed by society members.  A series of very well-executed interpretive signs adds to the experience and the learning curve of visitors. The place is a bird watcher’s nirvana.

Although we perched on a bench to enjoy our lunch there are also picnic tables available, so it’s possible to make a day of it to enjoy this little bit of wildlife heaven.  And the really great thing about it is that it is very easily found and accessed, just off of Highway 1.

            Further information on Somenos Marsh Conservation Area can be found at the website:


 Somenos Marsh is located just east of Highway 1, north of Duncan and south of the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.789589  Long. -123.710403

N 48 47.375  W 123 42.624


Not your average pub food at Moby’s

Water view of Ganges Harbour from Moby's Pub on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

The view from Moby’s Pub

We had to do a little island-hopping in the southern Gulf Islands recently and found ourselves on Salt Spring Island at lunch time. It is the largest of the southern islands and the most settled, with plenty of dining options from north end to southern terminus. The village of Ganges was teeming with activity and offered a plethora of eateries, but we ended up at Moby’s Pub, located a little bit away from the hustle and bustle of the village.

Chicken Waldorf salad sandwich at Moby's Pub on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

The delicious and generous chicken Waldorf salad sandwich

Generally speaking we are not big fans of most pub culinary offerings, but Moby’s had come highly recommended by a fellow lover of good food (my brother), so we opted to give it a try.  Other experiences on Salt Spring had been less than stellar despite high ratings on travel sites so we weren’t feeling overly enthusiastic about any recommendations from those quarters.

It was a steaming hot day, so we asked for a seat on the patio, which offers pretty views of Ganges harbour and all the activity that goes on there.  Moby’s is located just a couple of minutes drive from the village – close enough to be convenient, but far enough away to be peaceful.

Albacore tuna bowl at Moby's Pub on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

The SSI Albacore tuna bowl

Service was quick, efficient and friendly.  We were delighted to find the menu contained a lot of ‘not your average pub food’.  Bacon broccoli mac and cheese, a spicy tofu noodle bowl, gluten-free options, truffle aioli, warm Korean beef salad – 10 minutes considering the varied options had our mouths watering and our tummies rumbling.

I settled on the daily special sandwich, a generous chicken Waldorf salad creation tumbling out of a beautiful, fresh and ‘bready’ ciabatta bun.  It arrived with a generous serving of hand-cut fries and was more than enough to satisfy.

Exterior of Moby's Pub on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Located on the waterfront at the end of Ganges Harbour, Moby’s offers a casual maritime ambiance

My husband ordered the SSI Albacore Tuna Bowl – a beautifully presented combination of sashimi grade B.C. albacore tuna, cucumbers, bean sprout kimchi, avocado, green onion, nori, sesame seeds, wasabi aioli and sriracha. The flavour combinations were sublime, transcending any expectations anyone could ever harbour when it comes to ‘pub food.’ The dish would have fit quite admirably on any high-end restaurant menu.

Although Moby’s seems to have a lot going on, most of the time – many special activities dominate their website – it will, hands down, be the food that takes us back there.  What a great and delightful surprise to find this caliber of culinary creativity in a pub setting.

            Further information on Moby’s Pub can be found at the website:


Price rating: $$

 Moby’s Pub is located at 124A Upper Ganges Road, Ganges, Salt Spring Island

 GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.859201  Long. -123.501084

N 48 51.552  -123.501084

Posted in GULF ISLANDS, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cowichan’s historic Fairburn Farm offers unique experiences and old-fashioned charm

Farmhouse at Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The beautiful rambling farmhouse is the essence of quality craftsmanship and tender loving care

We enjoyed a little bit of heaven early this summer when we spent a night at the Cowichan Valley’s historic Fairburn Farm. Talk about bucolic bliss – nothing could have made our stay in the countryside more perfect, and we came away rested and at peace with the world after enjoying the hospitality of the Archer family.

Water buffalo at Fairburn Farmstary and Guesthouse in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The greeting committee – lovely, curious and gentle water buffalo

Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse originally began as a working farm in the beautiful countryside of the Cowichan Valley in 1886.  Over the years it has had a number of owners and has been home to a variety of farm animals.  These days the Archers tend a herd of 100 water buffalo – some of the most charming and delightful creatures with which I have ever had the pleasure of interacting.

Verandah with table and chairs at Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse near Duncan on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The verandaaaah!

Everything about Fairburn Farm resonates country living.  The secluded pastoral setting, the pretty laneways, rolling fields, the ancient and beautiful farm buildings, the rambling and well-preserved farmhouse and the genuine friendliness of the host family combine to transport visitors back to another era.

Antique sleigh bed at Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse near Duncan on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Comfortable bedrooms feature antique furniture, fireplaces and beautiful views

We checked in to Fairburn and settled into our comfortable upstairs room, complete with fireplace, small love seat, big windows offering beautiful views and a very comfortable sleigh bed.  The house has been impeccably maintained and much of the fine craftsmanship that went in to its creation is still very apparent.

After a great al fresco dinner at another local farm we returned to Fairburn and settled on to the huge verandah for the rest of the evening, where we enjoyed the evensong of birds and the chirping of frogs.

Country lane at Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse near Duncan on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the many lovely pastoral views from the farmhouse

We were up early the next morning, downed a quick cup of coffee and headed up to the barns to take in the milking process that involves 45 of the Archers’ cows – the water buffalo milk is turned in to mozzarella cheese that has an amazing fresh flavour unlike any ‘normal’ mozzarella you are likely to sink your teeth in to. From the milking parlour we headed with Anthea to the barn where the calves are bottle fed, and then it was out in to the barnyard for a visit with the heifers who had greeted us at the fence the previous day.  We spent a good deal of time scratching gentle heads and being investigated, licked and slobbered on by the heifers – it was a most delightful experience, and certainly not one you expect to enjoy at a bed and breakfast.

Water buffalo being milked at Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse near Duncan on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Milking time

Following our trek to the barnyard we meandered back down the hill to the house, where Maryann had (of course!) a farm-fresh breakfast ready for us.  Fresh fruit salad was complemented with home-made zucchini muffins and a big plate filled with beautiful eggs, toast made from locally-produced organic bread, water buffalo sausage and the best blackberry jam.  And, of course, locally-roasted coffee.

Anthea Archer with water buffalo at Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse near Duncan on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Anthea Archer with a couple of her ‘girls’

The Archers live their mantra, endowing their guests as well as themselves with as much locally-produced food as possible.  It’s kind of like the good old days, when imports weren’t available and people ate what was obtainable seasonally.  In addition to everything else, we loved that about Fairburn Farm.

Farmhouse breakfast at Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse near Duncan on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The very generous and tasty farmhouse breakfast

Time constraints, unfortunately, meant we were unable to make use of the great farm walking tour map that Maryann had prepared.  But one day we hope to return to enjoy the company of true farm folk, to delight once again in those sweet water buffalo and to sink into the idyllic loveliness that is Fairburn Farm.

            Further information on Fairburn Farm can be found at the website:


            Fairburn Farm is located at 3310 Jackson Road, Duncan, in the middle of some of the most verdant countryside you are ever likely to experience.

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 48.733307  Long. -123.701507

            N 48 43.998  W 123 42.090


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Whiffen Spit offers an easy waterfront walk in serene setting

aerial view of Whiffen Spit near Sooke on Vancouver Island

An aerial view of Whiffen Spit, which is very misleading as to length when viewed from the shoreline

You can make some interesting discoveries when you are dawdling along on your way to somewhere else, which is exactly what happened to us a while back when we were heading for a bed and breakfast in Sooke, on the southwest coast of the Island. With time to kill before check-in, we wandered a little off the beaten track and found Whiffen Spit.

Beach on Whiffen Spit near Sooke on Vancouver Island

Driftwood, shore grass, pebble and sand beaches offer a variety of interest

There is nothing particularly highly-organized or publicized about Whiffen Spit – it is one of those little gems that is just there, snaking for 1.2 kilomtres (3/4 mile) out in to Sooke Harbour. It has protected the Sooke Basin from breakers coming in from the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean for eons, providing safe haven for the clipper ships that plied its waters in the 19th century, and for smaller craft now.

Hikers sitting on bench at Whiffen Spit near Sooke on Vancouver Island

Benches offer visitors a variety of vistas

There are historic footnotes to the spit as well – the first successfully operated steam sawmill was built near the site by the fathers of the B.C Forest Industry, John Jr., Robert and Michael Muir.  Ever the resourceful fellows, they used the boiler from the wrecked vessel Major Tompkins in the mill, which endured until 1892.

Historical sign at Whiffen Spit near Sooke on Vancouver Island

There is a little bit of history here too….

In 1923 a bible student colony attracted adherents from across North America to the area, where they set up a school, meeting hall, bakery, barber and a fish reduction plant. The colony later moved to Port Renfrew and eventually disappeared.

We meandered along the easily-traversed trail for upwards of an hour, along with Moms pushing kids in strollers, elderly folks in wheelchairs, photographers and numerous dog walkers.

The spit’s protected location makes it a safe spot for children to play and explore along the waterline when the weather is fine. There are benches in various locations with a wide range of view options, and the shorelines on either side of this long finger of land offer up much in the way of beachcombing options. Driftwood, sea grass, cobble and sand surfaces underfoot keep things interesting.  The spit was redolent with the fragrance of wild roses during our wander there in early May – a delightful seasonal element that added to the relaxed, pleasant atmosphere.

View of Whiffen Spit, near Sooke on Vancouver Island

Easy, flat walking surfaces make the spit accessible for people of all abilities

Because of its composition we had no idea how long the spit actually was when we began our exploration – it twists and turns and presents a rather misleading countenance from the shoreline.  It was certainly no hardship, though, to enjoy the meandering trail and the surroundings.  Next time we visit we will pack a picnic  and  take more time to savour the sights of this lovely and historic area.

View of Whiffen Spit, near Sooke on Vancouver Island

Pretty views in all directions

There is a small parking lot at Whiffen Spit, which is located at the end of Whiffen Spit Road.

            Further information on Whiffen Spit can be found at the website:


             GPS co-ordinates for the spit parking lot are:

            Lat. 48.356841823264055  Long. -123.72658439859623

            N 48 21.411  W 123 43.595


Botanical Beach offers a plethora of aquatic flora and fauna

Hiker on boardwalk to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island

Hiking in to Botany Bay

What a scramble!  But boy, was it worth it.  When we headed to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew recently we tried to time our visit with low tide.  The beach is named for the teeming sea life found in the tidal pools which are, of course, only visible when the tide is out.

Hiker at botanical Beach near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island

Botanical Beach is at its’ most intriguing best at low tide

The trip to this spot dictated a bit of a change in plans in order to accommodate the tide schedule, but we felt it was worth that for the opportunity to experience one of Vancouver Island’s most interesting  seashore locations.

Botanical Beach is so named after being chosen as a University of Minnesota

Botany Bay near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island

Botany Bay – a little wilder, with crashing surf

Marine Station in 1900.  For seven years students and researchers from around the world travelled to what was then a very remote location to study marine life.  Access was by steamship from Victoria, followed by a very muddy and rough hike from Port Renfrew.  When the promised improved access failed to materialize the university abandoned the site, leaving it to the wild creatures that had been the attraction in the first place.

Bull kelp at Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island

There is plenty of marine life to find and enjoy at both locations

The scramble for us came with getting to the beach.  Signage indicated that there was a 2.5 kilometre (1 ½ mile) loop trail connecting Botany Bay and Botanical Beach and, although we started out just fine we did find ourselves traversing some pretty rough trails, ending up at Botany Bay rather than Botanical Beach, which had been our intention.  We weren’t sure if we had somehow lost the trail and ended up off the proverbial ‘beaten path’, but we persevered and were rewarded with views of crashing surf and dramatic foreshore at Botany Bay.

Waves at Botany Bay near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island

Waves crash through and around sandstone rock formations at Botany Bay

Following some exploration of the wild side at Botany Bay, we found a short  linking trail that led us to the more serene Botanical Beach, home of the former marine station.  The plethora of sea life, both plant and animal, was striking and intriguing and we spent a good hour peering into the sandstone tide pools and wandering along the seaweed-strewn shoreline.

Trail to Botany Bay near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island The hike back wasn’t overly difficult, but it would have been great if the loop trail had been properly posted. Botanical Beach is a provincial park, so it would be nice if the government would spend a few bucks to make sure folks don’t get lost or off-track as we obviously did.

A word of warning here – at low tide the beaches are very slippery, so good footwear is advised.  And keep an eye on the tide and the waves – it wouldn’t be difficult to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This is, after all, the wild Pacific.

            Further information about Botanical Beach and Botany Bay can be found on the website:


Botanical Beach and Botany Bay are located near Port Renfrew.

GPS co-ordinates for the parking lot are:

Lat. 48.532786418930684  Long. -124.44397460225423

N 48 31.967  E 48 31.967


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