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The Good Life

Living Large on Vancouver Island

Story by Prestige Hotels & Resorts May 3rd, 2016

The good life begins at dawn

There are moments in life when the unexpected happens and I’ve always found that if I seize upon those moments, I never regret it.

My latest story unfolds in the early morning, just as the sun starts to poke up over the horizon. Stretched out in front of me is a Bentley (one of my dream cars) and I’ve been given the opportunity to take it for a drive on Highway 14 on Vancouver Island - the “Pacific Circle Route.”

I pause to take in one of the world’s iconic luxury sports car and gaze over its exacting finish, knowing that under the hood sits a V12, just waiting to purr (maybe roar is a more appropriate description of the throaty call of the engine). Described as a definitive luxury car company, with luxurious high performance this vehicle is going to set the tone for this adventure. Bentley challenges their owners to “be extraordinary” and I intend to be just that. For me this journey into the good life will stretch through the weekend and involve me experiencing what it’s like to take the luxury lane through life.

My stay on the Island begins at the dock right behind Sooke’s Prestige Oceanfront Resort. From here, over the next three days, I will experience what it’s like to sit in the co-pilot’s seat of a float plane; experience the Penthouse Suite at the Oceanfront Resort; eat gourmet meals and sip champagne while the sun goes down over Sooke Harbour and visit a yacht broker who leases luxury boats a week at a time.

As I walk to the Bentley, I stop for a moment to admire the craftsmanship and take in the morning mist rising off the harbour as the sun begins to warm the day.


The Bentley waits at the dock at the back of the Prestige Oceanfront Resort

Leaving the parking lot of the Prestige Oceanfront Resort, I turn left, headed toward Port Renfrew - with a few stops planned along the way.

Highway 14 first opened in 1953, it is sometimes known as the Juan de Fuca Highway, as well as Sooke Road, Sooke being one of the largest communities that the highway passes through.

Outside of urban areas the route has exceptionally winding, curving and hilly stretches. Some of the sharper corners have oversized, freeway-style, jersey barriers instead of the more typical steel crash rails, mostly to prevent an out-of-control vehicle from falling off a cliff into the Pacific Ocean. These crash barriers show signs of many collisions, occasionally decorated with “X crashed here!“ or a target painted around a particular collision mark on the wall. Some bridges are single lane and you have to use caution upon approaching them - you never know when one of the many logging trucks will come around the corner.

As I round one corner, about a 30 minute drive from my hotel in Sooke, I flow down a hill and see the Pacific loom large. I’ve reached the first beach I wanted to hit at the Jordan River. A logging community, this is a popular spot for winter surfers.


The river jordan: surfers, sea and old forests

Inukshuk in the mirror of the Bentley.jpg
Inukshuk at Jordon River.jpg
Jordon River beach.jpg
Established as a logging camp int he late 19th century, the Jordan River is popular amongst winter surfers.
the Bentley at the Jordan River, an old lumber town

headed for mystic

After a stop at the Jordan River beach, I head north through the small village to China Beach. I had heard from locals in Sooke that if I went to the China Beach parking lot, it splits into two sides and that if I was going to take one hike through the woods down to the beach, I should take the parking lot on the right, which leads to a pathway toward Mystic Beach. At first I was a little confused. The sign says “China Beach”, but there’s a Mystic Beach here as well? I followed the suggestions and sure enough, as soon as you wind your way through tall trees and a short drive, there are two different (but side by side) parking lots that give you a choice to either go left to China Beach, or right to Mystic Beach … I chose the latter.

The sign at the head of the trail noted that it was a 2 kilometre walk to Mystic Beach, so after grabbing a camera and a few lenses, I headed down a well-marked path through the forest.

Just minutes from leaving the parking lot, I found myself having to watch the ground a lot, as the roots from some of the trees along the pathway looked like fingers stretching out, trying to grab me by my ankles. Although rated “moderate”, this hike was a little slow going and I was sure that when they measured the length of the trail, they were a little off - it seemed longer than the 2 km posted.


The trail to Mystic Beach is covered in tree roots ... watch your step.
On the Mystic Trail.jpg
Mystic Beach Dog.jpg
Small waterfall at Mystic Beach.
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The sea has worn the rocks smooth.
The Bentley leaves the road to China Beach

almost the end of the road

Leaving Mystic Beach, I continue on the “Pacific Circle Route”, heading north toward Port Renfrew. Back in the days of sail, Port Renfrew had 137 major shipping tragedies in the vicinity. International recognition was given to this stretch of the Strait of Juan de Fuca when it became known as the Graveyard of the Pacific.

For me, the draw in this area was Botanical Beach. Rich tide pools, a shoreline full of life and fantastic geological features are what draws thousands of visitors to the area each year.

As I wandered down to the beach, I kept seeing the warnings about tides and how powerful the force of the waves could be here. Undaunted (but a little wary) I wandered out near the corner of the beach, where waves pounded the rocks and trees clung to the hillsides. It’s as spectacular as advertised.


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Botanical Beach ... be wary of the incoming surf.
Looking out to the Juan de Fuca Strait and the USA.
The fishing dock at the port of Renfrew as a group of kayakers leave for a short paddle.
totem pole in Port Renfrew.jpg

charter the good life on the water

Highway 14 curves out of Port Renfrew, heading east. My next destination set me on a course to meet a man who had spent most of his life on the water. Of South African descent, Ian MacPherson built a 40 foot Endurance Ketch called “Baraka”. For 10 years, this would be he and his wife, Shari’s home as they cruised the world. Today, they call Nanaimo home where they’ve built a successful charter yacht management company.

Nanaimo Yacht Charter's owner Ian McPherson rests beside a Beneteau 50 - one of the yachts the company offers for charter.
Ian the old salt portrait ws.jpg
Shari and Ian McPherson in their dockyard.
The story of how Shari and Ian ended up in our part of the world is rooted in the death of his father. It’s a story of fate and well-told by Ian himself: “It was one of those calls that all with aging parents dread. It was my very shocked mother with the worst possible news, the fog of being deeply asleep cleared in an instant as I digested the news that my father had suffered a massive heart attack and had died very suddenly in the middle of their daily walk around their suburb of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
I had heard at great lengths from my parents all about the beauty of BC and felt consumed with guilt as I had always promised to visit but never got around to visiting. In doing so I had denied my dear Dad the opportunity of sharing this magnificent area with me.
The funeral arrangements were very simple; I chartered a yacht from the local yacht charter company, “Nanaimo Yacht Charters.” It was a Beneteau 35 called “Prairie Rose.” The plan would be to fill the boat with food and beer and scatter his ashes. Exactly what the old man would have loved. On the planned day we were treated to one of the very best – weather wise. There was not a breath of wind and the sun shone brightly and despite the time of the year it was quite mild, absolutely perfect for us. We motored slowly out of the marina and up Newcastle channel and out through the harbour. The mood on board amongst the family was quite somber, after motoring for about an hour we found ourselves off the magnificent Malaspina Galleries on Gabriola Island. We could not have selected a more magnificent spot to scatter the ashes. I cut the engine and the family gathered around the stern as I prepared to scatter the ashes. With a few words and very little ceremony I started scattering the ashes. With a heavy heart I watched as the ashes spiraled away from me into the depths. Just as the last of the ashes disappeared the most astounding thing happened – as though summoned for the ceremony we were immediately surrounded by a pod of killer whales. We were serenaded by these stunning creatures for more than half an hour. It was as though they had arrived to carry Dad away and because of the time of the year there was not another boat in sight- we had this incredible wildlife show all to ourselves. A light breeze filled in and we unrolled the genoa and followed our pod at a discreet distance. This magic continued for a further hour. It was the most memorable and beautiful experience imaginable and had a profound effect on me.”


Ian and Shari have a good stable of interesting boats for charter. My eye was drawn to a Meriden 368 which rents for about 5 grand for 7 days and 7 nights in the summer high season. But the prospect of sailing on the stylish and contemporary Beneteau 50, for about the same price, is a strong draw as well.




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Cockpit of the 37' Meridian
Heading out with Ian
We cruise past a yacht anchored in the Nanaimo downtown harbour
Ian ensures a safe drop into the water for one of their customers about to go cruising
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Bras mark the recognition of those fighting breast cancer
A memorial bench remembering those who fought cancer and were members of the local dragon boat team

As Ian told me as we headed off through the channel toward downtown Nanaimo … “this Island is the best Island I’ve ever cruised.” “The waters are relatively calm, the many bays sheltered and the scenery and wildlife is unbeatable.”

"We live in one of the best places to cruise in the world," Ian tells me.  Underway just off Vancouver Island

from sea ... to air

There are many ways to tour Vancouver Island, but one of my favourite has to be from the air. You get a perspective on the Island that you can’t get anywhere else when you’re a couple of thousand feet up. Leaving the yacht behind, I head south from Nanaimo to my next destination - Victoria and the Inner Harbour.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to fly in a lot of planes and I’ve always felt a special affinity for the smaller aircraft - float planes especially. There’s something in the pioneering spirit you get when you board a seaplane - it seems very … Canadian.

I was surprised to learn that the company I was going to fly with today - Harbour Air - is the largest all-seaplane company in the world. But don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a big conglomerate - it’s still small enough to have that ‘personal touch’ and haven’t strayed far from their roots and values they began with back in 1982. The company started with two small Dehavilland Beaver seaplanes (the word iconic comes to mind) servicing the forest industry. They branched into charters and over the years continue to grow to become a going concern with more than 50 aircraft flying between Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, the Sunshine Coast and Whistler.

After checking in to the new terminal at Victoria’s Inner Harbour, I was introduced to Greg, my pilot. Affable with a great sense of humour, Greg is a long-time flyer who hails from Nanaimo and loves every minute when he’s in the air.

He’s confident and instills a sense of calm as we walk the dock to the plane and hop in the front seat.

After a short pre-flight check we head out into the Harbour, past sail boats, condos, hotels and the occasional seal popping his head out of the water.

It’s an easy taxi off the water and we head into the blue skies above the city, circling, then flying north. From this vantage point, I can see the high-towering Olympic Mountains and gaze down at the rugged shorelines of Vancouver Island. Watching Greg make small adjustments on his controls, aviator glasses reflecting the scene below, I can’t help but smile and settle in to the view. “We do live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet,” Greg says … I just nod in agreement and enjoy the ride.

Float planes line up with the Provincial Capital Building in the background
Taking off from Victoria's Inner Harbour
Pilot Greg Jimenez Pagnam of Harbour Air at the controls
Downtown Victoria
Wing over Gulf Islands.jpg
Looking straight down on world-renowned Butchart Gardens
A single Otter flies past a spectacular waterfall
Crab, oysters and champagne ... what's not to like?

CLOSING THE CIRCLE

Coming full circle, I hop back on to Highway 14 out of Victoria and complete the 360 tour of the “good life” returning to Sooke and the Prestige Oceanfront Resort.
I reluctantly turn over the keys to the Bentley (and give a silent thanks to not having put a scratch on it) and head up to my room.

If you enjoy a healthy budget and lean to the finer things in life - there’s few hotel rooms that can match the recently completed Penthouse Suite at the Prestige Oceanfront Resort. With it’s large space, amazing view and impeccable finishes, it’s a refuse of luxury after a day exploring the Island.

With the NHL playoffs on the tv, the sun dipping behind the horizon, a glass of champagne and a seafood tower produced by the Prestige’s Corporate Chef Adam, I cap off these few days of living the life I could only have dreamt of a few days ago. La vita è bella - life is good.

Back at the Prestige Oceanfront Resort - this is the back of the Resort, which faces the water
Penthouse Kitchen
Chef Adam's seafood tower
Adam's plate.jpg
The view from the kitchen, looking out to Sooke Harbour
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Penthouse Master Bedroom
Penthouse Master Bedroom (there's another bedroom in the Penthouse)
Entrance into the Penthouse Suite
Interior penthouse.jpg
The view from the balcony of the Penthouse Suite ... the last thing I see before I leave the "good life"