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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.