Vancouver (BC) vacation help sought
April 28, 2010 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Vancouver (BC), Victoria, Butchart Gardens, Vancouver Island, Hornby, car ferries -- Travel Filter.

Two of us are flying to Vancouver (BC) in about 10 days for a seven-day stay. We'll have a rental car, and a cabin on Hornby Island. Last time I did this trip I drove from Vancouver to (I think) Vancouver Island to another island to Hornby. I was struck by how long it takes to get everywhere, especially with the ferries.

This time, I would like to see the Butchart Gardens on Victoria Island (or are there similar gardens?). So then, we would (I think) drive from Vancouver to Victoria to see the Gardens, stay the night there, then drive to Hornby.


Does that make sense, or would this take hours and hours of crazy driving and ferries that would make a vacation stressful?

If it makes sense, where is a good place to stay near the Butchart Gardens?

If it doesn't make sense, what would another day trip idea be? (I don't want to go straight to Hornby, it's too much driving in a day after flying.)

What do we need to know about the ferries?

What else do I need to know?
posted by ClaudiaCenter to Travel & Transportation around Vancouver, BC (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My impression in driving to Butchart Gardens was that it is not in a populous area, and the best place to stay would be in the city of Victoria, downtown. The area around the gardens was small-town-family-farm type, and I didn't see any hotels. (Maybe there are and I missed them.) It's not that long a drive to get from downtown to the gardens, though. And downtown Victoria is really fun! Maybe plan an extra day to see the city? There's a great museum, and Parliament is there.
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:38 AM on April 28, 2010

Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and the main city on Vancouver Island (there is no Victoria Island). You will be traveling on BC Ferries. It is impossible to drive between any of these places (Vancouver, Victoria, any Gulf Island) - you must take a ferry.

Hornby Island is off the coast of Vancouver Island, a little north of Victoria and you reach it by taking a 10 minute ferry from Denman Island. Schedules here.

There are two ways for you to get from Vancouver to Hornby. You can ferry from Vancouver Tsawassen Terminal to Victoria (Swartz Bay Terminal) and then drive 2 hours north to catch the ferry from Denman to Hornby. You could see Butchart Gardens the same day you do this, as from Swartz Bay Terminal, the Gardens are about a 15 minute drive and in the direction you're driving to go up island. (But I would recommend doing it the way you mentioned - spending one night in Victoria first.)

Or for less driving, you can take the ferry from Vancouver Tsawassen Terminal to Nanaimo Duke Point Terminal, which is further up island and only a 30 minute drive to Denman for the Hornby ferry.

If you want to do The Butchart Gardens (which are wonderful) in a day trip from Hornby, it will take you about 2 hours of driving each way. The Butchart Gardens are only a 20 minute drive from downtown Victoria, so I would recommend staying there overnight as it is a beautiful inner harbor and everything is walkable - good pubs, restaurants, The Empress Hotel, Parliament Buildings, the Royal BC Museum.

There are good maps on the BC Ferry website if all of this is confusing! I would recommend making a reservation on the ferry, though this is not strictly necessary. Travel on weekends can be busy and the ferries don't run every hour yet (too early in the season). Check the website for the schedule of the particular route you plan to take.

And one last tip, I would recommend seeing the Gardens before 11am if possible. Most day trips by tour group arrive off the 9am ferry from Vancouver, arriving at the Gardens just before 11am. Before 11am it will feel like you have the place all to yourself. Have a great time!
posted by meerkatty at 9:41 AM on April 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Say hi to everyone for me!

The ferry for Nanaimo leaves from Horseshoe Bay - I think the ferry for Victoria leaves from a different place. From Nanaimo you'd head to the ferry for Denman, which is the island between Vancouver Island and Hornby, drive halfway around Denman to the ferry landing for Hornby, and there you go.

It's been a long while since I've done it, but I pretty sure there are multiple ferries per day from Vancouve island to denman to Hornby, although the last one may be on the early evening side. I can't look up the site for BC Ferries on here very easily, but there schedules should all be online. You'll need to reserve fairly soon for a spot for the car, though. Have fun! I've never been to Victoria. Next time!
posted by rtha at 9:43 AM on April 28, 2010

Preview fail. meerkatty's got it.
posted by rtha at 9:44 AM on April 28, 2010

Ah yes, sorry, I missed one step. You have to ferry (again, just 10 minutes) from Vancouver Island mainland to Denman. Schedules here. The ferry system works amazingly well, actually. It's just Hornby that is a bit of a pain to get to.
posted by meerkatty at 9:50 AM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know if "Victoria Island" is just a typo, but there is no such place. Butchart Gardens is on Vancouver Island.

The trip from Butchart Gardens (near Brentwood Bay) to Hornby Island usually involves driving south to the Island Highway, and then north to Buckley Bay, about 225 kilometres. Hornby sits behind Denman Island, so there's no way to avoid two ferries (buckley Bay to Denman, Denman to Hornby) AFAIK. You can cut off some of the driving (and one mounttain) by taking the ferry from Brentwood Bay to Mill Bay, but that makes for three ferries to schedule in one day.
posted by timeistight at 9:54 AM on April 28, 2010

Super helpful, everyone. Okay, so -- possible plan -- fly to Vancouver International Airport arriving Saturday morning. Drive to Victoria. Before trip make a reservation on the TSAWWASSEN-SWARTZ BAY FERRY. (Mapquest says three hours from the airport to Victoria -- true?)

Hang out in Victoria Saturday afternoon and evening, eat, drink, be merry. Stay in Victoria hotel. Get up early and go to Butchart Gardens.

Then drive to Hornby. Before trip make reservations on VANCOUVER ISLAND-DENMAN ISLAND and DENMAN ISLAND-HORNBY ISLAND ferries. (Mapquest says 3 1/2 hours from Butchart Gardens to Hornby -- true?)

Victoria sounds fun, thanks for all the info, everyone. (And still interested in more info, am very happy to get the inside scoop.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:10 AM on April 28, 2010

meerkatty writes "And one last tip, I would recommend seeing the Gardens before 11am if possible. Most day trips by tour group arrive off the 9am ferry from Vancouver, arriving at the Gardens just before 11am. Before 11am it will feel like you have the place all to yourself. Have a great time!"

This is true however sunset is a pretty awesome time to experience the gardens and in the summer they have fireworks every Saturday night.
posted by Mitheral at 10:25 AM on April 28, 2010

Yes, your MapQuest times are fairly spot on, but some of the time will be spent waiting for ferries and not driving - make sure you are at the ferry terminal at least a half hour before your scheduled sailing. It says on the BC Ferries website what the actual rules are, but i know at a certain time your reservation can get thrown out.

What kind of hotel are you looking for in Victoria? And yes, you want to stay downtown. I can make recommendations about that too if you tell me what kind of things you are interested in.
posted by miles1972 at 10:39 AM on April 28, 2010

(Mapquest says three hours from the airport to Victoria -- true?)

The ferry journey itself takes about an hour and a half, though you have to factor in the drive to Tsawwassen through downtown (25 minutes, though traffic can vary), the loading/unloading time (be there at least 30 minutes before departure) and the half-hour drive from Swartz Bay to Victoria. So three hours sounds about right.
posted by holgate at 10:39 AM on April 28, 2010

Yes, Mapquest is correct as they are including ferry travel times. YVR to Tsawassen is 20 mins then a 1.5 hour ferry ride, then 30 min drive into downtown Victoria. Your plan sounds great. I'll send you some Victoria places to see once I'm off the iPhone.
posted by meerkatty at 10:40 AM on April 28, 2010

Vancouver Island native here (who's gone to Hornby many times). Your plan sounds like it would work, although to me it feels a bit rushed and I expect you'd reach Hornby Island quite late in the day. Last time I took them (a few years ago) it wasn't possible to make reservations for the Denman/Hornby runs, so if it's busy you might have to wait a sailing (but double check, because that might have changed). This time of year the ferries are unlikely to be full though.

Mapquest (and Meerkatty) is very optimistic about the times; it seems to think you can just drive onto a ferry and it'll immediately depart. In practice you have to get there early, sometimes the ferry is full so you have to wait a sailing, there can be delays, and loading/unloading the ferry takes time. I'd count on 4 to 5 hours to reach Victoria from the Vancouver airport when all is said and done (keep in mind you have to arrive early to claim a reservation, and traffic can be bad through the Massey tunnel depending on time of day). The drive time from Victoria to Buckley Bay (where the Denman ferry departs) is going to be at least 3.5 hours, and then the ferries are going to take at least an hour, so you should probably plan on 5-6 hours for that trip in total. You might be able to save a bit of time by taking the Brentwood Bay-Mill Bay ferry (Brentwood Bay is very near Butchart Gardens) instead of driving around Finlayson Arm and over the Malahat, if you're going up Island directly from the gardens.
posted by Emanuel at 10:40 AM on April 28, 2010

PS for all those who say there is no Victoria Island, there actually is one in Canada but it's in the far North. This is a map I made some time back to help people with the naming confusion.
posted by Emanuel at 10:51 AM on April 28, 2010

I'd visit Butchart on Saturday, on the way from Schwartz Bay to Victoria. Driving back up the peninsula to Butchart, back down to the highway and then all the way up to Denman/Hornby sounds awful.
posted by timeistight at 11:05 AM on April 28, 2010

Parliament is there

The Provincial Legislature is there. /nationalpedant

Downtown Victoria is certainly fun, with extremely walkable shopping, plus orcas visible from the waterfront on lucky days. People will ask you if you've been to the Empress for high tea, but breakfast is less crowded (and almost entirely uncontaminated by custardy trifle) if you just want to visit.

The English Inn is a pretty place to stay. It encompasses the former Anne Hathaway's Cottage. I don't know if they still run tours, but they do have gorgeous buildings and grounds.

My favourite thing to visit in Victoria is Craigdarroch Castle. There's an excellent tour, or you can wander on your own.

The castle and the English Inn both have stairs, so if you are looking for a more accessible place to visit, stick with the Gardens and downtown. I don't know if that matters to your party, but I remember a certain mother of mine, doing crosswords in the car while we went up and down all the steps.
posted by Sallyfur at 11:35 AM on April 28, 2010

I would do the Garden in the AM and then make my way up island stopping along the way then stay the night in Qualicum, Parksville or Fanny Bay.
posted by jade east at 11:45 AM on April 28, 2010

Another recommendation for a place to stay (and is immediately adjacent to the most excellent Craigdarroch Castle) is Craigmyle House. Charming, relatively cheap, quiet neighborhood, (good parking), and excellent breakfast.
You may want to re-consider your plans for Hornby - it'll mean a fair amount of waiting around for ferries, and not nearly as much time exploring; and Vancouver Island is incredible, with loads of great day trips from Victoria. Just a thought.
posted by dbmcd at 11:48 AM on April 28, 2010

So helpful, everyone! I guess I'll be thinking about whether to get a place halfway between Butchart/Victoria and Hornby, ala emanuel's and jade east's comments. So that there isn't an awful all-day drive. That's no fun on a vacation.

Also, good idea to consider visiting the Gardens on Saturday, to avoid backtracking up and down the peninsula. Don't know if that will seem like too much for Saturday with flying, but something to consider. The castle sounds great as well, maybe if we go straight to Victoria on Saturday we can fit that in.

I definitely don't want to rush and drive and rush; the gardens sound very cool, though. But we could go to different gardens or sites if that made more sense. Also, Hornby has to be part of the plan, we're seeing friends there.

(This thread makes me appreciate AskMe so much! Thanks, all!)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 7:09 PM on April 28, 2010

Hornby Island native here. Definitely no reservations for the Denman or Hornby boats, but at this time of year you will be fine without. Enjoy your stay!

kanata: Movie nights outside of summer are a thing of the past, unfortunately :(
posted by findango at 10:15 PM on April 28, 2010

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