Joanna Twa of Victoria Kayak Tour and Rentals perches on the dock to instruct Times Colonist reporter Amy Smart before kayaking the Gorge Waterway.
Most Victoria residents know the city by its streets, but it’s a whole new place from the water.
A leisurely paddle from the Inner Harbour to Tillicum Bridge and back takes two to two and a half hours, depending on ability and hustle. It’s one that you can undertake on your own or on a guided tour with one of several local businesses.
“I love watching the reaction of locals even more than the tourists because it’s like they’re seeing the city again for the first time,” said Joanna Twa, owner and operator of Victoria Kayak Tour and Rentals, located next to the Flying Otter Grill on the Inner Harbour.
The first leg of the journey is all about that fresh perspective. After weaving through the docks out into more open water, you can look back and see the legislative buildings from a distance.
Sticking close to the shore heading north, the park at the base of Yates Street is full of young people taking in the sun. Further along, two cops on their break lean over a ledge between the foliage.
The Blue Bridge loses its dimensions from the side and the No. 6 bus looks like a toy. From its underbelly, the metallic echoes of invisible cars crossing above fills the air, and graffiti artists have made their mark in colour above the water’s edge.
On the other side of the bridge, Twa describes the second leg of the journey as going back in time. Here’s industrial Victoria in all its glory — not so different than it was in decades past. Gravel is crushed, navy ships are repaired and tugboats putter around between docks.
Along the marine path there’s occassional activity and wildlife. Three fat seals sun themselves on the remains of a former dock — a distinctive line separates their spotted white top halves from their charcoal-grey wet bottoms. They’ll give a lazy glance behind them as you pass, but are otherwise occupied with sunning themselves.
On a little island just past the Selkirk Trestle, an oystercatcher looks for lunch with its orange beak pointed downward. And just below the surface, barnacles and starfish cling to wooden planks and rocks.
While the path is generally clear, the occassional group of competitive rowers will speed by. Amateur dragonboaters and Victoria harbour ferries drift past at a slower pace.
On the other side of the trestle, there’s a sudden calm — shelter from both wind and city sounds. This third leg is where Twa likes to take a snack break and kayakers tend to choose which waterfront home they’d choose to live in, or which anchored boat they’d call their own, before moving onward to the Tillicum Bridge and back.
Kayaks can take you places other boats can’t, Twa points out — the crisscross of supports under the trestle is one reason this area is free from the traffic of larger boats.
But on the way back, passing under, it takes on a different meaning, as the sounds of car alarms and construction rise the moment you return to the other side. “I always sort of snap back to reality here,” Twa said.
The wind picks up and it’s time to head back to the dock.