Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre’s “elevator” entrance simulates a submersible dropping into the sea.
Story and images by Alison Gardner, Editor, Travel with a Challenge
Sidney, British Columbia, just 30 minutes easy drive north of Victoria on southern Vancouver Island is the place to go for a very personal encounter with the Pacific Coast’s wonderful marine life without ever getting your feet wet (unless you want to).
Sidney’s Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, www.oceandiscovery.ca, is Vancouver Island’s newest way to learn about ocean ecology and explore British Columbia’s unique sea life in authentic and low key way … no performing marine mammals but plenty of fascinating antics up close in the environments that surround this most picturesque region. Seventeen giant aquarium habitats house hundreds of fish, invertebrates and sea plants, including octopus, wolf eels, rock fish and colorful anemones, along with 87,000 litres (22,983 gallons) of seawater.
Each undersea exhibit is packed with authentic members of the local ocean and seabed, something only seen normally if you snorkeled or scuba dived.
With floor to ceiling viewing panels highlighting the breathtaking array of local marine life, interactive games and displays for children and teens, Discovery Streams mirroring complex mini-ecosystems and hands on tidal pools, visitors feel transported to the ocean depths as realistically as any scuba diver. An integral part of the Centre will be to promote environmental awareness and conservation of the ocean environment. Tickets are a bargain at $12 CDN for adults, $6 CDN for children 17-6; children 5 and under are free.
The 12-passenger EcoCruising vessel offers fabulous views of animals and birds right at sea level …. and it beaches beautifully for easy island disembarking too!
Just a three-minute stroll along the community wharf of this charming oceanside city with a lot to offer the visitor, is another complementary way to intimately experience the marine environment aboard the most comfortable, environmentally-connected sightseeing vessel I have ever experienced, part of the custom-designed fleet of EcoCruising Boat Tours, www.ecocruising.com, co-owned by retired marine biologist and informative raconteur, Brian Smiley.
These tours are extremely popular with seniors and their grandchildren, accessible and barrier-free aboard a comfortable, stable 12-passenger vessel with a protective glass dome and soft sofas. Regardless of rain, breeziness or brilliant sunshine, Brian’s Sidney Eco-Cruise of 1.5 to two hours is a memorable experience through some of the close-by offshore islands that make up the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, passages and wildlife hotspots that include seal pups and nesting bald eagles as well as tales of aboriginal and settler history. the three-times daily tours run from June through September: $43 CDN for adults, $33 for seniors and youth, $23 for 5 to 11 year olds and under 5 free.
This experience is easy and relaxing for all ages, and there will be never a dull moment while wildlife spotting and creating close-up photo ops through the ceiling to floor windows and open panels. As Brian describes the experience, “it’s like kayaking from a couch!”
Abundant seal populations inhabit the protected seas and rocky areas of Sidney’s many islands.
Very cleverly, the Shaw Discovery Centre and EcoCruising Boat Tours are working together in a partnership package, the Salish Sea Educational Tour, offered each Saturday from June through September for guests 12 and older. Included is a one-hour guided tour of the Discovery Centre with Brian Smiley, followed by a one-and-three-quarter-hour marine cruise through the islands off Sidney’s waterfront, plus a tasty picnic lunch shared with fellow guests either onboard or on one of the islands’ picturesque shell beaches.
Each participant’s all-day Discovery Centre pass allows a return to the Discovery Centre for a more leisurely re-visit …. there is so much to see. Adult price (not including tax) is $95; youth/senior price is $75.
Whether it’s a rainy day that calls for a little indoor diversion or just a case of traveler’s sore feet, IMAX Victoria Theatre is the perfect prescription for all ages. Presenting a variety of award-winning educational documentaries or a current first-run movie, the theatre’s six-storey-high screen and wrap-around sound system will leave you dazzled! Located on Victoria’s Inner Harbour next to the acclaimed Royal BC Museum. www.imaxvictoria.com