Great Circle Route

Vancouver Island Great Circle Route

I was up early with a plan of driving the Great Circle Route on Southern Vancouver Island. The Great Circle Route is typically heading out from Langford towards Sooke, BC on Hwy 14. Passing Sooke and along the west coast until reaching the tiny fishing town of Port Renfew. Leaving Port Renfrew you head east 60km through various timber lands before getting to Lake Cowichan. From Lake Cowichan you head to Duncan before turning south on the Island Highway back to Victoria.

The my camera in hand and a few stops planned along the way I set out at 5:30am. Heading north from Langford up and over the Malahat going in the reverse of the rout mentioned above. Stopping at “Split Rock” I snapped this photo of the sun rising over Sidney, BC. The clouds were quite thick, always a risk when trying to sunrise shots but the sun burst through with some beautiful orange light.

Malahat Glow

Mill Bay

My next planned stop was in Mill Bay and after looking at some Google Maps I decided upon Welsh Road beach access. I was hoping to catch the sun coming into the bay but at this time the sun is much too far north. Mill Bay will be a much better location for sunrise photos in November if I can catch a clear morning. But all was not lost! On my way down to the beach I caught a whole family of young Raccoons having breakfast on the beach. The quickly scattered into the bushes but didn’t go far, which let me take some fantastic photos of them in the morning light.

Shawnigan Lake

Heading from Mill Bay my next location was going to be Baldy Mountain just south of Shawnigan Lake. There is a rope swing overlooking the lake that I have been wanting to find. With only sketchy instructions I proceeded to drive up Strathcona Heights Road and parked beside the yellow gate. The gravel trail heads upwards very steeply from the gate, stopping halfway at a lookout beside a cell phone tower overlooking Shawnigan Lake. With no sign of the swing I continued on the windy trail that ran up the side of Baldy. Sweating before 7am with 35lbs of camera gear on my back and shaking my head at myself for getting into quite a substantial hike. Coming to the very top of the mountain 35min later and the view opened up 360*. The sun still rising in the east over Sidney, Shawnigan Lake on the other side, still in the shadow cast by Baldy. Early morning water skiiers slicing the glass smooth surface of the lake as I set up my tripod and snapped some photos.

Kingzett Lake

Back down Baldy Mountain and northbound I had a short stop at Kingzett Lake. Aka The Quarry. It was an old rock quarry that has slowly filled full of water over the years. So I went to take a look to see if there was any photo possibilities. I snapped a few shots but the light was getting very flat by that time of morning.

Lake Cowichan

Back on the road by mid morning with flat light everywhere I passed through Duncan heading towards Lake Cowichan. After a quick bite to eat I headed into the rain forest. With the overhanging greenery softening the light I made a few stops along the road. Dry creek beds but green trees led to some fantastic shots.

Taking the turn towards Port Renfrew from near Lake Cowichan and you head out of cell phone service and into timber country. All the land you can see is under timber license and they’re currently doing a ton of cutting up in the valleys and side roads less traveled. I had to stop at a lookout and take some shots of not only the beautiful puffy clouds but also the brutal clear cutting happening in our back country behind locked gates.

Harris Creek Spruce

Back in the truck and my next stop was at the Harris Creek Spruce, one of the largest Sitka Spruce trees in the world. Its difficult to shoot such large trees in such dense forest. I only have a 24mm lens so had to get down on my stomach in the dirt to really try to capture its true size. The random bikers that stopped looked at me funny, laying in the bushes with my camera. Also love to see the hand written note on the sign!

Port Renfrew

A few minutes outside of Port Renfew is the infamous tree growing out of a log in the middle of Fairy Lake. I have tried to shoot a good photo of it on probably 10 different occasions and I still have yet to get anything great out of it. The road crosses a bridge over the San Juan River and there is an old bridge upstream that I have been meaning to take some shots of. Rubber boots on I headed out into the river to catch a few shots of the bridge before it disappears.

There is many fantastic things to shoot in Port Renfrew as well as Highway 14 back to Sooke but by that point I had driven a lot of miles and it was time to head home.


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