Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 27, 2021
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Enchanted Zone

Make a daytrip to the Potholes, Vancouver Island's not-so-secret treasure

Ask any Canadian commuter about potholes and they'll describe crumbly asphalt and craters the size of zinc mines. But the groovin', why-do-today-what-we-can-do-tomorrow folks of Vancouver Island know of a different kind of pothole, something much more pristine... well, for now anyway. Just 40 minutes from Victoria, among the towering evergreens, gnarled arbutus trees and rolling foothills of south Vancouver Island, lies one of nature's most precious passages.

The Potholes, as they're known locally, are the result of erosion caused by the Sooke River's powerful surge over the past millennia. Huge craters, many over 10 metres in diameter and several metres deep, have been carved out of the limestone-rich riverbanks. Blue-green water fills up and flows over each pocket in the spring when mountain snow melts into the river.

For hikers, joggers and cyclists, there's the Galloping Goose Trail that runs parallel to the river and a series of Potholes. The "Goose" used to be a rail line connecting Victoria to Leechtown, a mining community back in the gold-rush days; the trail's namesake is the noisy caboose that rode the tracks. Here, everyone can enjoy classic BC terrain: deer trails, salmon-filled streams and temperate rainforests. But try as they might, locals couldn't keep their unspoiled natural treasure a secret for very long.

In the past decade, the spot has become a favourite for tourists in the know. Due to the mild climate, day trippers make the pilgrimage year round. The area's legacy began in the '60s when it was only popular among deer, draft dodgers and squatters. Today, lean-tos made of driftwood and abandoned cabins still dot the northern reaches of the river.

The most popular attraction at the Potholes is the main beach, which is really a lagoon that's perfect for picnics and family gatherings. Adventurous types can hike farther up for cliff-diving, exploring waterfalls and snorkelling -- a wet suit is recommended for the not-so foolhardy. Hike another three kilometres and choose from hundreds of secluded inlets. This is where you can get back to undisturbed nature.

Back at the main entrance, looming 60 metres above the lower Potholes, sits the sublime and dilapidated resort that never was. The massive wood-and-stone structure is built into the tall cliffs that cradle the system of Potholes; the foundation and framework of beams and pillars are all that remain. It was supposed to be a five-star playground for the rich, but Japanese investors ran out of capital. There are rumours that new developers are planning to resume work on the property, which means that before long this special place may be totally off limits.

After a full day at the Potholes, make a short trip to the small community of Sooke. The town overlooks Sooke Harbour, tucked inside the protective embrace of Washington state's mountainous Olympic peninsula. The town is named for the T'Sou-ke Native Band, the original inhabitants of the area. Supported by fishing and logging, Sooke also depends largely on tourism and supports it in every way with tons of accommodation, restaurants, cafés and artisan boutiques.


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