Journey "coast to coast" on Vancouver Island for views of the Juan de Fuca, Haro and Georgia Straits along this 255 km (158 mi) route. Kick back and enjoy a quieter way of life while you visit the trailheads of the historic West Coast and Juan de Fuca Marine Trails in BC's rainforest, the Cowichan Valley's pastoral landscapes and the panoramic ocean views of the Saanich Peninsula.
Improvements to a logging road linking Port Renfrew and Cowichan Lake are the key to the new Pacific Marine Circle tour — a loop meant to lure travellers to the south Island.
Circle route close to being a reality
Last section being paved on road seen as boon to tourism
By Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist
June 5, 2009
The last five kilometres of the once-infamous road between Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan will be paved next week, providing the final link in a scenic circle drive for tourists and an alternative for drivers when the Malahat is blocked -- provided they have plenty of time.
The 52-kilometre stretch, slowly upgraded over several years from a zig-zagging logging road, was well known for breaking axles, bursting tires and skiddy, gravel-topped curves.
Four years ago, the road was spotlighted when the province invented the Pacific Marine Circle Route as a marketing tool to attract tourists. It became a segment of a circuit running from Victoria through Duncan, Lake Cowichan, Port Renfrew and Sooke. But the Port Renfrew-Lake Cowichan link was so bad that tourists had to be discouraged from using it unless conditions were perfect or they had heavy-duty vehicles.
Some help came in 2007 when a newly applied coating on Highway 18 failed. The coating was stripped off, remixed with other road-building material, and used to upgrade the Port Renfrew-Lake Cowichan road.
Other parts of the road were gradually paved or chip-sealed, but five kilometres in the middle remained in rough shape.
"You definitely needed a four-wheel-drive for that," said Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce director Rosie Betsworth.
But from early next week, it will be an easy drive, said Transportation Ministry spokesman Dave Crebo.
"It is a huge improvement. You could drive at 70 or 80 kilometres an hour along about three-quarters of that road," he said. "It's wider and much better quality."
It's also useful to have an emergency alternative to the Malahat, Crebo said. "But not if you're hoping to make it to the office by 9 a.m."
Port Renfrew residents hope the completed road will bring more tourists.
"I'm sure it will help," said Karen Pearson, a bookkeeper at the Lighthouse Pub. "I will take my car over it and I wouldn't before. It was a washboard and there were so many accidents."
For Dorothy Hunt, Pacheedaht First Nation band manager, who works in Port Renfrew and lives in Lake Cowichan, the paved road will reduce the commute to about 50 minutes. "And we need that out here to create jobs," she said.
But there's some concern that the improved road will draw business away from Sooke. People in Port Renfrew will head to Lake Cowichan and Duncan to shop because Highway 14 to Sooke, also known as the West Coast Road, is in rough shape, said Betsworth. "I feel sorry for the merchants in Sooke," she said.
Crebo said $11 million is being spent on replacing two bridges on Highway 14 and straightening some of the curves.
One bridge will be completed this fall and the second by the fall of 2010, he said.