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AS the boat headed out of Victoria harbour on Vancouver Island on our whale watching trip the guide felt it necessary to gently lower our expectations. Although a pod of killer whales had been spotted and tracked on an excursion that morning this was no guarantee, he explained, that we would be equally fortunate.

Some of the passengers on board the Prince of Whales boat were residents of Victoria, the island's capital, but others, like me, had travelled 4,500 miles to view these wonderful creatures and this informal disclaimer struck a slightly unsettling note. All concerns were banished within 20 minutes, however, as a cry went up, ‘There, about 50 metres away' and the curtain had risen on an exhilarating 90-minute show.

Countless hours spent viewing them through David Attenborough's eyes on TV had not prepared me for the initial feeling of awe as these giants of the ocean gracefully arced to the surface, normally in pairs, much like synchronised swimmers.

For an hour and a half our captain expertly second-guessed the whales' movements – it was estimated the pod was around a dozen strong – and we raced alongside as they belied their immense size and weight with the speed and ease of their movement through the water.

Their appearance seemed almost to be choreographed, a sense heightened when one of the whales emerged vertically from the ocean to almost its full length, spun through 360 degrees – the technical term is a spy-hop – and then slid straight back down.

All this made up for the disappointment of a few days earlier when, while dining at April Point Resort on Quadra Island, some three hours' drive from Victoria, I reacted too slowly to a fellow diner's cry and missed the sight of a killer whale and its offspring swimming up the Discovery Passage.

However, perhaps my reactions were dulled because my attention had been fully focused on a bald eagle which had perched itself at the top of a tree about 60 metres from my table.

Eagles and whales, an idyllic view across the Passage to April Point's sister resort Painter's Lodge, superb food in a wonderfully relaxed setting: I could have lingered all evening but I was here, on this island just a 10-minute boat journey off Vancouver Island, to go salmon fishing, and that meant getting up around 5.15 the next morning. Reg, my fishing expert and guide, seemed to relish the challenge that he was taking a novice with him on his 17-foot Boston Whaler, a flat-bottomed boat, out into waters world renowned for their salmon.

The sea spray hitting my face and the metronomic slap-slap-slap of the boat's hull on the water as we sped to the mouth of the passage shook me from my slumbers and soon I was engrossed in waiting for a bite after Reg had set up all my gear.

Within half-an-hour I had landed a ‘keeper' – fish below 24 inches must be returned to the water – a salmon which weighed a modest nine and a half pounds but which Reg assured me would therefore provide prime meat. My pride at landing it rapidly gave way to the realisation that I am no true hunter-gatherer as the blows needed to cudgel it to oblivion provoked a sense of guilt which ultimately prompted me to give the fish to Reg for his barbecue.

Despite my squeamishness I found it easy to see why anglers would flock here, the peace and tranquillity of the waters complemented by the rugged British Columbian landscape. For four hours I drank in the scenery, and Reg's warming coffee, as he told me of his other work as a cattle ranch owner some 300 miles north of Victoria.

On our return to April Point I left him gutting and cleaning my catch to enjoy a pedicure on the decking overlooking the water I had just fished – albeit sparingly – at the resort's spa, a building in the style of a Japanese pagoda.

April Point is one of the most serene and relaxing environments I have been fortunate to visit, although Quadra Island can offer plenty for the more active visitor besides fishing, including hiking and biking trails, tennis, an illuminated skateboard park, and sea kayaking and biking trails, tennis, an illuminated skateboard park, and sea kayaking and diving.

Reluctant as I was to leave, I needed to return to Victoria for a final look at the city itself and my room at the splendid Inn at Laurel Point overlooked the harbour and its constant hive of activity. Breakfast taken on the balcony allowed me to watch as sea planes criss-crossed one another while ferrying commuters to and from Vancouver and nearby Seattle, and fishing and pleasure boats headed leisurely out to sea.

Onto the streets of this vibrant city and it is easy to spot the residents – they are the ones who as they walk to work don't look to the skies at the regular sound of the seaplanes which appear to skim the tops of the buildings – over 10 per cent of Victoria's workforce gets to work on foot.

Thunderbird Park, which fronts the impressive Parliament Buildings of British Columbia, is home to an exotic display of totem poles. Rubbing shoulders with the province's seat of power is the Royal BC Museum which, as if to accommodate me, was showing an exhibition of treasures from the British Museum. It also houses galleries devoted to First Nations cultures, modern history and natural history and provided an enjoyable insight into the Island's people and environment.

I just had time before returning home to visit Greater Victoria's world famous horticultural paradise, Butchart Gardens, a 55-acre site owned and run by the eponymous family for more than a century. An army of 50 gardeners ensure that – whatever the season – Butchart Gardens assails the eyes with an unbelievable array of colours and smells. It almost inspired me to sell my flat and buy a house with a garden.

Whale-watching, Vancouver Island

Published: September 25, 2010

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