YAM checks out the panoramic views from the Island’s new tourist attraction, a tall tower overlooking the Salish Sea.
By Aldyn Chwelos
“Is that Washington?” I ask from the top of the tower, because I don’t quite believe what I’m seeing. In front of me, the entirety of Finlayson Arm stretches towards the Olympic mountains. It’s a view I’ve seen in pieces — the snow-capped peak of Mount Baker, the shimmer of the Salish Sea, the dozens of crest lines that make up the gulf islands — but never together. Nestled in the elbow of the Saanich Inlet, the Malahat Skywalk affords a breathtaking panorama of it all in one place.
Located just north of the Malahat summit, the Skywalk opened July 15 on the traditional lands of the Malahat Nation. The “Sense of Place” map at the entrance illustrates the territories of the surrounding First Nations and situates visitors on Malahat land.
My tour begins at the Welcome Centre where non-ticket holders can enjoy the cafe, the retail store showcasing local artisans and a peaceful forest clearing known as the Gathering Place.
“Elders talked about how historically this area would be where different nations going south and north would stop to rest and gather,” says General Manager Ken Bailey, who imagines it will become a popular rest stop for families to have a coffee and blow off some steam.
The Gathering Place is furnished by a tree that required felling: giant cookies become seats and the twisted, burled trunk lays on the ground as a natural play structure for children.
“We wanted to honour the tree and the fact that it was an elder of the forest,” says Bailey.
Beyond the Gathering Place, begins the 600 metres long elevated walkway towards the spiral tower. Raised 20 metres off the ground, the treetops almost feel within reach and looking down I get a view of the forest floor that an owl might see as it watches for dinner. The boardwalk curves its way through Arbutus and Douglas fir following the natural bends of the canopy. Occasionally, I have to duck beneath branches that hang across the boardwalk.
Driftwood carvings of cougar, eagles and owls created by the artist Tanya Bub are spread throughout the trail. It’s easy to imagine the living versions of these darting through the trees.
“We saw a little bear down here the other day. Just digging,” says Bailey. “I hope someday we see a herd of elk roll through here.”
Throughout the walk educational panels share the natural and cultural stories of the area. They cover topics from the mycelium network that connects trees to the legend of Sasquatch. Their role is twofold: educate visitors but also encourage them to slow down.
“We want them to stop and have a reason to look out,” says Bailey, ”so they don’t miss why they came to see everything.” I understand why. The perspective up here is different. I can make out the thinnest branches at the top of a tall Douglas Fir and at the same time look down at where its trunk spreads to become roots in the ground.
The entire experience is wheelchair and stroller accessible. In fact, until I reach the tower, it doesn’t feel like I’ve climbed at all.
“Our mission is to make it easier for people to connect with nature in a non-intrusive [way],” says Bailey.
About the same time I catch a blue glimpse of the ocean through Arbutus, the main attraction comes into view. The wooden walkway spirals up to an observation deck 250 metres above the Salish Sea. The climb provides plenty of time to absorb the breathtaking views and each angle showcases something different. On one side, I can look all the way down Finlayson Arm and beyond to the snow-capped Olympic mountains. Turning north, there’s views of Sidney, the gulf islands and Mount Baker. Leaning over the rail, I look directly down at the sparkling ocean.
If the height isn’t exciting enough, stretched across the top of the tower is a bouncy adventure net. I retraced my steps down the tower but more adventurous visitors can take the fast lane: a spiral slide that twists around the inside of the tower.
Whether it’s the subtle beauty of the West Coast forest, the awe-inspiring view of the Saanich peninsula, or just the spiral slide back down, there’s something to appeal to every speed of adventure at the new Malahat Skywalk.
Vancouver Island’s newest attraction is now open daily 10 am to 6 pm. Visit https://malahatskywalk.com/ for more info.