Clutching the back of the little seat in front of me I peer out the cabin window of our seaplane mentally preparing myself for my first aircraft water landing. I'm not sure what a seaplane water landing should feel like, but I'm becoming increasingly concerned that our 'runway' is a patch of harbour teeming with other seaplanes, yachts and dinky little green ferries - flying the national maple leaf flag of Canada - weaving a decent speed through the harbour like mopeds in Rome.
With military precision the tangle of craft in our way clears a path for our seaplane to glide like silk on top of the clear and cool water of Victoria Harbour on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, which is actually an International Airport complete with its own air traffic control tower. Within seconds our 'runway' is again consumed by dozens of watercraft until the next seaplane take-off or landing, which comes within minutes and then again and again in a never-ending stream.
Later I learn seaplanes have right of way at all times except, of course, when killer whales are on the runway! It is a rock-star way to arrive in the beautiful, historic and very British coastal city of Victoria, the capital of British Columbia.
The inner harbour is indeed the beating heart of Victoria, flanked by landmark buildings from the Edwardian era through breathtaking reflections of historic architecture across its gently rippling surface. The namesake of one of the greatest monarchs ever to rule, Victoria, in its early days, was a favourite location for royalty, Hollywood starlets and world leaders seeking respite and solace. Today, while it sees its fair share of celebrities, it attracts millions of visitors from all over the world who come to soak up the history, architecture, art, gardens, wildlife, hospitality and food on offer.
You'll need at least a week to enjoy the best parts of this glorious city and these things should be on your must-do list:
Stroll in the spectacular gardens
A former limestone quarry and a National Historic Site of Canada, The Butchart Gardens is a paradise for plant and nature lovers with more than 900 varieties of botanical specimens creating a kaleidoscope of colour in every direction. It's a popular and spectacular sight but there are more parks and gardens in Victoria that are just as impressive with velvet soft lawns and mass plantings of fragrant and bright blooms.
Glimpse into the past
The Royal BC Museum is home to some of the region's most treasured artefacts, from First Nation totem poles and ceremonial items and dinosaurs, 19th century relics and a Victorian era submarine.
Explore the harbour by ferry
Experience the hustle and bustle of Victoria Harbour while drinking in the views of the city from the comfort of a quaint and surprisingly manoeuvrable ferry boat. Between dodging seaplanes and rowers the enthusiastic captain shares an enormous amount of local history, pointing out sacred First Nation territories and historical landmarks. Half the fun is bobbing around in something resembling a child's bath toy!
Wander Fisherman's Wharf
A short walk from downtown Victoria a vibrant little community of float homes sits peacefully alongside the tourist wharf bustling with whale watching tour departures, street entertainment, fish and chips and ice-cream vendors. Unlike houseboats, these float homes are not motorised and, if not for the slight bobbing on their moorings, could be mistaken for little country cottages, painted in cheerful colours and trimmed with blooming window boxes and fairy lights.
Take tea at The Empress
Follow in the footsteps of royalty and partake in the century-old tradition of 'Tea at the Empress'. Luckily, calories don't count on holidays, or at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, so enjoy guilt-free shortbread, raisin scones with clotted cream and strawberry lavender jam, and caramel banana cake (rumoured to be Prince Harry's favourite) while sipping a sustainably sourced tea blend from a bone China cup. Pinky up is optional.
Dine on fresh seafood
Steamship Bar and Grill in the Heritage Steamship Terminal is the place to relax overlooking Victoria's mesmerising harbour while enjoying world-class local wine and seafood. Offering 'inspired West Coast food' from local halibut and sockeye salmon to oysters, island dairy and cheese, it's the perfect spot to pullup stumps after a busy day exploring beautiful and historic Victoria.
Trail killer whales
Killer whales are often spotted from the seaplane on the harbour runway but just in case you don't spot one, hop on an Eagle Wing whale and wildlife tour. It also includes a visit to otter, seal and seabird colonies, and a wealth of information is shared along the way.