A local’s guide to Vancouver Island
Since the age of 6, my summers have been spent in Beautiful British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, staying with my dad on his sailboat home.
On occasion it has been, interesting, living on a boat with an ex-army middle-aged man for weeks at a time. But the island has long been my own version of a wellness retreat and a very special place in my heart. For those of you starting to plan ahead for your holiday – it could be yours too.
Think mountains, lakes, giant fir trees, eagles, whales and…pick up trucks. A place where you’re made to leave the pub by residents to look in ‘great shock’ at a mini cooper parked outside, but when you say you saw a bear crossing the road that morning it’s as mundane as commenting on the weather.
Canada’s Vancouver Island, almost half the size of Ireland but with only approx 775,000 inhabitants, is found on the eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean. From Vancouver, you can take a two-hour ferry or a 20-35 minute flight to your desired destination. I would advise opting for the seaplane as this makes the trip worthwhile before you’ve even touched down – Harbour Air is the one to go for.
Ready for when you’ve safely made it, here’s a selection of enchanting places to immerse yourself in:
British Columbia’s capital, a sort of toy-town meets fairytale set, is renowned for being extremely bike-friendly. Cycle (or walk) to Fisherman’s Wharf where you’ll find floating, quirky and colourful buildings in a marine haven full of kiosks with fresh food to grab for lunch. You’ll be in good company with the wharf’s resident seals. When stuffed and content, treat yourself to a yellow water taxi back to town, guided by an experienced captain. If you fancy a stretch of the legs, Beacon Hill Park provides the perfect flower-filled stroll. Or, if you’re after a culture fix, have a look around the British Columbia Parliament Buildings, Royal BC Museum and Chinatown.
Victoria resident Paige Willett, 23, says: “I love Vancouver Island because of the all-season weather and nature, it’s so breathtakingly beautiful. My favourite place to wander in Victoria is Dallas Road, my friends and I like to rent scooters in the summer and ride them all the way from Ogden Point to Cadboro Bay.”
President and CEO of Tourism Vancouver Island, Anthony Everett, says: “Take advantage of the diverse historical, architectural and multicultural makeup that comes from being the oldest city in the Pacific Northwest, it’s truly remarkable.”
Find out why it’s referred to as the ‘salmon capital of the world’ and start with the river. In season, endless fly fishers will be knee-deep, suited and booted, in full attire. Get a license, and you can join them! Otherwise, walk the Canyon View Trail which loops around and along the river. Always keep your eyes peeled for bears! Another great hike is Elk Falls – check out the suspension bridge and overlook the crashing water from a height. It’s worth paying the museum a visit too if you want to see its renowned First Nation’s collection.
For a relaxation-only day pitch up at Miracle or Saratoga beach or if you’d prefer a lake, McIvor is unbeatable. The calm water here screams for you to bring a paddle board – it’s easier than it looks and you’ll fit right in with the locals.
Now for whales. A speed boat tour with Eagle Eye Adventures, found in Discovery Harbour Marina, is highly reputable. It’s likely you’ll see humpbacks, killer whales, dolphins, the whole lot. If you pass little Mitlenatch Island you can chuckle at some sea lions too.
Lastly, less than an hour’s drive from town, and a must-visit, is Mount Washington. Alpine Resort’s ride and dine ticket will feed you and chairlift you to the peak where you can feel like Simba overlooking your kingdom. Bring some bread for the Whiskey Jacks – they’ll happily sit and eat on your hand. If you have time, finish with a visit to Strathcona Park (5 mins from the resort) and, if you want to experience what paradise on earth is like, walk the Paradise Meadows trail.
Campbell River resident Carrie Human, 48, says: “Campbell River is a great place to live because you can go skiing and boating on the same day. You get to see the seasons change without the weather being too harsh, and the scenery is beautiful.
“My favourite place to go in Campbell River is the pier. It’s Canada’s first saltwater fishing pier. In the summer you can walk down and watch the fishermen try to catch salmon while enjoying an ice cream.”
“My favourite place besides home is Tofino. Lots of beautiful beaches that seem to go on forever. Also in the summer/fall, you can surf and in winter you can storm watch.”
Before settling into Qualicum, repeat winner of the Communities in Bloom competition, your first stop (a 10-minute drive away) has to be the restaurant in Coombs with goats on the roof. This sums up the weird and wonderful place that is Vancouver Island. The Old Country Market began as a roadside fruit stand providing fresh produce but now has shops, galleries, eateries and, yes, goats on the roof. Once ticked off the list, head to the beautiful and vast white sand utopia of Qualicum Beach.
These encapsulate the beauty of Vancouver Island with their own charming quirks…
Quadra Island: If you choose to visit Campbell River it would be rude not to take the 10-minute ferry to Quadra (directly opposite), filled with adventure, culture, arts and island life. The three main communities are Quathiaski Cove, Heriot Bay and Cape Mudge (Yuculta) which is home to the We Wai Kai band of the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwagiulth) First Nation.
Hornby Island: A couple of nights at Tribune Bay, whether you’re anchoring up or staying at the bay’s campsite, will remind you that happiness is often found without materialistic luxury. The unforgettable scene of Canada’s best-kept secret, nicknamed ‘Little Hawaii’ because of its white sand and clear warm water, is worth the extra trip. The island itself is home to the likes of artists, jewellery makers and harvesters with most of their delights on sale at the farmer’s market.
Cortes Island: Gorge Harbour resort is the place to be. There’s a shop, laundry facility, restaurant, oceanfront bbq, picnic table, fire ring, wood-burning stove, gazebo, volleyball court, pool, jacuzzi and a children’s play area. Look out for the wandering deer! In the evening, you can listen to live music (on 4 nights a week, that often gets people dancing together) from the waterfront’s grassy hill, your accommodation or a boat on the dock. BYOB very much applies. This place really is your key to the life of Riley.
“Vancouver Island is a remarkable destination, complete with world-class wildlife viewing, old-growth forests, and year-round recreation possibilities. Our region is home to vast natural landscapes, awe-inspiring marine environments, ancient Indigenous cultures, and a curious mix of charming rural and urban communities,” says Anthony Everett. He also recommends Nanaimo, the oldest city in BC (home of the iconic Nanaimo Bar) and Tofino, rated as one of the top surf towns in the world by National Geographic.
Main image by Jos Krynen, Eagle Eye Adventures