For those travelling by car or bicycle,
the roadways that trace the coastline of Vancouver Island wind through scenery
that will take your breath away! To see the island at its best, one must take
time to explore it. Several weeks could be spent on the island without exhausting
the possibilities that are available. However, for those with limited time, Vancouver
Island can yield many enchanting secrets - with just a little planning.
Empress Hotel in
Enjoy the sea air from the Pacific Ocean - drive your car, walk,
rent a bicycle or go back in time and tour Victoria
by horse and carriage. Relaxing sightseeing horse and carriage tours travel
through downtown Victoria and along Dallas Road to Beacon
Hill Park. Victoria's largest city park has 75 hectares of beautiful flower
gardens, weeping willows next to duck ponds and walking paths woven in between.
Enjoy the scenic drive along the storm-swept coastline on the edge of the
great Pacific Ocean to watch the sunset or view the Olympic Mountains and Port
Angeles. A recommended route is the scenic seaside tour that ends at the world-famous
Butchart Gardens on the Saanich Peninsula. Follow
the southeast periphery of Victoria along Dallas Road to Beach Drive and Oak
Bay. This might be a good place to take high tea in quaint Oak Bay Village,
or have a pub lunch while overlooking the windswept waters. Continue along Cadboro
Bay Road and swing in to Mt. Douglas Park. From here visitors can get a panoramic
view of Victoria from the south face of Mount Doug. Descend and continue to Royal
Oak Drive and north on the Pat Bay Highway to Keating X Road. Follow this road
to the west as it becomes Benvenuto Road and leads you into Butchart Gardens.
to Victoria will find the downtown core to be well planned and compact, with areas
of interest such as Chinatown, the Inner Harbour and Old Town all nearby. The
only hard part is picking which ones to see first. Victoria's Chinatown is easily
one of the most charming and colourful areas of the city - it bustles day and
night! Discover Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest thoroughfare in Canada. For many
years Fan Tan Alley was rumoured to be an entrance to an underworld of opium dens
and gambling parlours, and was gated and guarded against intruders.
framed by hanging baskets
Start any walking
tour of Victoria at the Inner Harbour and head up Government Street. This street
is home to many of the oldest shops in Victoria, so note and enjoy the facades
of the heritage buildings as you thread your way back in time. If you don't make
it out of the urban core, you can still savour the city's signature welcome in
the summer - over 900 flower baskets, overflowing with colour, hanging from 19th
century globed lamps! Victorians can't help themselves when it comes to stopping
to smell a blooming flower - and neither should you!
There are two downtown
squares in Victoria you shouldn't miss. Historic Market Square, between Johnson
and Pandora Streets, is one of the finest examples of heritage revitalization,
with its market in Victoria's Old Town. Bastion Square, near the edge of the Inner
Harbour, housed Victoria's first jail, as well as a provincial courthouse that
has since become home to the Maritime Museum of
British Columbia and the Vice Admiralty Court Room.
Had enough of poppies and petunias? Drop in on quaint Sidney,
a vibrant, picturesque town that combines the charm of a small port with the rustic
character of a farming community. When touring the Saanich Peninsula, branch off
the highway and follow the country roads through rolling farmlands, forests and
Just 19km north of Victoria on Hwy 1 is Goldstream Provincial
Park, a nature lover's delight that should not be missed - at any time of the
year. Continue along the highway over the Malahat,
stopping at roadside pullouts - sweeping vistas at the Malahat Summit are spectacular.
Beyond the Malahat lies the Cowichan Valley.
For those who have flown in
to the island but still want the ferry experience, rent a car in Victoria and
head out to Brentwood Bay on the Saanich
Peninsula. Board a Brentwood Bay - Mill Bay ferry and embark on Vancouver Island's
most beautiful shortcut across the Saanich Inlet to Mill Bay. This scenic and
relaxing cruise takes just 25 minutes and gives one a delightful alternative to
traveling by land. You'll spend less time driving and more time enjoying the fresh
sea air and remarkable views. Just across the highway from Mill Bay, follow Shawnigan
Lake Road to Cobble Hill and Shawnigan
Lake. Or from Mill Bay, you can continue north up the island or return over
the Malahat to Victoria.
If you continue north, be sure to visit Duncan,
home of the Quw'utsun' Cultural and Conference Centre,
the BC Forest Discovery Centre, and the world's largest hockey stick. From Duncan,
go east to charming Maple Bay and Genoa
Bay. West of Duncan, explore the Lake Cowichan
area on a drive around the lake, stopping at Youbou, and Honeymoon Bay. North
of Duncan, visit Crofton, a forestry town
renowned for saltwater fishing. The next stop is Chemainus.
Often called "The Little Town That Did", Chemainus
(Highway 1A, 77km north of Victoria) is now world famous for the series of over
40 murals depicting the area's history that can be found on buildings and walls
throughout the downtown area. This outdoor art gallery grew from a very successful
revitalization project implemented when the town's sawmill shut down in the early
1980's. Now, almost half a million visitors a year come to view the murals and
enjoy the other services that have sprung up. From Chemainus, take a ferry trip
to Thetis Island - go hiking, fishing,
swimming, cruising or kayaking.
A little farther north, visit the pretty
little town of Ladysmith and Transfer
Beach Park. From Ladysmith, you have four options. First you can drive back to
Crofton where you can catch a ferry to Salt
Spring Island and return to Victoria/Sidney after a tour of the Southern
Gulf Islands. Second, you can drive straight back to Victoria on Highway 1.
Third, you can continue north on Highway 1 to Nanaimo where you can take a ferry
or plane back to Vancouver. Four, from Nanaimo, you can begin a tour of Central
Island and the Pacific Rim.
View maps of the area:
Regional Map of The Islands
Map of South Vancouver Island
Map of Greater Victoria
Map of Sooke
Known as the Harbour City, Nanaimo (Highway
1, 110km north of Victoria) is second only to Victoria as Vancouver Island's largest
and most vibrant city. Famous for its varied landscapes and more than two dozen
parks, this city possesses one of the most beautiful waterfronts in Canada. From
Nanaimo, a twenty-minute ferry ride takes you to Gabriola Island, where forested
parks, quiet beaches, sensational ocean views and amazing sandstone formations
await you. Alternatively, take the foot passenger ferry to Newcastle
Island, a nature reserve with sandstone cliffs, forests, beaches, caves, caverns
and prehistoric native middens.
Around Parksville & Qualicum Beach
Basking in sunshine on the east coast of Vancouver
Island, Oceanside is Beach Country, and one of the finest year-round vacation
destinations in Canada. Boasting spectacular sandy beaches, coastal mountain vistas,
and lush temperate forests, Oceanside incorporates the holiday communities of
Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanoose Bay, French Creek, Arrowsmith Coombs Country,
and Lighthouse Country.
no less than seven provincial parks located within a thirty-minute drive, Oceanside
provides a host of outdoor recreational activities, including hiking, camping,
caving and golfing. Bordered to the east by the Strait of Georgia, Oceanside also
offers every watersport imaginable, including sport fishing, canoeing, sea kayaking,
diving, beachcombing, sailing, and windsurfing. Discover for yourself why so many
people return again and again to this central Vancouver Island getaway.
Bordered by ocean and sheltered
by mountains, Parksville is a very popular
destination for summer family vacations. Mild winters allow the leisurely exploration
of tidal sand flats, coastal wildlife viewing and invigorating golf year-round.
The central location of Parksville makes this oceanside playground a convenient
base from which to enjoy all your vacation activities on Vancouver Island.
Like its close neighbour,
Parksville, Qualicum Beach is steeped
in quaint British heritage. Famous for its local arts, crafts and beautiful English
gardens, modern day Qualicum Beach offers visitors the same gentle countryside
and golden, seemingly endless, sandy beaches. Pause here at any of the numerous
beachside pullouts and smell the salt air intermingled with the perfume from the
many private and public floral displays.
The rural community of Nanoose Bay is
a vacation paradise and hot spot for golfers, clam diggers and water sport enthusiasts.
Nanoose Bay enjoys a country atmosphere while being close to the city amenities
of Parksville and Nanaimo. The peninsula's large, protected harbour is a popular
destination for visiting boats from around the world, and is home to an assortment
of marinas. Located just north of Nanoose Bay, Rathtrevor Beach is one of the
most popular seaside campgrounds on the Strait.
The bustling marine community of French
Creek is located beside the open water of the Strait of Georgia. French Creek's
working harbour is home to a large commercial fishing fleet and many charter operations
that can take visitors fishing, sightseeing, and diving. French Creek Marina offers
sheltered moorage and yachting amenities for sailboats and pleasure craft.
Almost anywhere along this
stretch of coast, just 10 km north of Qualicum Beach, gaze out across the Strait
of Georgia and you'll see the Sisters Island Lighthouse at the south and Chrome
Island Lighthouse in the north. Lighthouse
Country is located across from Denman and Hornby Islands, incorporating the
small communities of Horne Lake, Qualicum Bay, Bowser and Deep Bay. Rich in history,
folklore and Native culture, Lighthouse Country offers its many visitors a genuinely
friendly welcome and a fabulous vacation destination in a charming rural atmosphere.
Located in the
Arrowsmith Coombs Country region of Oceanside, Coombs
is a popular stopping point for tourists on the way to Tofino, Ucluelet and the
Pacific Rim Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The little village of
Coombs is dotted with several heritage buildings, small gift and craft shops,
antique stores, and is known for the family of goats nimbly grazing on the grass
rooftop of the Coombs Old Country Market. Just one kilometre past Coombs Country
Market on Highway 4A, Butterfly World features a walk among hundreds of colourful,
exotic, free-flying butterflies. (Open seven days a week; March through October)
In the shadow of Vancouver
Island's mountain spine, the tiny village of Errington
was named after a small village in England's Northumberland County. Now home to
an eclectic assortment of farmers, artists and craftspeople, Errington is also
the gateway to the Englishman River Falls in the magnificent Englishman River
Falls Provincial Park. These beautiful waterfalls are surrounded by a forest of
Douglas fir and are easily accessible by walking trails. The lower falls end in
a deep pool - perfect for a refreshing summer dip and viewing spawning salmin
in the fall. Well maintained sites and friendly staff make this a great place
to camp or picnic.
Oceanside offers six golf courses in the neighbourhood, and over a dozen courses
within an hour's drive. Qualicum Beach has three courses; Eaglecrest Golf Club,
Pheasant Glen Golf Resort, and Qualicum Beach Memorial Golf Club. Fairwinds Golf
and Country Club is situated near Schooner Cove in Nanoose Bay, Parksville has
the Morningstar Golf Club, and Arrowsmith Golf & Country Club is located north
of Qualicum Beach.
Provincial Parks in Oceanside include Englishman River Falls Provincial Park near
Errington, Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park in Parksville, Little Qualicum Falls
Provincial Park and MacMillan Provincial Park alongside Highway 4 to Tofino, Spider
Lake Provincial Park and Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park north of Qualicum Beach,
and Rosewall Creek Provincial Park near Deep Bay in Lighthouse Country.
With Oceanside's central
location, it's easy to take adventage of nearby recreation opportunities. Whether
you choose to stroll Nanaimo's Harbourside Walkway, ski Mt. Washington, or go
whale watching off the Island's West Coast, Oceanside is the ideal spot to launch
your Island adventures.
West of Victoria
When you follow Hwy
14 west of Victoria to explore the Western Communities, Sooke
is the last stop before heading into the lush rainforest of the west coast. Hugging
the Sooke Harbour, Basin and Inlet, this quite community offers a scenic escape
for Victoria's residents and visitors alike.
Sooke, Hwy 14 continues on to Port Renfrew.
Salty surf crashing on the beach announces your arrival at the Pacific Rim National
Park, the famous West Coast Trail and Botanical Beach Park (Juan de Fuca Park).
Though 70km from Victoria, this journey beyond Sooke is worth it for an encounter
with the untamed wilderness of Vancouver Island.
To the West
The trip out to the Pacific Rim National Park, along Highway 4 past Port
Alberni, is a wonderfully scenic drive through mountains, forests and lakesides.
The drive from Victoria to Tofino ranks among the top three drives in Canada,
according to the Michelin North America 2004 Road Atlas. The 337-km trip
takes the traveller through Nanaimo, Parksville, Port Alberni and Ucluelet. Visit
the pretty fishing village of Tofino at
the tip of Esowista Peninsula near the entrance to Clayoquot
Sound, and the village of Ucluelet
on the northern edge of Barkley Sound.
Between these two communities is the well-known Long
Beach unit of the Pacific Rim.
town of Courtenay (Highway 19A, 60 km
north of Qualicum Beach) is the urban centre of the Comox
Valley, and has a long and rich heritage.
Market day on Hornby
Join a studio or garden
tour, or browse contemporary art galleries, craft shops and craft fairs that promote
the talents of local artists, many of whom are known internationally. This is
the centre of the Comox Valley area, and a good place to start your travels through
Ferries depart regularly from the Buckley Bay terminal, just
south of Courtenay, for the ten-minute trip to Denman
Island. Stroll down a country lane, bask in the unspoiled countryside of woods
and wildflowers or explore hidden coves along the sunny coastline. From Denman
Island, cross to nearby Hornby Island,
with its gorgeous white sandy beaches - go hiking, kayaking, cycling or scuba
Historically renowned as the "Salmon Capital of the
World," Campbell River (Highway 19,
50km north of Courtenay) is beautifully set between Strathcona Provincial Park
to the west and the Discovery Islands to the east. Strathcona not only has the
highest mountain on the Island, but also boasts the highest waterfall in Canada.
From Campbell River, take a ferry trip to Quathiaski Cove on Quadra
Island - known for its scuba diving and salmon and freshwater fishing. From
Quadra Island, a forty-five minute ferry ride will land you on Cortes Island.
Cortes has its own distinctive charm
island isolation, sandy beaches, beautiful
coves and bays, as well as a variety of things to do.
View Maps of
Regional Map of The Islands
of Central Vancouver Island
Map of Nanaimo
Map of Parksville & Qualicum Beach
of the Pacific Rim
Map of Courtenay & Comox
Map of Campbell River
Sayward and Port McNeill
Born from volcanic rock, the rugged North Island
region features a largely uninhabited wilderness of forests, lakes and snow-capped
peaks - a unique, natural paradise.
in the Sayward Valley, the small coastal settlement of Sayward
on Kelsey Bay is a natural playgrond with unbelievable opportunities for exploration
and recreation. Be sure to visit the unusual Cable Cookhouse, a steel-framed building
wrapped with 2,700 metres of wire cable weighing 26 tons, located on the east
side of the one-lane bridge on Sayward Road that crosses the Salmon River. And,
don't miss the The Logger's Totem, built in 1986 by Glen Duncan to honour the
Telegraph Cove is tucked away on the eastern
coast of Northern Vancouver Island, 30 minutes south of Port McNeill and 11 kilometers
off the Island Highway. The tiny town is a major destination during the summer
months, when the snug little bay bustles with boaters, anglers, campers, kayakers
and whale-watchers. Telegraph Cove is the gateway to Robson Bight Provincial Park,
an ecological reserve - up to 200 Orcas arrive each summer to rub on the barnacle-encrusted
rocks at the mouth of the Tsitika River. With its colourful buildings and peaceful
inlet setting, Telegraph Cove, one of the last boardwalk communities of eastern
Vancouver Island, is worth a visit even if you're not planning to do any offshore
harbour of Port McNeill is home to many
that work in the surrounding forests and out on the channels between Vancouver
Island and the mainland. Dense forest, tranquil lakes, exquisite views of Broughton
Strait, and plent of wildlife make this a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
Just north of this quiet seaside port lies the world's largest burl. Taken from
an ancient spruce tree, this burl weighs over 20 tonnes and measures more than
12 metres around.
From Port McNeill, take the forty-five minute BC Ferries trip to the bustling
little village of Alert Bay on Cormorant
Island. The U'mista Cultural Centre should top your list in Alert Bay. View elaborately
carved cedar masks depicting the Potlatch ceremony of the Kwakwaka'wakw People.
This first-rate museum and cultural showcase is a must-see for anyone interested
in Northwest Coast art and culture. The Cultural Centre is dedicated to forging
links between the Kwakwaka'wakw past, present and future. Above all, a casual
stroll from one end of the community to the other instills one with an appreciation
for the efforts of the early pioneers who carved themselves a place to live and
work, and created the roots of the village that now exists on the South shore
of Cormorant Island.
Your next stop should be Sointula on Malcolm
Island. From Alert Bay, take the twenty-five minute ferry ride to the quiet little
fishing village of Sointula. Sointula, which means 'place of harmony' was founded
by Finnish settlers in an idealistic attempt to create a utopian colony almost
a century ago. Stroll around the community to see the sights - capture the unique
essence, before taking the return ferry to Port McNeill.
Around Port Hardy
Port Hardy (Highway 19, 50km north of
Port McNeill) takes its name from Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy of the
Royal Navy. As captain of the H.M.S. Victory, he held the dying Lord Nelson in
his arms during the battle of Trafalgar. Like many towns of northern Vancouver
Island, Port Hardy remains a logging, mining and fishing centre, although it is
recognized as the "Gateway to the North Island" - a popular departure
point for outdoor enthusiasts heading out into the wilderness.
Port Hardy, explore the stunning beauty of the mid-cost area on the Discovery
Coast Passage, the BC Ferries route from Port Hardy to Bella Coola. Or enjoy
the scenic grandeur on one of the world's most awe-inspiring voyages - take the
15-hour BC Ferries trip from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert through the Inside
View Maps of the area:
Map of The Islands
Map of Northern Vancouver Island
Map of Discovery Coast Circle Tour
of Inside Passage Circle Tour