As you drive the Island Highway, it’s always a treat to look across the Strait of Georgia at landmarks on the mainland as spires of the Coast Mountains rise on the eastern horizon. One such scenic view is the profile of Howe Sound Crest as revealed when you look back towards the city of Vancouver from Parksville. The farther north you head towards Courtenay and Campbell river, however, the more the peaks and glaciers of Vancouver Island’s ranges, principally the imposing Comox Glacier, Forbidden Plateau, and Mount Washington, rise in the west and vie for equal attention.
As the highway winds past well-kept farms, this is a serenely rural part of the journey. Flowers abound in the gardens that front many of the homes along the way. Small rivers such as the Little Qualicum and the Englishman, as well as the mightier ones such as the Puntledge and the Campbell, empty into the strait. From the highway you catch glimpses of quiet green forest settings on the banks that line each river’s course. Come late summer, these streams teem with spawning salmon.
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For much of the way between Courtenay and Campbell River the Island Highway runs beside Qualicum Bay, an area rich in seafood. Pullouts beside the road give easy access to the bay’s sand and pebble beaches. At several places you can buy fresh seafood, brought to the docks daily from local waters.
The mountains and islands of central Vancouver Island have a mysterious sense about them, as if they’re always trying to hide some secret. It’s true: you do have to travel farther afield here in order to penetrate its cloud-laced valleys and coastal rain forest. Take your time as you meander through this laid-back region. Its rhythms are subtle, but with gentle probing they reveal themselves, showing greater complexity than first meets the eye.
The following regions and towns are located in or around Central Vancouver Island:
Location: The new Island Highway (Highway 19) has superseded the old Island highway (Highway 19A) as the way to move quickly between Nanaimo and Campbell River. Parksville, 37 km north of Nanaimo’s Departure Bay ferry, lies just east of the new Island Highway. For those wishing to make time, the new four-lane route is a blessing. For those wishing to take their time, this will mean fewer cars tailgating along the scenic ocean drive.
Highways 19 and 19A link Parksville with southern Vancouver Island. Highway 4 links Parksville with Port Alberni, and with Tofino and Ucluelet on the west side of the island. Approaching from the north, Highway 19 links Campbell River with the northern half of Vancouver Island. Campbell River may also be reached by BC Ferries from Quathiaski Cove on Quadra Island. Highway 28 originates from Highway 19 just north of Campbell river, and leads west for 92 km to Gold River.
View maps of the area