Coastal Paradise – The Explorer’s Guide to Vancouver Island

From the wild, west-coast beaches of Tofino and Ucluelet to the relaxed havens of Parksville and Courtenay/Comox  on the east,  Vancouver Island is 285 miles of paradise in the Pacific Ocean.

At the southern tip, British Columbia’s capital city, Victoria is a city made for sightseeing. The Inner Harbour is lined with historic stone buildings – one being the BC legislature, which looks like a palace at night when its 3,000 lights are lit up – and it is a hive of aquatic activity, buzzing with float-planes, passenger ferries, boats and whale-watching zodiacs. Take a walking tour, or a carriage ride, visit a nearby local winery or brewery or even play a round of golf; this very British-feeling city has much to offer for any visitor.

Victoria’s Inner Harbour

Heading north from here through the Cowichan Valley, home to some 300 farms, Duncan – known as the City of Totems – makes a great stopping point, as does the town of Chemainus, home to some 60 colourful murals which visually document the town’s history, making it a walking outdoor art gallery.

You are never far from the sea as you travel the island and the wonderful oceanside Highway 19a literally hugs the eastern coastline as far north as Campbell River; the slower pace makes it easier to stop at some of the fabulous, quaint, beachfront towns along the way. The seaside towns of Parksville and Courtenay/Comox are definitely worth further exploration; stay overnight just steps from the sand, walk the boardwalk in Parksville before enjoying wine and cheese at Morningstar Farm. Or indulge in contemporary West Coast cuisine at Ocean 7 restaurant after a fabulous spa treatment with ingredients rich from the sea, at Kingfisher Resort and Spa in Courtenay.

The beach at Parksville

Highway 19a meanders its way further to Campbell River, self-proclaimed ‘Fishing Capital of the World’, which is also starting point for many bear-watching holidays due to its proximity to the cluster of islands and inlets to the northeast of here. Heading further north, worthy stops include Sayward, home to the world’s largest Yellow Cedar, not to mention visiting the Cable Cookhouse for lunch or just coffee, or a visit to the town of Woss to see one of the original steam-powered locomotives. The picturesque, maritime village of Telegraph Cove is a haven for wildlife lovers, and one of the best spots for whale-watching. From here it is only about an hour to Port Hardy at the northernmost tip of the island, starting point for the incredible Inside Passage that takes you all the way to Alaska.

Whale sighting near Campbell River

For an island which is about 2/3 the size of England, there are very few roads and your travels will either take you mostly south to north or east to west; the rugged west coast is accessible by the winding Highway 4a, where the town of Port Alberni is a 45-minute, picturesque journey from Parksville.  Visit the waterfall and hike the trails of Stamp River Provincial Park, before hitting the road – making sure you have a full tank of petrol first – to take the 2-hour journey along Highway 4, the Pacific Rim Highway, to Ucluelet. This winding, beautiful stretch of road delivers stunning vistas (with probably no mobile phone service) before you reach the rugged maritime town known locally as ‘Ukee’. The gorgeous Black Rock Oceanfront Resort is the place to stay and from here you can kayak the nearby Broken Group Islands, admire marine life at the Ucluelet Aquarium – Canada’s first catch and release aquarium – before enjoying the catch of the day at one of the fabulous restaurants. The Wild Pacific Trail is a family-friendly trail (and one of TripAdvisor’s top things to do on the Island) which is perfect for bird-watching, storm watching and great photos.

Wild Pacific Trail, Ucluelet

Tofino is possibly one of the most beautiful places on earth and rated one of the top surf towns in the world by National Geographic. The mix of first-class accommodation, art galleries, fine dining restaurants and a funky, surf culture of its own makes this sought-after destination one of the main highlights of any visit to Vancouver Island. Visit the Hot Springs Cove, go whale watching or or walk the beautiful and accessible Rainforest Trail. Or just enjoy Wickannish Beach and Long Beach; the epitome of the rugged-coast postcard picture.

Long Beach, Tofino

There is much to see and explore on this very special island, as well as the groups of islands that sit alongside. Whatever you are looking for, ‘Island Life’ offers it all, and then some.

Julie Thompson
Frontier Canada