Go West. When you say it in Canada you probably are referring to a trip to Vancouver Island. If you go any further west you will find yourself crossing the Pacific Ocean to Japan.
The island is 1.5 times larger than the State of Israel. To get there, you have two main options. The first is by airplane, landing in Victoria’s airport, and the second is by flying to Vancouver, renting a car and crossing to the island with the British Columbia ferry system (BC Ferries). We chose the second option in order to add another dimension to getting to an island.
Allowing 10 days to explore Vancouver Island, you will relax and appreciate the easier pace of island living versus the mainland and the big city of Vancouver. Victoria is the capital of the province of British Columbia, and is a good starting point to a visit to Vancouver Island. It is one of the oldest cities of the Pacific Northwest. Walk peacefully along the downtown streets, where you will enjoy the history from First Nations people through the British colonial era and up until today’s multicultural face of the city.
Victoria is full of culture, diverse cuisine (including the oldest Chinatown in Canada), landmarks, festivals and architecture. A few kilometers north of Victoria you will find the famous Butchart Gardens, a must-see site. On the site of a former quarry, the owner’s wife, Jennie Butchart, made her vision come true by transforming the dusty quarry to a blossoming oasis. This more than 100-year-old vision is still going strong and remains under the family’s watchful eye generations after it first opened its doors to the public. This series of gardens is really beautiful in every season. We treated ourselves to a second visit in daylight hours after enjoying the magical and mysterious atmosphere of the gardens at night. In July and August there is a wonderful fireworks show every Saturday night.
Vancouver Island is vast and full of forests. It has a very long coastline with many hidden coves, rural communities, small towns and great nature. Most of the towns are along the eastern coast of the island. On the wilder west coast, all the forces of the Pacific Ocean are at play. Even with its rugged and wild nature, man did not give up living on the western side.
Turn off to the west just north of Nanaimo by taking Highway 4, which crosses the island to get to the far part and the two lovely towns of Tofino and Ucluelet. Use them as a base to explore the rugged shores and towering forest by hiking through some great trails along the Pacific Rim National Park. Even the names of the trails (Wild Pacific Trail, Rainforest Trail) invite you to step in and start an unforgettable journey.
From the towns you can take whale and wildlife watching boat trips or flights over the magnificent wild coastline. Since you have hit the end of the road, you will need to go back on the Pacific Rim Highway. If you have the time, stop along the way and take in the beauty at places like Kennedy Lake or Port Alberni.
Turning north on Route 19 on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island is much different than the southern part. Here you drive towards the small towns and rural treasures of the island. A highly recommend stop would be Telegraph Cove. While still tiny today, Telegraph Cove was only a shack or two over 100 years ago when it served as a temporary refuge for fishermen or travelers and loggers. Over the years other buildings appeared, most built on stilts to avoid damage from the high tides. The atmosphere is cozy and the cove itself is beautiful and interesting with its historic houses that you can rent to stay a while, as this has become a popular destination.
The view of the water passage between Vancouver Island and the mainland is outstanding with its blue ocean, small fishing boats and the ice-capped mountains on the horizon. Telegraph Cove is a starting point for many activities like whale watching, bear watching, and kayaking, hiking and fishing charters. All these make it a must to visit on your way up Route 19.
Not far away also on the coast is the lovely town of Port McNeill. There is a big marina that is mostly open to the public, and you can walk along the wooden pier and be surrounded by boats of all shapes and sizes. Stay late or overnight and catch a spectacular sunset, hike the local trails, fly fish, kayak and more. Drive another half hour north to visit Port Hardy, at the end of Route 19. Port Hardy is the largest community in the northern half of Vancouver Island, with 4,200 residents. In Port Hardy, there is firsthand history of the First Nations people, or you can visit their museum to see 8,000 years of genuine artifacts.
Driving south to catch the ferry back to the mainland happened too fast for us. It seems like we had just touched down on Vancouver Island and now it was time to leave. There is still a lot more left for out next visit.