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Published: August 11th 2016
One of my favorite destinations is the West Coast of North America – mostly because of the beautiful landscapes and combination of sea, mountains, and forests. Vancouver Island had been on my list of ‘must sees’ for a long time and now that the Canadian dollar is down relative to the US dollar it seemed like the perfect time to go. We took a week on the Island and added on four more nights in Vancouver. What we found was the spectacular scenery and wildlife we were looking for but also some great food and the friendliest people I have encountered on my travels to date. It is a destination in high demand over the summer so you either have to plan accordingly or scratch your way through like we did with AirBnB and the odd hotel.
We arrived in Victoria, the capital of Vancouver Island, and decided to spend a bit of time there at the beginning and end of the trip. We used our additional days to head up the east coast as far as Campbell River. Unfortunately, we were not able to visit the popular Tofino area because of the almost non-existent room accommodations. Also, we were
not able to get to the far north end of the island near Port Hardy as planned after finding out just how long the island is and because of numerous interesting stops along the way. Thus, our route consisted of one night in Victoria, one night in Nanaimo, one night in Courtenay, two nights on Quadra Island, and two nights in Victoria. However, these unexplored destinations remain great reasons to return to the Island.
We flew in to Vancouver and then immediately went by train and bus to the BC Ferry headed to Vancouver Island. Once on the island we took another bus before being dropped off near the Days Inn Uptown where we stayed for the first night. From the moment we arrived you would have thought we were visiting the Land of the Friendly People as everyone went out of their way to help out or engage in a friendly conversation. You could easily get caught in a tourist information center for a half hour as one of the locals provided information or asked you about your experience on the Island. We found this to be prevalent across the Island and it made it easier to navigate
our routes and just made the experience more pleasant in general.
Victoria was a wonderful introduction to the island. It is very British in its feel from its downtown shopping area to its staple of fish and chips across the city. The town is surrounded by water and it is a great place to watch float planes come and go. I enjoyed my run along the water beneath very attractive apartments with great views of the marinas in the Esquimalt neighborhood. In that neighborhood we also found a bakery, Fol Epi, with the very best blueberry crumble. Take one to go and warm it in the oven before eating and you won’t regret it! We became regulars eating fish and chips and our favorite place on the Island was Red Fish Blue Fish on the bay in downtown Victoria. The halibut was delicious as were the crispy fries. Victoria is a great city to walk. We enjoyed the James Bay harbor area both at night and during the day. There you can see the marina and walk around the Parliament buildings. I would also recommend a stroll around Beacon Hill park where you can see wandering peacocks and the
statue memorializing Terry Fox who was inspirational to the whole country while trying to run across Canada while stricken with cancer. As in the whole of Vancouver Island there is great hiking and nature just outside of the city. We took one afternoon and headed out to Coldstream Provincial Park where we hiked up to the Railway Trestle and saw Niagara Falls (the less famous ones) on the way. Another afternoon we spent hiking around East Sooke Park that lies just west of Victoria.
We then headed up the coast to Nanaimo just for the night. While there we learned about the famous Nanaimo bars, one of the official desserts of Canada. There is a whole Nanaimo Bar trail that you can follow with locations around town to sample all the different types. We opted for the deep fried one at a Pirate restaurant that we wouldn’t particularly recommend. We continued up the coast to Courtenay where we took in Nymph Falls and a short walk down to the coast at Seal Cove. We also stopped and had a pretty good pizza at Riders in the little town of Cumberland. Here we heard the locals tell of how common
cougars were in the area with sightings regularly in town. Dark Side Chocolates provided us with an amazing sea salt caramel and homemade ice cream bar.
We really enjoyed our time further up the coast in Campbell River and then Quadra Island. While driving through Campbell River on our way to the Quadra Ferry we saw a couple pods of transient orcas off the coast moving in our direction. It was an amazing site to look over while driving and seeing large fins sticking out of the water. We made numerous stops for about a mile pulling over to watch them progress up the water. Unfortunately, my lack of a good zoom lens and the speed of their movements prevented any good pictures. We later learned how lucky we were to see the orcas as they had not yet been frequenting the area to that point in the summer. We got some more good fish and chips at Dick’s before jumping on the short ferry ride over to Quadra. It turned out to be a great decision to visit Quadra. We really enjoyed staying at the Heriot Bay Inn. The HBI seemed like something out of Dirty Dancing with
a combination of locals and local flavor and visitors to the Island mixing on the grounds and in the pub. The food is pretty good at the pub and if you are there on a weekend you will likely get to enjoy with some local music. We enjoyed this interaction of music, people watching, and eating.
Quadra Island offers the opportunity to hike or get out on the water and kayak. We did both enjoying a kayaking trip around the Breton Islands with Quadra Island Kayaks and hiking up to the top of the Chinese Mountains for a great view. I also really enjoyed getting in a night of sand volleyball with the kayak guides at the campground on the Rebecca Spit. You can take a scenic walk out to the end of the Spit with nice water views on both sides. Also, you can find some interesting oyster shells on the beaches nearby. Driving around the island you can find some amazingly green, lush forests. Our favorite happened to be off of an old logging road where you felt like you were in an enchanted forest as you entered with lush green moss covering the ground and trees.
Quadra is a great place to spend a couple days to take in the beautiful nature.
Returning from Quadra via the ferry we immediately stopped in Campbell River and took a four-hour wildlife boat tour from Go Wild! This was a well-run operation that is very popular for whale and bear tours in the area. We enjoyed seeing a lot of bald eagles on the trip particularly one swooping down for fish that the guide offered up. We had brief encounters with a couple orcas and also two humpback whales. A lot of the tour was transporting from place to place and so we were glad we didn’t take the longer tour. But, again, the views were great and it was a good chance to see wildlife that we don’t normally get the chance to view.
After Campbell River we returned for the last couple nights to Victoria to explore the city. Vancouver Island is large and this left many things that I still want to do on the next visit including a visit to the large Strathcona Provincial Park, reaching Telegraph Cove at the north end, and taking in the west side of the island around Tofino.
I was impressed with the quality of life and contentment of the people on the island. It is certainly on my list of destinations that I where I would like to make a return visit. If you visit the Island in the summer be sure not to pass up the local cherries. We were eating them by the handfuls during our entire visit and then continued when we stayed in Vancouver. The best we found were from a local stand on the side of the road – they were very sweet and highly addictive!
Our last four nights of the trip were spent in Vancouver. So, out of the woods and into the big city. This was my second visit to Vancouver and I consider it to be one of the most beautiful metropolitan settings for cities that I have visited. The city is set up for walking. You can head for the beach and end up in the gigantic trees of Stanly Park. You can take one of the water ferries over and spend a couple hours lost in the market and shops of Granville Island. Or you can head down to the Gastown area and make your
way up to view the modern buildings at Canada Place.
We really enjoyed eating in Vancouver. Two places that stuck out were Meat and Bread, for a delicious porchetta sandwich with quinoa apricot salad, and Nuba, for tasty Lebanese fare. Both restaurants are in Gastown. Another highlight was renting kayaks for two hours from Ecomarine on Granville Island to paddle around the False Creek causeway. This was a great way to see the city from another perspective and to get some good exercise in the process. I have also really enjoyed my runs in Stanley Park on my two visits – simply getting lost on the soft-surface trails under the canopy. You can also walk around Lost Lagoon, next to Stanley, and keep an eye out for wildlife. We were entertained by a very busy beaver and also a wandering raccoon. Seeing the Olympic Torch area and the three-dimensional orca around Canada Place at night provided a great visual treat. And as we are always looking for good chocolate and ice cream I would recommend a local place named Purdy’s – as they have good sea salt and maple caramels and exceptional Sweet Georgia Browns (their version of turtles).
For ice cream you can brave the long lines and costly gelato Bela Gelateria – I enjoyed some good salted chocolate on this trip. However, our favorite ice cream was Rain or Shine that was a much better value and they had incredible sea salt caramel.
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