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One of the things that irks me most when speaking to fellow travelers is the oft-voiced perception that Vancouver Island , British Columbia , begins and ends with the provincial capital city of Victoria and its famed Butchart Gardens. We residents of the rest of ‘the Island’ as it is affectionately known, know there is nothing further from the truth, but dispelling that myth is an uphill battle.
Please don’t misunderstand – I think Victoria is a marvelous, enchanting city, with much to offer those who take the time to explore it. But missing out on the remainder of the 19,884 square miles that comprise the Island is one big mistake for those interested in a variety of different experiences. Vancouver Island is 286 miles long and 62 miles wide; visitors would do well to schedule at least a week, preferably two, to enjoy and appreciate the diversity that comprises this very special corner of the world.
Those who take the time to venture north and/or west of Victoria, which is located on the southern tip of the Island , will be treated to spectacular vistas of shoreline and forest, charming small towns and quaint villages, some truly great places to stay, eat and shop and unique experiences such as whale watching, grizzly bear tours…well, the list is pretty much endless. Golf courses abound all over the Island. Mt. Washington , located just three hours north of Victoria , offers up excellent ski facilities and lots of snow during the winter months. Fishing charters are widely available, and lesser-known activities such as eco-tours, culinary tours and a host of others are on offer. Large provincial and national parks also proffer many opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty that predominates.When my husband and I enjoyed a cruise from Vancouver to Alaska a couple of years ago we found ourselves chuckling at all the ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ that erupted amongst the passengers every time there was a sighting of a bald eagle or a group of sea lions. This is stuff that we see and greatly enjoy on a very regular basis, along with other forms of wildlife. We take regular walks with our dogs on stunning deserted beaches and rainforest trails, and we partake of some very fine meals indeed – many of which offer up the fruits of the labour of local fishermen and farmers. The ‘eat local’ mantra is strong here, and restaurants take great pride in presenting innovative, fresh meals to their patrons.
While there are many well-known (and heavily-advertised) standard resort accommodation options on the Island , there are also some intriguing boutique hotels and bed and breakfasts to be found beyond Victoria. In Qualicum Beach you can sleep in a heritage mansion room that was once occupied by Bing Crosby, or John Wayne, or the King of Siam. Stunning waterfront views are available at many of the lodges and B&Bs up and down both the east and west coasts of the Island . Or if you are feeling really adventurous, you might want to try sleeping in a fully-equipped sphere suspended from a tree in the rainforest. Many of the hostelries are dog-friendly, for those who enjoy travelling with their pets.
Many folks plan their vacations for the summer months, but any time of the year (even the rainy winter months) there is something on offer on the Island for travelers. Spring and autumn tend to be a little cooler, but not uncomfortably so. Storm watching on the west coast of the Island is at its best during the winter months when huge waves come pounding in off the open Pacific, mesmerizing visitors and residents alike. The big advantage to travelling in the off-season is that you won’t be faced with the usual summertime onslaught of travelers. Line-ups at the ferry terminals are pretty much non-existent during the quiet months (other than on statutory holidays); the only caution on that front is that occasionally the ferry trips are also non-existent if high winds make it unsafe to sail to and from the mainland. There are three airports serviced by major carriers on the Island , at Victoria , Nanaimo and Comox, so between the regular ferry service and airlines access to this magical place is neither difficult nor complicated.
One final word of advice: while the well-known and heavily advertised accommodations and eateries on the Island certainly offer up great experiences there are many, many extraordinary smaller, unheralded places all over Vancouver Island that deliver every bit as well, and often more personally. If you plan to visit, take your time, do your research – and by all means, stay long enough to enjoy all that this delightful island has to offer. For me, it is the best part of Super, Natural British Columbia!