Exploring Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Qualicum Beach captured our attention when we were there. Strolling along the seaside promenade we had views of Lasqueti and Texada Islands and the snowcapped peaks of mountains on the mainland in the distance. Qualicum has a strong belief in heritage preservation and their antique shops, galleries and the museum are definitely worth a stop.

Campbell River, another seaside town, is known as Canada’s Salmon Fishing Capital. On a visit to the Marina, this came as no surprise; from the pier we saw masses of masts. Campbell River is also acknowledged as one of the top five scuba diving destinations in the world because of its exceptional under-water visibility, diversity of sea life and wreck sites.

“As Wild as You Like!” is a Campbell River slogan. Between skiing Mount Washington and diving the Strait of Georgia, this appears to be an apt slogan. There are trails meandering through lush forests that are worth exploring where the sounds of wildlife are a song in your ear. From the beach, we watched cruise ships, freighters, barges, sailboats, yachts and the ferry to Quadra Island travel through Discovery Passage. There is a Maritime Museum with a collection of more than 500 artifacts, some dating back 2,000 years. There is also the John Hart Dam operating at upper Campbell Lake that is worth visiting.

Traveling the road to Gold River is also well worth the effort. It is considered ‘The Cave Capital of Canada’. Upana Caves are particularly accessible and safe for novices who enjoy the sport of spelunking. There are also many more miles of caves to be found in the area for both the novice and the more adventuresome.

The West Coast Trail follows the contours of the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island and is one of Ucluelet’s main attractions. Rainforests meet pristine beaches and there is a panoramic view of Barkley Sound and the Broken Islands of Pacific Rim National Park. Lighthouse Park is another attraction where, on a slightly foggy day, you may hear the lighthouse warning boaters to be aware of the rocky and treacherous shoreline. The rugged shoreline, as seen from the walking trails, is typical of much of B.C.’s coastline. During winter storms the breakers can be as high as 20 feet. Ucluelet is popular for whale watching expeditions and each spring celebrates the migration of 20,000 gray whales.

Long Beach has a quite different shoreline with miles of sweeping white sand. When we were there, the surf was high and surfers were enjoying the excitement of catching a wave. There are many warnings to surfers and others to never turn your back on the ocean and to be especially careful around water’s edge.

We also stopped at Cathedral Grove Provincial Park located at Cameron Lake. The park is a preserved section of lush old-growth forest; many trees are 800 or more years old. Walking among these giants, we marveled at the beauty, endurance, resiliency and power of nature.

Victoria, B.C.’s capital, known as the City of Gardens, is a perfect place to visit any time of the year. Butchard Gardens is a particularly beautiful place to tour as are the Parliament Buildings.

We took time to explore the Inner Harbour, Old Town, Chinatown, James Bay, Fisherman’s Wharf and Beacon Hill Park, all within Victoria’s downtown core. This can be done either on foot, by double-decker bus, horse-drawn carriage or boat tours. Victoria is home to several exceptional museums and heritage buildings.

Other attractions include the Undersea Gardens, the Wax Museum, the Butterfly Garden, Craigdarroch Castle, Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse, Canada’s first west coast lighthouse.

There are many other great places to visit on Vancouver Island but a real exploration of this interesting island could take a very long time.