As a very proud Vancouver Islander, it shocks me when I hear about travellers coming to Canada with no intention of putting the Island on their itinerary. It encompasses the beauty and nature Canada is so well known for, while proudly having it’s own unique, relaxed coastal lifestyle. There are so many reasons to visit Vancouver Island.
I often get an amused and shocked reaction when I tell people I grew up on an island. For those not familiar with Vancouver Island, it is not the tiny remote island you may be picturing. To put it into perspective, its over 31,000 km² (larger than all of Belgium) and would take approximately 6 hours to drive from top to bottom. It’s located on the West Coast of Canada, just 97km off the coast of Vancouver, and home to over 775,000 people.
Getting to Vancouver Island
You have a few options when coming to visit Vancouver Island. You can catch a commercial plane and fly into one of the many airports – the main ones being, Victoria, Nanaimo, Comox or Tofino. Or if you want to mix it up a bit, seaplanes are an amazing way to appreciate the coastline and experience something different. That being said, the most common and inexpensive way to get to the island is by ferry. Many people take their car on board giving them the freedom to explore the island.
Vancouver Island has so many activities and some amazing unique cities and towns to check out. Give yourself at least a couple of days to really appreciate it and explore. If given the opportunity, I think I could go on forever about how incredible the island is. Luckily for you, I managed to summarize the 7 main reasons why you should put Vancouver Island on your itinerary.
Why You Should Visit Vancouver Island
1. Amazing hikes
Despite having grown up here, I have still only conquered a small number of the outstanding hikes on Vancouver Island. That can be accredited to the sheer number to choose from.
Whether you are into a multi-day adventure or just looking to earn your afternoon beer, there is a hike for all levels. For the hardcore hiker looking for a real challenge, the West Coast Trail covers 75km of pure gorgeous coastline between Bamfield and Port Renfrew. Or if you are looking for something a little less strenuous, one of my favourites is Old Baldy Mountain hike with the rewarding scenic lookout over Shawnigan Lake.
2. Whale watching
One of the biggest draws to the island for tourists is definitely whale watching. The Island is home to resident orcas (killer whales), as well as numerous other transient whales such as Humpbacks and Gray whales. Whale watching tours, which depart daily across the island, are a great way to experience the whales up close and personal. Although not as likely, you may just get lucky and spot whales or dolphins on the ferry ride over, or even from shore. These killer whales were spotted out in front of my parent’s house in Qualicum Beach about 300 metres off shore.
3. Beautiful coastline
There is a saying that the town of Tofino is known for but I think captures the Island well as a whole – “Tall trees and cold seas.” For me, it is the perfect description of Vancouver Island’s coastlines. Although tropical beaches have their appeal, there is something so remarkable about the beaches here that offer a very wet, raincoasty-vibe with their rugged trees growing so close to shore. One of my favourite places to experience this for yourself, is just outside Victoria, at Mystic Beach in the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park as captured from our drone below.
4. Outdoor adventures
Growing up on the Island was absolutely incredible. It is like one large playground. There was no shortage of outdoor activities – whether its mountain biking, surfing, camping, cliff jumping or golfing. Summers were filled with exploring new swimming holes, boating with friends and skimboarding at the beach. Although I am a clearly a strong advocate of visiting Vancouver Island in the summer, there are even ski hills such as Mount Washington for all the snow lovers out there.
5. Bear watching
Even as a Canadian, I still get excited and child-like when I see a bear in the wild. I’ve spotted them on the side of the road on the way to Tofino, and out camping. But if your heart is set on seeing a bear, there are a few ways to increase your odds. Tofino offers some bear watching tours where they take you out on a boat and swing by the coastlines at low-tide. Bears will make their way down the beach to scour the rocks for edibles. Another option, is the Thorton Creek Fish Hatchery outside of Tofino that I mentioned in this blog post. During the salmon spawning season, bears hang out near the hatchery for an easy feed.
I can’t believe I have to say this, but unfortunately we still have tourists trying to feed and pet the bears. These are WILD animals. Please keep your distance and do not get out of your car. Be careful when camping and hiking to not leave food out and consider carrying a bear bell.
6. Local food & drinks
Vancouver Island definitely hasn’t missed the train when it comes to the growing trend of craft breweries and cideries. There are countless microbreweries sprinkled throughout the island and definitely worth the visit. A Victoria local favourite, is Phillips Brewery with a new tasting room just on the outskirts of downtown.
If wine is more your style, then Cowichan Valley should be on your to-do list. Its temperate climate and rich land supports the stunning vineyards and the growing wave of farm to table restaurants. ‘Foodies’ will not be disappointed in Vancouver Island’s selection of local food artisans ranging from cheese to sea salt.
7. Island vibe
I know it sounds corny. But there is something about the island way of life that I adore. It is a friendly atmosphere with considerably less hustle and bustle than you will find in cities like Vancouver. Vancouver Island’s coastal lifestyle has curated a population with a love of the outdoors and an extremely active way of life. I swear sea air is good for the soul.
If you are coming to Canada it is well worth adding a few days to your itinerary and ensuring you visit Vancouver Island. The rugged sights and countless adventures are what make Canada so travel-worthy. I promise you won’t be disappointed.