Just a ferry hop from the city of Vancouver in Canada’s southwest corner lies Vancouver Island. This evergreen archipelago lures visitors with its miles of untouched wilderness, wild colonial history and modern farm to table ethos.
The heart of Victoria Harbor
Catch a ferry or seaplane from Vancouver, and arrive right in the heart of Victoria Harbor, the picturesque gateway through which the island’s fortunes have long flowed. Once a rough fur trading outpost, Victoria found its wealth as the outfitting center for British Columbia’s gold rush, and became the elegant provincial capital in 1871.
Today it is still described as “more British than the British.”
The Parliament Buildings
Designed by a young immigrant, to “express confidence in the promise of British Columbia,” the Parliament Buildings have proudly served the people of the province since their construction in 1898.
The Fairmont Empress Hotel
Take the short stroll to the Fairmont Empress Hotel, an iconic symbol of the city itself. Ever since it opened its doors in 1908 this stately establishment has been a magnet for society’s elite, from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and Katharine Hepburn, to Rudyard Kipling and Harrison Ford.
Nearby, grit, tenacity and industrial-era spirit are celebrated in Craigdarroch Castle, built by a Scottish coal baron, Robert Dunsmuir. Stepping ashore, penniless in 1851, by the late 1800s he had become the wealthiest man in British Columbia.
Although the dust has long since settled over Victoria’s quarries, one has been given a new lease on life. In 1912, Jennie Butchart meticulously cultivated a green haven in the sunken remains of her family’s depleted limestone quarry.
Wander through Butchart Gardens and reflect on Jennie’s legacy of conservation and respect for Mother Nature.
Royal BC Museum
Vancouver Island’s rich history is preserved in the many museums and galleries across the capital, including the Royal BC Museum.
The First Peoples Gallery
Experience 19th-century life in the “Old Town” and admire the immense collection of priceless artifacts in the First Peoples Gallery. Then, walk amongst totems carved from red cedar, representing the sacred ancestry of the island’s first nations.
A short walk from the museum, discover an area that’s a little less genteel-British, and a little more quirky-Canadian. Fisherman’s Wharf is a floating neighborhood of houses, shops, and restaurants.
Order some of the freshest seafood in Canada and try to resist the pleading looks of hungry locals, hoping to share your lunch.
Sooke Potholes Regional Park
Though Victoria is the first port of call for most visitors, the adventure truly begins when you rent a car and travel beyond the capital.
Make your way to the scenic area of Sooke to start discovering the natural offerings of this abundant island. Explore an inland oasis of hidden pools and waterfalls at Sooke Potholes Regional Park.
Sandcut Beach waterfalls
Follow salty sea breezes further west, to the black basalt shoreline of Sandcut Beach, and soak up the enchanting rhythms of lapping waters blending with rushing waterfalls.
The Juan de Fuca Trailhead
Continue along the British Columbia Highway to the Juan de Fuca Trailhead and take the easy 1-mile walk through dense old-growth forests to Mystic Beach. Explore the eerie shoreline and caves which have been gradually carved by tempestuous Pacific waves over thousands of years.
If you’re chasing adventure and want to experience one of the world’s great coastal walks, lace up your hiking boots for the entire 29-mile trek. Or for a quicker journey, continue to drive north-west along the highway.
One of the camping stops along the Juan de Fuca Trail is Sombrio Beach. After immersing yourself in miles of serene wilderness, settle in for the night, watch the sunset over the Pacific, and bask in pure solitude.
When you’re ready to return to civilization, take the two-hour drive across the island to Cowichan Bay on the east coast. This cozy seaside town thrives on the bountiful waters of the Saanich Inlet.
The city of Parksville
A short drive north of Cowichan is the city of Parksville. This picturesque place is a warm and inviting rest stop, and as the name suggests, the perfect base from which to explore many pine-veiled parks and reserves.
As the trail leads you deep into Englishman River Falls Provincial Park, breathe in the fresh scents of cedar, hemlock, and maple. Follow the sound of cascading water to the riverbed, where the waters of Englishman River tumble into the rocky gorge below.
MacMillan Provincial Park
Just a short drive from here is MacMillan Provincial Park, famous for Cathedral Grove. Wander beneath this ancient cluster of Douglas Firs, standing like mighty pillars, some over 800 years old.
Let the sizzling smells of farm to table fare draw you back across to the West Coast, to Tofino. This friendly town bustles with visitors throughout the year.
Surfers are drawn to the legendary swells of Long Beach and Chesterman Beach…. Oceanfront cabins buzz with the chatter of Vancouver holiday-makers…. And no matter the season, nature lovers take to the many trails, gardens, and parks on offer.
South of Tofino, the small town of Ucluelet awaits. Translating to “people of the safe harbor” in the native Nuu-chah-nulth language, this sleepy town is surrounded by some of the wildest landscapes on Vancouver Island.
The Wild Pacific Trail
Follow the Wild Pacific Trail through thick forests of ancient cedar out along the coastline. This trail serves up some of the best scenery on the island, drawing photographers, whale watchers and hikers from across the globe.
The trail is made up of three sections. Along the Lighthouse Loop, you’ll find Amphitrite Lighthouse. Named after the sea goddess and wife of Poseidon, this sturdy lighthouse stands like a sentinel, lighting the way for weary vessels navigating these treacherous waters.
From First Peoples to the fur trappers and fortune seekers of old, Vancouver Island is a place that has long rewarded those who have walked its wild shores. In today’s busy world, many intend on visiting but few actually make the journey.
Those who do will be embraced by Mother Nature, at her wildest, purest and most beautiful best.