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Vancouver Island (often mistakenly called Victoria Island by Americans)

My knowledge of Vancouver Island is rather limited since I'm too cheap to pay the ferry fare to go there too often. I personally think Victoria is somewhat overrated. Americans seem to love the place because they find it very English, but most Europeans I have spoken to have found it disappointing. The area around the harbour is nice, the Provincial Museum and Butchart gardens are worth a visit, but one or two days are basically enough for most people. If you are into Whale Watching (Killer & Grays), Vancouver Island is the place to be. (See the link to my Outdoor Activities section in the table below.) Vancouver Island is very large and quite geographically varied. People like to say you can fit England into Vancouver Island to give people some idea of its size. This is actually incorrect, but you could fit 2/3 of England in it. If it did not exist, Vancouver would have god-awful weather year round. The Island acts as a storm shield for the Vancouver area. The West Coast of the Island exposed to the open Pacific is very rugged and extremely stormy in the winter months. It does have some of the finest coastal scenery in BC, however. The Island as a whole is worth a trip in and of itself. There is a new company offering helicopter ecotourism of Vancouver Island. (June 99) It costs about $135 Can. I have not been able to locate a web site for them, but they are called Majestic Helitours and are based in Victoria.

Ferries to Vancouver Island leave from either the Tsawwassen Ferry terminal about 25 Km south of Downtown or from Horseshoe Bay to the north. You can catch a bus from the Main street bus depot near the Main street Skytrain station. If you manage to get a ride to the ferry terminal, you can purchase a bus ticket on board. There is usually a bus on every second sailing. You can also access the Victoria Ferry by using both Vancouver and Victoria city transit, which is cheaper than the aforementioned buses. This option requires transfers on the Vancouver end and an hour long ride into Victoria at that end. Be careful when taking the ferry from Tsawwassen to Nanaimo, since this ferry goes to the Duke Point terminal where there is no public transit. Sail from Horseshoe Bay instead. You have to go to the Tsawwassen terminal to get a ferry to Victoria (you can still get the bus at Main St.). Ferry line-ups can be quite lengthy on summer weekends, especially on the Holiday weekends. These are the third weekend in May (Victoria Day), the weekend of July 1 (Canada Day), the first weekend in August (BC Day) and the first Monday in September (Labour Day). The "Ferries" section under Transportation elsewhere on this site has more details about getting to & from the Island.

The East Coast of the Island is very different from the West Coast. The East Coast is very sheltered and far more populated. The West Coast is still pristine with long stretches of sandy beaches and mostly very large waves. There are very few towns on the West Coast, the 2 most notable are Tofino & Ucluelet, both of which are around 3000 in population. Both towns are accessed via Hwy 4 from Parksville. Of the 2, Tofino is the most attractive and it the place to go for whale watching tours. It also has the highest concentration of Hotels & Lodges, although Ucluelet has several B&B's to stay at. There is  HI Hostel at Tofino. See link in table below.

Killer Whale watching is the prime attraction during the Spring & Summer, although the annual March migration of the Grey Whales down the west coast can also be viewed out of Tofino at that time of year. Pacific Rim National Park stretches along the Coastline between the 2 towns which are about 40 km apart, offering camping during the summer season. Further south is the town of Bamfield, but you have to access that town via a  separate road from Port Alberni. Winter storm watching is becoming a popular pastime in this area, as the ocean becomes very rough & spectacular during winter storms. You can watch them from the comfort of a lodge such as the Midlde Beach Lodge on the cliff sides above Tofino. I mention that one, since I'm familiar with it, and its very nice. The downside is that Hwy 4 can become almost impassable due to snow at times in the pass west of Port Alberni. The Port Alberni, by the way, is also a pleasant area to spend some time in. It features a Salmon festival at the end of August and Sproat lake, a large recreational lake, is nearby.

 

Victoria Harbour  

VANCOUVER ISLAND LINKS
Victoria - Vancouver Island Transportation How to get there from Vancouver or Seattle
Victoria British Columbia Transit - Bus Schedules Public Transit in Victoria
Enchanted Sightseeing Tours Victoria BC. Victoria Tours
Trutch Manor, Victoria Good reports on this one.
The Butchart Gardens Site about Victoria's famous Gardens
Vancouver Island Abound Outdoor Pages Excellent Information Site
http://www.accommodationsvancouverisland.com On Line Booking
http://www.accommodationsvictoria.com On Line Booking
The Islands: Home Page Vancouver Island & Gulf Islands Web Site
City of Victoria City of Victoria official website
The Royal British Columbia Museum Worth a visit
The Butchart Gardens Also worth a visit
BC Ferries  Ferry schedules for Vancouver Island
Coho Ferry service between Port Angeles and Victoria Ferry to US
Catamaran Ferry Victoria-Seattle High Speed Service between Victoria & Seattle
Victoria and Gulf Islands Travel Guide  Tourist Info
Vancouver Island Tourist Services  General Vancouver Island Guide
Island Business Directory  Business oriented, but also contains Tourist Info
Victoria Hostel  Victoria Youth Hostel
Tofino Hostel Hostelling International
Abigails Hotel - Victoria Victoria B&B
Birds of a Feather OceanFront B & B Victoria B&B
http://www.seaviewserenity.com Qualicum beach B&B
Victoria's West Shore Bed / Breakfasts Victoria B&B directory for the west shore
Qualicum College Inn Romantic Hotel in Qualicum Beach (Reasonable)
Copes Islander B&B B&B in Comox, Northern Vancouver Island
This Old House Bed & Breakfast Pt. Hardy B&B close to Coastal Ferry up north coast
Tofino, BC Info on West Coast of Vancouver Island, Pacific Rim Park
Midlde Beach Lodge Cliffside cabins in Tofino (nice place)
Wickaninish Inn Best Known Tofino Lodge, but pricey
Forestry Campgrounds-Vancouver Island Guide to Free forestry campgrounds
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort Fishing Resort, West Coast Vancouver Island
Ch-ahayis Tofino Resort, West Coast
Tours of Vancouver Island Vancouver Island Tours
Whale Watching Link to my Whale Watching Section

If you are thinking of hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, you now have to make a reservation to do it. It is booked up about a year in advance. They had to do this because it was getting too crowded and environmental damage was occurring. I have had negative reports about a B&B called Schofield house, in Victoria. I have reprinted one visitors comments on this establishment at B&B's .