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
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.
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 .