As a first time visitor to Canada, and choosing Vancouver as the starting point our challenge was to plan a trip that tried to include a range of experiences within a short space of time. With the generous help of trip adviser members our plan evolved. The following may hopefully guide others to have the amazing trip we experienced.
It was easy to get into Vancouver from the airport using the “Skytrain” and the transit system of buses is efficient and cheap to use. After an overnight stay in a hotel on Burrard we had arranged to go to Whistler using “Pacific Coach lines” who took us up the stunning coastline into the ski resort. As it was June skiing had given way to hiking and biking pursuits and Whistler seems to be a great for city dwellers at the weekend as well as long distance tourists. Our hotel provided free bikes which we used to explore the many pretty lakeside trails in the valley. Whistler is a buzzing town, with the muddy bike trails next to the lifts at the back of town and a decent range of eating and drinking places. The “Whistler Village” gondola ride also included access to the spectacular “Peak 2 Peak” gondola- a not to be missed experience. On top it was good to be able to hike up “Pikes Traverse”, a gravel track with 2 metre high snow walls in places and superb views over the valleys below.
Our return journey to the coast at Horseshoe Bay was with Greyhound, once again an efficient service significantly cheaper than PCL and the bonus of being dropped off at the bay on the way to Vancouver made it easier to catch the midday BC ferry to Nanaimo . Worth asking if they’ll do that if you do this journey as the service normally goes down town first necessitating another bus ride.
For many I guess Nanaimo is a pass through place on the way to other island destinations. We decided to overnight there and were told there was a harbourside walk worth doing. This we found to be so relaxing as it is a place you see wonderful views along the way- a peninsula at sunset, the marina and all with the backdrop of a park and interesting shops to browse. We were fortunate to meet a local who was keen to tell us of places to eat and since it was a Sunday afternoon why not go to the “ Queens Hotel” where we found some great blues band were playing with the bonus of some super Chinese food. Apparently some tourists use Nanaimo as a base for touring the island but in fact travelling time to the west coast doesn’t really make that too viable.
After a little exploration of the old quarter in Nanaimo, we rented a car for the week and set off up the coast to Parksville, a well to do town with the attraction of having beaches that go on forever and a chance as we found to spot some bald eagles at “Rathtrevor Beach”. It is worth considering staying somewhere with sea views- there are many along the Island highway on the approach into Parksville. Combined with visits to the local community park ,“Qualicum Beach” further up the coast and Coombs and the “Goats on the roof” complex, the area has much to recommend it.
It is worth calling off at “ Little Qualicum Falls” and Cathedral Grove to see the impressive trees if as we did you make the west coast journey. Along the way we passed through Port Alberni a pretty and popular town to break your journey and a chance to go fishing as well.
After a two hour drive through winding mountain roads you reach Ucluelet. This town seems to have retained its character and is the place to start a must do hike along the “Wild Pacific trail”. Much has been written about the coastline here not least about the many shipwrecks. We really felt the power of the ocean as you wander along trails through forests and suddenly encounter unforgettable views of rocks and sea. Between Ucluelet and Tofino where we stayed is a half hour drive up the Pacific Rim Highway with many stopping off places to visit beaches. “Long Beach” is an awesome sight as you try to take in its panorama. A trek we did on boardwalks through a rain forest to “Schooners Cove” was memorable. It was raining heavily and that seemed to add to the atmosphere and enjoyment. The Visitor centre at Wickanninnish explains the history of the region and is definitely a place I would recommend to visit. At Tofino a stay at a beachside location is worth thinking about as that walk down to the sand at any time of day or evening is good for the soul and so relaxing, especially after a days drive. The town itself is quite small with a few places to eat and buy food as well as take a trip over to one of the nearby islands or go whale watching.
When planning a trip you know that sometime you just have to have a travelling day and in getting from Tofino to Victoria you have to set aside 4 hours. On arriving in Victoria we were met with crowds of visitors enjoying the walk along the harbour with its backdrop of the magnificent Empress hotel. Victoria has a lot to offer its visitors and you can understand why so many retire there. Everyone seems drawn to the inner harbour stopping to listen to musicians and entertainers, browse at artisan stalls or watch the tiny water taxis criss- crossing the water. The citys shopping streets are smart and worthy of a walk round. Fisherman’s Wharf is a fascinating area seeming to absorb visitors and residents alike the latter openly welcoming tours around their floating homes. Whale watching is easy to do as eight companies offer virtually the same tour out to sea. Regulations dictate the boats have to be 100 metres away from any pods spotted so a zoom lens is recommended for more memorable photos. What is definitely easier to photograph are the many sights you will see at the Butchart gardens, a twenty minute drive or tour from Victoria. Nothing quite prepares you for the spectacularly manicured and tended gardens and it’s tempting to linger as long as possible here.
Our return to Vancouver gave us three days to explore. One of the highlights for us was Stanley Park, a massive area of greenland which must be the envy of many cities around the world. When we visited it had just been voted best parkland in the world. This seemed well justified offering as it does a huge range of walks, viewpoints and activities. If you are visiting Vancouver island however, you will see forests and trails and gardens that demand more time so less time here could be spent to allow other places to see. The Capilano suspension bridge is a good half day outing. It’s a well put together attraction and you have the chance if you hike up the road to explore the Capilano Regional Park. Close by is Edgemont, a chance to sample the atmosphere of a local town. Include all those places and you have a full day out.
Finally for us a short bus ride out of town took us to Granville island. Within a fishing wharf and marina a collection of shops and indoor market have been developed. It’s a vibrant and popular place to browse around and as we found can be combined with a walk around the harbour to the space museum.
In conclusion Vancouver gave us a short introduction into the many aspects of life in this part of British Columbia. We did see snow, wandered along many memorable beaches and seashores and had lovely sunshine as well. For being at one with nature the west coast of Vancouver Island is a soulful experience and one we will long remember. What we’ll also take back is the time people gave us. Whether it was the man walking his dog along Nanaimo harbour telling us with enthusiasm about the otters, the bus drivers who were always cheerful and helpful or the many who stopped to help us out with directions on Vancouver’s streets we can appreciate why so many see Vancouver as the must visit destination.