Island hopping on Canada’s west coast
Photo Credit: Nikao Media
by Agnes Chung
Island hopping is one of the best ways to experience the West Coast this spring break. From exploring the outdoors, charming towns, heritage sites, vibrant art, cultural and food scenes to wildlife viewing, here are some staycation ideas.
CNN Travel ranked Vancouver Island one of the top 20 places to visit in 2020. The 500-kilometre Coastal Circle itinerary developed by Destination BC runs along the eastern coast from Victoria to Port Hardy. The five to seven days trip covers eight destinations: Victoria, Duncan, Nanaimo, Parksville, Comox Valley, Campbell River, Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy.
Starting from Delta’s Tsawwassen terminal, the scenic 90-minute BC Ferries ride across the Strait of Georgia meanders through the Southern Gulf Islands to Victoria’s Swartz Bay.
Victoria, BC’s capital, is a pretty city characterized by English charm, attractive waterfront, rich history and fascinating museums. Explore attractions including Butchart Gardens, the Inner Harbour and the Parliament Buildings. Experience high tea at the iconic Empress Hotel, and the world-class Royal BC Museum. Visit Chinatown – home to Canada’s oldest Chinatown.
Vancouver to Victoria on a budget
A two-way adult trip on public transit and ferry costs under $50.00. Take the skytrain to Bridgeport station, hop on Bus No. 620 to Tsawwassen ferry terminal and travel as a foot passenger. BC seniors can travel free on the ferry Monday to Thursday, excluding statutory holidays.
At the Swartz Bay bus stop, purchase a $5 Victoria BC Transit DayPass on the bus. Up to four children (12 years and under) can travel free with a parent or guardian holding a valid DayPass. The day trip is great for a short cruise and tour of Victoria.
Greater Victoria public library card holders can obtain free passes to seven attractions. The passes waitlist is long. Holders can bypass the list with an e-pass for two attractions: Craigdarroch Castle and Butterfly Gardens.
Duncan offers indigenous cultural experience and wonderful local cuisine. Try the decadent Canadian Nanaimo Bar in Nanaimo. From Parksville, you can take the express or scenic beach route to Comox Valley. The scenic route passes through little towns like Qualicum Beach, Fanny Bay and Buckley Bay.
The communities of Courteney, Comox and Cumberland have a vibrant art, cultural and food scene. Mountain biking is popular in the Comox Valley, which is one of the main access points to Strathcona Provincial Park – BC’s oldest provincial park.
Campbell River’s Discovery Fishing Pier located adjacent to the interesting Maritime Heritage Centre provides a spectacular view of Discovery Passage. At Dick’s Fish & Chips, the fish is so fresh and moist, it just melts in your mouth.
Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island are popular for nature and cultural activities including whale watching, fishing, wilderness adventure and indigenous cultural experiences.
The west coast of Vancouver Island rewards you with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean from Tofino, Ucluelet to Pachena Beach and the treasured Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
The Southern Gulf Islands of Galiano, Mayne, Pender, Salt Spring and Saturna are ideal getaways for outdoor adventure, farm and market experiences, food and drink, arts and culture as well as wellness retreats. The web link to detailed self-guided island hopping tours is available under links at the end of the article.
Howe Sound Islands
Anvil, Bowen, Gambier and Keats islands are idyllic for relaxation and outdoor activities. They form the Sunshine Coast region, except Bowen Island. Daybreak Point Bible Camp at Anvil Island provides inexpensive rental for families and groups. Keats Island is popular with church retreats and children’s camps.
BC Ferries offers vacation packages including ferry passage and accommodation to many destinations on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, Sunshine Coast and other places along the Canadian West Coast.
Fraser River Islands
Closer to Metro Vancouver, islands such as Barnston, Lulu, Sea, Deas and Westham are ideal for day trips. Except for Barnston, all islands are accessible by car, transit or bike.
Lesser-known Barnston Island offers a scenic 10-kilometres biking and walking trail through the forest, Katzie First Nation reserve and open fields. The ferry ride to the island is free.
Steveston on Lulu Island provides a quaint, historic fishing village experience. Take a self-guided walking tour of Vancouver International Airport on Sea Island. Larry Berg Flight Path Park on Russ Baker Way is perfect for plane watching and catching the evening sunset. Deas Island is a great spot for biking, picnics, quiet strolls or paddling along the slough.
Picturesque Westham Island near Ladner is a farming community and sanctuary for migratory birds. Attractions include Emma Lea Farms, George C. Reifel Refuge and Alaksen National Wildlife Area and Westham Island Bridge.
Travel the 109-year old swing bridge, walk the dike and capture the beauty of the Coastal Mountains, Gulf Islands, and sunset over the Strait of Georgia.
Get free advice from travel experts at the Outdoor Adventure and Travel Show at the Vancouver Convention Centre, East Wing this February 29 to March 1.