Planning a road trip to Vancouver Island? I spent a week travelling around a portion of Vancouver Island, British Columbia from Vancouver to Victoria, Tofino, Ucluelet, back through to Courtenay and on the ferry from Nanaimo to the main land.
*This is by no means an extensive list of all that there is to do on Vancouver Island but are instead the highlights of my personal time spent on the southern and central portion of Vancouver Island
1.Victoria, British Columbia: Harbour + Whale Watching
Prepare to be blown away! Victoria is British Columbia’s capitol city and wow, does it ever impress. Beautiful neighbourhoods, friendly people, plenty of sunshine and lush vegetation all around not to mention the beautiful ocean just minutes away from downtown. A major highlight to my 2 days spent in Victoria included the bustling Fishermans Wharf; a unique part of Victoria that offers various styles of food, souvenier shopping, water taxis to and from various islands, homes of those living on the wharf as well as whale watching companies all afloat in one charming little pier.
I took it upon myself to seek out a whale watching company well in advance of my trip and decided upon Eagle Wing Tours based upon the hundreds of 5 star reviews and guaranteed whale sightings! I booked online, chose my time (9:00 AM) and set sail in search of whales, sea lions and whatever else they could find for us!
We had been lucky enough to find two separate pods of Killer Whales, a group of Sea Lions as well as several Bald Eagles along our 4 hour excursion! For someone who does not get to see much of the ocean it is extremely surreal to see these beautiful creatures up close in person.
2. Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park & MacMillan Provincial Park
These little parks are on highway 4 – the highway that connects Tofino and Ucluelet to the rest of the island (A beautiful, yet terrifying highway! You will fully understand what I mean if/once you have driven it) These provincial parks feature the lush, beautiful rainforests of Vancouver Island and are worth stopping for.
Little Qualicum Falls offers camping sites as well as scenic walking trails to the upper and lower falls. These trails are kid friendly and offer a variety of different paths that wind through the beautiful rainforest to see these astounding waterfalls!
MacMillan Provincial Park (Also known as Cathedral Grove) is home to some of the largest and oldest Douglas Fir trees on the island. The parking is fairly limited and is directly off the side of highway 4. There are two walking trails on either side of the highway that are worth venturing through, they are kid friendly, flat trails that weave through a thick rainforest, very cool!
3. Tofino, British Columbia
Tofino has such a fun, beachy feeling to the entire city that it is hard to not want to immediately grab a surf board and pretend like you know what your doing! All jokes aside, Tofino is home to many wonderful, expansive ocean beaches as well as lush hiking trails, there is no shortage of things to do in this beautiful town.
You can stay at luxury beach front properties or you can camp, there are five star steakhouses or hidden gem cafes, surf shops or souvenir stores, whale watching or sightseeing. There is something for everyone in this little piece of British Columbia paradise.
Pacific Rim Provincial Park has some of the most remarkable beaches I have ever stepped foot on, it is worth travelling to the various beaches to see surfers, enjoy the sights and sounds of the ocean and to choose a favourite!
A few of the must see beaches in Tofino include Tonquin Beach (a locals favourite) Long Beach, Chesterman Beach and Wickannish Beach. My advice is to get there early and enjoy the beach (mostly) to yourself for some of the morning. I spent a couple hours in the very early morning walking along Long Beach with a cup of tea and had a wonderful time.
If you are of the adventurous type and don’t have access to ocean waves whatsoever like myself, try some surfing lessons! I found a wonderful company called Surf Sisters that offers women’s only lessons in a comfortable, encouraging environment and enjoyed every moment of it with likeminded women. If you are thinking on just trying it and checking it off the bucket list that you surfed the cold ocean, this is your opportunity!
If you enjoy hiking trails, there is no shortage through the Tofino area. I did not do any extensive hiking as I was only in the area for two nights but was able to hike through Schooner Cove, Rainforest Trail and South Beach trail, both trails are very well maintained and offer different views of Tofino.
Hungry? Go to Tacofino! It is a bright orange food truck in surfers junction just before Tofino that you can’t miss! It is a popular hot spot for locals and once you eat here, you will understand why! Not only is Tacofino affordable but has some of the best fresh tacos I think I have ever eaten, a win-win in my books.
4. Ucluelet, British Columbia
Ucluelet is a small cozy town just fourty minutes south of Tofino! If you made it across highway 4 it is well worth exploring both Tofino and Ucluelet as both have a very different feel. Ucluelet feels very cozy, secluded and quiet as opposed to busy, bustling Tofino. There are many walking paths including the Wild Pacific Trail – a path through the rainforest and the rocky shores of a lighthouse called Amphitrite Point. Do as little of the trail or as much as you would like, there is something to see along every point of the pathway.
If you are wanting to spend some time up close and personal with local marine life, head to the Ucluelet Aquarium, although it is small, it is quite charming. The staff are eager to teach you about the local marine life and are all very knowledgeable about each and every creature in their care.
Not only is the marine life directly from the ocean surrounding this aquarium but the fish and marine life (such as octopus!) are rehabilitated at the aquarium and released back into the wild, meaning that the sea life you see in the aquarium is always changing, and what you see when you visit will likely not be there again the next time you visit. Very cool!
That wraps up my top 4 suggestions for Southern and Central Vancouver Island on a time crunch. There are many, many more things to see and do on Vancouver Island but from what I had experienced during my time on the island these were the highlights of my entire trip.
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