Things to see and do on Vancouver Island and surrounding islands

Exploring coast-to-coast treasures, like B.C.’s Indigenous cultures and exquisite wildlife

Getting immersed in nature on coastal and wooded trails takes no effort, especially with expert guides like BCA Tours — Photo courtesy of Destination BC/Sean Scott

From coast to coast, Vancouver Island’s ruggedness shines. As you weave your way around the island, Wi-Fi is spotty (if even found), forcing you to disconnect and fully tune into soothing swaths of green stretching as far as the eye can see. Roadside bear spottings become a regular treat, and you quickly give up your eagle tally when yet another white-headed beauty swoops across the sky.

Time moves differently out here; breathing space seems to have no limit. Some sort of magic dances in the morning mist, the afternoon sunlight, the twilight of a day’s final act. So that you, too, can (mindfully and respectfully) adventure across this sacred land, we’ve come up with ways to get off the grid and connect deeply with the wildlife and people who first called this place home.

How to get to Vancouver Island and where to stay

Along Vancouver Island, resident whales are split into two communities: Northern and Southern residentsAlong Vancouver Island, resident whales are split into two communities: Northern and Southern residents — Photo courtesy of Destination BC/Garry Henkel

There are countless ways to get to Vancouver Island: plane, high-speed Clipper from downtown Seattle, the Coho ferry from Port Angeles, Washington, or the ferry that travels between Vancouver to Nanaimo. About 70 miles north of Nanaimo, on the eastern shore of the island, you’ll find the inviting Kingfisher Oceanside Resort and Spa – a wonderful place to get grounded and refreshed before moving on to more rustic adventures.

Kingfisher proves the perfect home base from which to explore the picturesque Comox Valley, including the city of Courtenay, town of Comox and village of Cumberland. Hit the wooded trails with Island Mountain Rides (who cater to all levels of bikers), before soaking up the local scene in the charming biergarten of Cumberland Brewing Co.

Once back at the resort, savor hypnotic seaside views, on-site yoga classes, unique hydropath experiences offered at the Pacific Mist Spa and the exquisite food served at Ocean7 Restaurant. To sample local seafood bounty, order a communal seafood tower stacked high with Dungeness crab, oysters, prawns, clams, mussels and scallop crudo.

Things to see and do on Vancouver Island

Kingfisher offers a Pacific Mist Hydropath experience that includes detoxifying and relaxing massage pools, waterfalls and a river walk to soak inKingfisher offers a Pacific Mist Hydropath experience that includes detoxifying and relaxing massage pools, waterfalls and a river walk to soak in — Photo courtesy of Kingfisher Oceanside Resort and Spa

To connect with the past and present of this region’s Indigenous community, allow the wonderful guides of Campbell River-based Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours (often partnering with Big Animal Encounters) to take you to Bute Inlet and through the vibrant Salish Sea.

On tours that rotate seasonally, cruise through turquoise waters to catch surreal glimpses of creatures ranging from humpback whales and orcas to lounging sea lions, playful porpoises and dolphins, dozens of bald eagles and other seabirds, among other native animals.

Depending on the time of year, you may be fortunate enough to see black bears snacking on mussels at low tide or (through late October) massive grizzlies feasting on salmon embarking on their annual run.

In any month, learn firsthand about the Xwe’malhkwu (Homalco) First Nation way of life that’s deeply rooted in language, passed-down storytelling and an inextricable connection to this revered land and its residents. Perhaps you’ll feel inspired to take notes from these wise stewards of the land, who are doing their very best “to make sure what’s here isn’t lost over time.”

During the summer season (with trips beginning to fill the winter before), consider booking a week-long adventure with BCA Tours along the wildly exquisite West Coast Trail. While backpacking this challenging yet rewarding ancient path — with a rich history of First Nations trade and travel — unplug completely to connect with the stillness and rugged beauty of the Pacific Rim National Park.

Things to see and do on Quadra Island

Homalco Wildlife and Cultural Tours offer fascinating, immersive tours that are enhanced by an Indigenous perspectiveHomalco Wildlife and Cultural Tours offer fascinating, immersive tours that are enhanced by an Indigenous perspective — Photo courtesy of Homalco Wildlife Tours

Keep your connection to the natural environment with an overnight (or several) on zen-filled Quadra Island – a hub for outdoors adventurers (hikers, climbers, kayakers) that connects boaters to the Discovery Islands and Desolation Sound. Explore the artificial reef HMCS Columbia, praised by the Cousteau Society, or ogle intricate native artistry on display at the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre in Cape Mudge Village.

Find ultimate serenity at the family-owned Taku Resort and Marina, located on the eastern shore of Quadra Island. The entire staff treats the resort like it’s their home; this can be felt throughout the waterfront property that’s marked by artful additions: a majestic totem pole and a moon gate that adorns the tennis court.

Accommodations here range from beachfront suites and cozy A-frame cabins to sites prime for tent and RV camping. Each option gives access to one of the most brilliant night skies you’ll likely ever witness, as well as the bioluminescent phytoplankton that twinkle in the waters below.

On the west coast of the island, Nootka Marine Adventures operates three fishing resortsOn the west coast of the island, Nootka Marine Adventures operates three fishing resorts — Photo courtesy of Nootka Marine Adventures

About 80 miles west, down some rugged roads and clear on the other side of the island, you’ll find Moutcha Bay Resort. Settle into an absolutely dreamy luxury yurt, as you sit on your private patio to take in the views and silence of the sheltered waters of Nootka Sound.

The women-led business of Nootka Marine Adventures (NMA, which operates three fishing resorts) prioritizes catering to its guests, while also educating them on how to protect the environment, during fishing and kayaking tours, for example. NMA is already well-known as a thriving fishing company; now the staff members want to provide context as to why this is a place to cherish and protect.

This team attempts to practice what it preaches by using a diesel-run generator, eliminating plastic bags and single-use water bottles (instead, guests are gifted with refillable bottles and coolers) and implementing an extensive compost and recycling program. General manager Adele Larkin says, “With everything we do here, we are trying to make sure that our impact is relatively small in the grand scheme of things.”

A 20-minute boat ride away, sister property Nootka Sound Resort offers yet an even more remote experience at its charming floating lodge, located along the tranquil waters of Galiano Bay. The dock bustles around 5 a.m. when fishermen and women push off for day-long guided adventures; those who stick around make use of the resort’s pedal boats, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. In the evening, everyone swaps tales of their day over happy hour beverages and a four-course, locally-sourced dinner.

Visit the place where British Columbia was born

Visit to learn about the The Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth and Kwakwakaw'akw people who have long called this region homeVisit to learn about the The Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth and Kwakwakaw’akw people who have long called this region home — Photo courtesy of Indigenous Tourism Association of BC

For an ultimate link to this land and its original people, make your way (via float plane or boats like the MV Uchuck III) to Yuquot, the Nuu-chah-nulth word for “winds coming from all directions.” In 1778, Captain Cook was the first European to discover this mystical place with his crew; he renamed the site Friendly Cove. However, in recent years, the Nootka people have reclaimed the name Yuquot as they work to recover their culture, too.

The original stewards of the land claim to see things changing; they feel more acceptance. They are ready to welcome visitors to the spot where B.C. was born – and to finally share their side of the story, since so much of history is still told through a European lens. As one elder expressed, “It means a lot to us for the world to know. We want people to be welcome.”

Visitors can currently enjoy day trips here or rent one of six basic cabins for an overnight; it is advisable to bring a small gift for the elders as a sign of respect. If open, you can visit the workshop of Master Carver Sanford Williams. The talented artist stays aligned with a bygone era by creating stunning hand-carved works the traditional way and by using hand-picked materials from the beaches of Yuquot.

As you stroll the misty beach alongside a First Nations elder – who’s so attuned to the environment he smells a whale somewhere far off the coast – you will feel humbled by this man’s innate wisdom and the privilege to walk on the soil his ancestors have always called home.

Upon his insistence, you mindfully select a few smooth rocks to place in your pocket. “There’s something special here,” he says in a slow, methodical cadence. “You’re going to feel something important in your brain, in your heart, when you leave.”

Indeed, he is right. Thank you, Vancouver Island, for continually sharing your magnificence – and for gently forcing us to gain perspective and give thanks.

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