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Don’t try to tell Janet McGarry that getting swept in Canada’s beautiful Vancouver Island isn’t amazing, you’re wasting your breath.
Facing Vancouver and separating it from the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver Island is the size of small country. It’s bounded to the east and south by a network of smaller islands with exotic names set to entice you –the Gulf Islands, and the San Juans (US territory). Some are small and uninhabited, dotted with fir trees; but many are home to artists and alternative lifestylers, offering laidback living within easy reach of the big smoke.
450 kilometres long by 100 kilometres wide, it is very easy to misjudge Vancouver Island. Give it one or two days and think you’ll have it made. Think again. This is a place that deserves at least five days to a week, and is somewhere you could easily spend much longer traveling, living and working in.
Most people get no further than the ferry trip and a brief tour of Victoria, the provincial capital in the southern tip of the island. The more adventurous, who have done their research, venture to the west coast and the trendy surfing town of Tofino. But there is more - you can ferry hop through the Gulf Islands, discover the sparkling harbour city of Nanaimo, ski Mt Washington and venture north to frontier land where national parks, small towns and wild beauty await.
Victoria is the most touristy part of the island. The main harbour is dominated by the grand Empress Hoteland the Parliament Buildings. Nearby streets are full of souvenir shops, and the harbour bustles with numerous whale watching boats. It’s all a bit too civilised for my tastes.
Nanaimo, a port town on the east coast coast of Canada, is a city in the midst of change. Formally known for mining, the city centre is bustling with life – new Café and shops, a picturesque marina and foreshore. It’s good for a range of adventure activities including great scuba diving. Or just chill at Canada’s only floating pub, the Dinghy Dock
You descend to the west coast via a winding route that passes lakes and mountains. Thickly forested, this is the entry point for Pacific Rim National Park and Tofino. A narrow strip of protected land, the national park is a mix of remnant forest, natural habitat for enticing locals – think bears and wild rugged beaches.
Tofino is at the end of the highway, located on a little peninsula jutting out into Clayoquot Sound. It’s a land of temperate rainforests, fed by moist Pacific winds, and deep fjord inlets. A trendy tourist town, this is the place to go in summer for locals, yuppies and surfers alike and it wears its green credentials on its sleeve. Whatever else you do, here you want to get out on the water. Sea kayaking to nearby islands is one option but I opted for a zodiac trip to hot springs and whale watching.
After a recuperative soak in the springs, expectations were high as we headed across the Sound: we all wanted to see a whale and we weren’t disappointed as a humpback breached in front of us. For an hour we lingered, slowly following the whale as he meandered back and forth across the bay, frequently breaching as he scooped up his dinner. It was quiet on board; there were no need for words in front of such majesty.
I hit the road on a cool misty morning and was lucky enough to spot a smallish black bear out for an early wander. He was happily ambling through the grass, unaware of his transfixed onlooker.