As summer winds down to its inevitable conclusion, the time is also ticking down on the blessed rain-free season that the west coast of Canada enjoys before the lengthy wet season closes in for the British Columbian winter. There are many excellent places to tour in a rental car in Canada’s westernmost province, but one of the best places to explore at your leisure is Vancouver Island.
Possessing a Mediterranean climate that largely wards off freezing temperatures throughout the winter, it is home to an impressive range of flora considering its high latitude (between 49 and 50 degrees north), artist communities inspired by the island’s outstanding natural surroundings, and a sense of solitude that many desperately need in today’s increasingly urban human society.
While there are many routes you can explore on this rather large isle, the following itinerary can be pursued by following well-maintained and well-traveled routes and it hits many major attractions, ensuring your personal safety while putting you in contact with a large number of worthwhile sights during the time you have in this special corner of Canada.
Victoria and vicinity
Start off your action packed road trip on Vancouver Island by starting it in Victoria. Home to the world famous Butchart Gardens, head up the Sannich Peninsula to one of the most prolific outdoor floral displays in all of Canada … don’t miss the Sunken Garden, the centrepiece exhibit where a carpet of flowers, plants and shrubs were planted in the heart of a former rock quarry.
Afterward, indulge in high tea in the afternoon in the confines of the luxurious Empress Hotel, one of the elements that makes Victoria of the most British places in North America.
Nanaimo: desserts and not so deserted islands
After taking a brief drive northward over the sublimely scenic Malahat Summit, arrive in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island’s second largest community. This small city is known primarily for its contribution to Canada’s culinary in the form of a no-bake dessert known as the Nanaimo Bar. This addictive treat is available in well over a dozen different varieties, and you can sample them all following the Nanaimo Bar Trail (map available from Tourism Nanaimo).
All that gluttony will have you looking to burn all the excess calories that you consumed. Taking a hike on Newcastle Island’s multiple scenic trails is the ideal way to do this, as they have smashing views of the Coast Mountains across the Georgia Strait, and many shoreline delights can be discovered and admired as well!
The tall trees of Cathedral Grove and the serious surf of Tofino
The final leg of this Vancouver Island road trip will have you cutting across the width of Vancouver Island at its midpoint, with the surf town of Tofino being your ultimate destination. Halfway to there, just before the lumber town of Port Alberni is Cathedral Grove, home to some of Canada’s biggest and tallest trees. Monster-sized Douglas Fir, Hemlock and Cedars will wow the spiritual and impress even the most cynical traveler … such is the effect of the smell of damp earth, colossal forests, and the soaring peaks that rise within sight of this park.
After spending an hour or so here and having a lunch stop in Port Alberni, push on to the Pacific coast towns of Ucluelet and Tofino. Sandwiched in between them is the relatively new Pacific Rim National Park, where it is easy to get transfixed by the consistent pounding surf, the rocky shelves upon which they pound, and the seemingly endless smooth packed sand beaches.
Pick a hotel on the water like the Wickaninnish Inn, where even during some summers (and more likely the deeper you get into the fall), there is still the occasional storm that will turn you on to the magic of this special town on the western edge of Canada’s territory.