Whether your interests lead you to the urban delights of fine shopping and dining, the laid-back lifestyle of a beach-side resort or wild West Coast adventures, a picture-perfect experience awaits on the Central Island.
The Island’s second largest city, “The Harbour City” is renowned for its outdoor activities, excellent shopping, dining and a captivating arts and cultural scene. And with its mild Pacific climate and an interesting history as a coal mining centre, captured in its heritage destinations, Nanaimo is an excellent year-round vacation destination.
BC’s third oldest city, historically Nanaimo was the homeland of the Coast Salish, who called themselves “Snuneymuxw,” which roughly translates as “gathering place.” Later, European settlers pronounced the name “Nanaimo.” When the Hudson’s Bay Company discovered rich coal deposits in the mid-1800s, the city of Nanaimo was born. Delve into its past at the more than 150-year-old Bastion and at the Nanaimo Museum, where highlights include First Nations displays, a replica coal mine and bathtub race exhibit plus cannon firing ceremonies downtown at noon from the May long-weekend through Labour Day.
With more artists per capita than most other regions in Canada, explore Nanaimo’s arts and culture in the galleries and arts studios, on stage at the Port Theatre and at the city’s music venues, and take in its excellent shopping districts, including the Old City Quarter, arts district, waterfront shops and a variety of north-end shopping centres.
Foodies will love the local delights at the local farms and farmers’ markets, sipping and sampling at Millstone Estate Winery, or satisfying their sweet tooth on the Nanaimo Bar Trail – visit tourismnanaimo.com for all the tasty details!
Crave the great outdoors? The Harbour City boasts more than 200 parks and trails perfect for walking, swimming, cycling, bird-watching and boating, plus some of the best mountain biking in BC. Hikers will enjoy Neck Point, Biggs Park, Westwood Lake Park and Newcastle Island Provincial Marine Park. Paddlers can launch from both fresh and saltwater locations and boaters will be impressed by the top-notch marina facilities. Don’t miss the opportunity to kayak or boat to Canada’s only floating pub and enjoy the view back to the city. Regularly scheduled harbour cruises and foot-passenger ferry service to Newcastle Island are available through the spring and summer seasons. A short BC Ferries trip across to Gabriola Island makes for another enjoyable daytrip.
Whether family mini-golf or Canadian Tour professional facilities are more to your liking, there’s a dizzying selection of 20 courses within an hour’s drive of the city. Diving is yet another specialty, thanks to clear waters, abundant marine life and intriguing dive sites. In fact, Nanaimo’s wrecks and reefs include three sunken ships that make Nanaimo’s one of the largest upright artificial reefs in the world. Continue the water adventure and book a tour to snorkel with the harbour seals and interact face to face with our flippered friends.
For more ideas, visit the Nanaimo Visitor Centre, 2450 Northfield Rd. (the Northfield Road exit from Highway 19) or the Port of Nanaimo Centre, 101 Gordon St, call 250-751-1556 or visit www.tourismnanaimo.com
Parksville Qualicum Beach
From a relaxing couple’s escape to sunny summer weeks with the whole family, you’ll love Canada’s beach playground in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region, offering something for all.
Stretching along Highway 19A and comprising the diverse communities of Parksville, Qualicum Beach, French Creek, Nanoose Bay, Arrowsmith Coombs Country and Lighthouse Country, Parksville Qualicum Beach boasts miles of sandy beaches, spectacular mountain and ocean views, lush parks and numerous attractions. It’s little surprise this vacation playground is home to more than 140 annual events, fine dining, quaint shops, marinas, first-class accommodations and of course, great golf! A variety of beach-front accommodations is also available.
With one of Canada’s highest concentrations of artists, gallery and studio browsing is a favourite pastime, while for outdoor enthusiasts, activities include fishing, diving, kayaking, mountain biking, boating, caving, horseback riding and windsurfing. Bird-watching is also big in Parksville Qualicum Beach, where more than 250 bird species live year-round or visit during spring migration.
Parksville, with a population of more than 11,000, is the region’s largest community. With Canada’s mildest year-round climate, incredible beaches, some of the country’s top spa destinations, golf courses and beautiful parks have established the beachfront resort town as an ideal spot for romantic getaways and family vacations. Nearby, Englishman River Falls Provincial Park draws hikers, anglers and picnickers, while Top Bridge Regional Park is a haven for mountain bikers.
About 10 minutes north of Parksville is the charming town of Qualicum Beach, a pedestrian-friendly gardener’s paradise that’s home to the beautiful Milner Gardens, plus more than 50 quaint boutiques, galleries, antique stores, cozy cafés and stunning panoramic views of the Strait of Georgia. Be sure to take in a summer sunset with the accompanying breathtaking vistas, and visit the fascinating palaeontology displays and other exhibits at the Qualicum Beach Museum.
Arrowsmith Coombs Country offers even more sightseeing and activity options. The Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve is a unique micro-climate and ecosystem that has received UNESCO designation. Not-to-miss attractions include the Orchid Garden with more than 800 living orchids for your enjoyment at Butterfly World and Gardens, the World Parrot Refuge, North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, Tiger Lily Farms, Little Qualicum Cheeseworks & MooBerry Winery (complete with farm tours) and the Old Country Market where you can watch the antics of the goats grazing on the market’s grass roof before you explore the eclectic market and neighbouring shops.
Pick up a picnic lunch and stroll the pretty paths of Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. Just beyond don’t miss the majestic Cathedral Grove with centuries-old trees, and the peaceful splendour of Cameron Lake.
Just north, Lighthouse Country is a picturesque coastal area with marinas, restaurants, art studios, shops, the most amazing scallops from Qualicum Bay Scallops and caving at Horne Lake Caves. Also check out the Deep Bay Field Station Centre for Shellfish Research, sitting like a giant open clam on the shores of Deep Bay.
Call the Qualicum Beach Visitor Centre at 250-752-9532 or stop by at 2711 West Island Hwy. Call the Parksville Visitor Centre at 250-248-3613 or visit 3km south of Parksville at 1275 East Island Hwy.
West of Parksville off Highway 4, Port Alberni is a world-renowned sport fishing destination teeming with both natural and historical attractions.
Crowned the Ultimate Fishing Town by the World Fishing Network in 2010, Port Alberni is located at the tip of a long saltwater channel called the Alberni Inlet and is the heart of Vancouver Island’s awe-inspiring Pacific Rim region. Fishing charters operate year-round and saltwater rewards include halibut, cod and salmon. For freshwater anglers, productive streams abound with cutthroat, rainbow and steelhead trout.
Other activities include everything from helicopter and floatplane tours, diving and golfing to kayaking, wildlife viewing and wind surfing.
While outdoor opportunities abound here, a highlight of a Valley visit is its excellent network of heritage attractions. At the Alberni Valley Museum, discover fascinating exhibits on pioneer history, folk art and First Nations culture, while at the Rollins Arts Centre and Gardens, works by local artists and summertime tea on the terrace are featured. Alberni Harbour Quay is a colourful collection of waterfront shops, galleries and eateries where you’ll also find the Maritime Discovery Centre, the clock tower, with its panoramic views of the Alberni Inlet, and the boarding area for the MV Frances Barkley, a passenger and freight vessel offering scenic journeys to Bamfield and Ucluelet.
Other historic highlights of the summer season include 35-minute scenic Steam Train excursion from the Port Alberni Railway Station near the harbour to the McLean Mill National Historic Site. At the McLean Mill, enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of an operating steam sawmill or steam donkey, explore original camp buildings and tap your toes to the Tin Pants Theatre.
Near Port Alberni, Sproat Lake Provincial Park draws recreation enthusiasts and anglers. It’s also home base for the Martin Mars Flying Tankers, the world’s largest water-bomber aircraft used for fighting forest fires. Other nearby spots to visit include the Robertson Creek Fish Hatchery, the J.V. Cline Bird Sanctuary, and Paper Mill Dam and Rogers Creek parks.
For information on Port Alberni, call 250-724-6535. The Visitor Centre is located at 2533 Port Alberni Hwy.
Immerse yourself in the rugged beauty of the West Coast with a visit to the tiny outpost of Bamfield. With a permanent population of about 500, Bamfield attracts thousands of visitors – for some it’s the beginning or end of their six-day West Coast Trail trek, while for others it’s the perfect jumping off point for ocean adventures.
A picturesque community where the main street is a waterway served by water taxi, Bamfield offers thrilling year-round fishing adventures, kayaking, scuba diving and whale watching. Check out the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, a stellar local attraction with programs and hands-on displays, and visit the galleries and studios of acclaimed local artists inspired by their surroundings. Scenic hiking spots include trails to Brady’s Beach, Cape Beale, Pachena Lighthouse, Keeha Beach and Tapaltos Beach. Need more ideas? Inquire in town for local favourites.
Although accessible by gravel-surfaced road from both the Port Alberni and Lake Cowichan areas, Bamfield is most easily reached by floatplane or the MV Frances Barkley from Port Alberni. Local resorts offer vacation packages with accommodation, meals and guided adventures, plus fish care and packaging.
Bamfield businesses are pleased to answer visitors’ questions or, during July and August, stop by the Visitor Centres, on the east side in Centennial Park or on the west side of the Bamfield Boardwalk. Or, visit www.bamfieldchamber.com
Located on the edge of spectacular Barkley Sound and bordered by ocean on three sides, the village of Ucluelet is the ideal spot for watching the ships and fishing vessels, marine wildlife and the ever-changing scenery of the open Pacific.
Offering a wealth of year-round activities, Ucluelet’s fishing guides and charters are there to get you on the water. Kayaking opportunities range from the inner harbour’s calm waters to the challenging Broken Group Islands. Trading paddles for peddles, cyclists explore the roadways and designated pathways, while hikers’ opportunities include the scenic Wild Pacific Trail.
Winter stormwatching is another popular pastime and many accommodation properties offer special packages for the visitors from around the world who come to watch Mother Nature unleash her wrath on the rocky shorelines. In early spring, the Pacific Rim’s largest summer guests return: the grey whales. Once nearly extinct, some 20,000 of these amazing mammals migrate along the Island’s west coast. Visible from Ucluelet’s shores in March and April and celebrated with the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, these whales and many other species of marine life can also be viewed on boat tours through summer and into fall.
In addition to accommodations ranging from B&Bs to the luxurious Black Rock Oceanfront Resort, Ucluelet features a good choice of restaurants, shops and galleries. Returning to the harbour, the Ucluelet Aquarium provides a fascinating look at marine eco-systems.
Call the Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce at 250-726-4641 or stop by the Visitor Centre at 100 Main St.
Just past the far end of Long Beach, overlooking Clayoquot Sound, Tofino has flourished as a tourism destination in the heart of some of the world’s most pristine wilderness. To help to protect this spectacular region for the future, Tofino was designated BC’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Outdoor activities include whale-watching, fishing, kayaking, diving and surfing, plus guided bear-watching tours. Hikers enjoy the many trails in the Long Beach area and surrounding the townsite, and the renowned Ahousat Wildside Heritage Trail, an 11km hike on Flores Island.
Tofino is a flurry of activity during the Pacific Rim Whale Festival in March and early April when some 20,000 grey whales migrate through these waters. Unique Tofino attractions include the Whale Centre Museum, with marine artifacts and whale skeletons, and Hot Springs Cove. Tofino is also Canada’s surfing capital, offering year-round opportunities to catch a wave and fine surf schools to get you started.
Despite its popularity, Tofino has maintained its peaceful, rustic ambience, with quaint shops, adventure supply stores, art galleries and cafés blending easily with world-class resorts and fine dining establishments. Accommodations range from hike-in campsites to resort hotels with luxury spas.
Call the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce at 250-725-3414. The Visitor Centre is at 1426 Pacific Rim Hwy; see www.tourismtofino.com
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Featuring Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands and the West Coast Trail, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is a nationally significant coastal environment offering visitors a variety of experiences.
The most easily accessible section is Long Beach, a 22km stretch of sandy beach and sand dunes between Ucluelet and Tofino. A popular surf spot, Long Beach also offers several hiking trails that meander through headlands and woodlands and a marine interpretive centre that explores the region’s natural history. Find day-use areas, a campground, summer family programs and access for physically challenged visitors.
Experienced kayakers delight in exploring the Broken Group Islands, a series of islands and islets in Barkley Sound that can only be reached by boat with some campsites for kayakers. Please note: these waters can be rough and only experienced kayakers should consider excursions here without guides. Find tour information from local Visitor Centres and accommodation and adventure operators.
The West Coast Trail is a 75km hiking trail between Bamfield and Port Renfrew that takes six to eight days to complete. Although walk-in spots are available each day, reservations are recommended from mid-June to mid-September.
For details on the West Coast Trail, check with local Visitor Centres, the park office or call 1-800-HELLO BC. For details on Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, call 250-726-7721 or visit www.pc.gc.ca/pacificrim
Where will you find “the most fun you can have with sand in your pants”?
Definitely the Quality Foods Canadian Open Sand Sculpting Competition, July 13 & 14 at Parksville’s spectacular Community Park beach.
Dating back to 1982, Parksville’s Sand Sculpting Competition is officially designated as a qualifying event for the World Championship of Sand Sculpting, taking place in Atlantic City, New Jersey, guaranteeing the Parksville winners in the solo and double division an automatic placement in the World Championships.
Visitors around the globe marvel at these unbelievable feats of artistry and engineering. The competition takes place over three days, with the finished sculptures remaining on display through Aug.18. Admission to the venue is by a suggested donation of $2.50 per person.