The water of the Pacific Ocean surrounds the 31,285 km2 that make up Vancouver Island, Canada. Southwest of mainland British Columbia lies this big and beautiful island, recognized as the “largest island on the Pacific coast of North America”. Vancouver Island is home to many charming towns and cities, idyllic beaches, and mountain views. I’ve had the joy of getting to experience some of the beauty and charm of Vancouver Island over the past few months. From my time exploring the island, I have developed quite a liking to various places here, some of which include Victoria, Comox Valley, Jordan River, Tofino, and Ucluelet. During my time here I’ve captured photos that speak to my perspective of the essence of these various places. I hope that when travel resumes more people will have the opportunity to explore this island and discover its hidden gems and the grandeur in its nature.
Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia, and for good reason. Here you will find cute cafes, such as Crust Bakery where I tasted the best almond croissant I’ve ever had or the house-boat village, “Fisherman’s Wharf”, which I wandered to on a rainy Saturday afternoon and discovered the bright pink and blue float homes peeking out from a swirl of grey clouds and rain, typical weather during the winter on the West Coast of Canada. The cobblestone streets in downtown Victoria remind me of my time exploring some of the cities throughout Italy. The quaint stores and hidden alleyways remind me of my time in Venice, whereas the cobblestone streets and downtown harbor remind me of my time in Sorrento. There is definitely a European influence in this city.
Along the Juan De Fuca Strait, you will find Jordan River, “a small settlement on the West Coast of Vancouver Island”. The reason that I point out this place on the island is not so much for the settlement itself, but more so for the scenery and adventure that awaits you on the outskirts of this small community. Where the River Jordan meets the ocean, you will find the Jordan Campground, a small area for campers to enjoy an evening by the ocean. On Saturday mornings, this is a gathering spot for surfers when the tide is right. Just up the road from the campground there is also a small cafe, called Cold Shoulder Cafe, where I grabbed breakfast one morning. If you take the drive further North along the highway, you will also meet the start of the Juan De Fuca Trail, a famous 47 km trail here on the island for backcountry hikers. It’s a rugged trail that follows the coastline, with one end at China Beach just beyond Jordan River and another end just past Port Renfrew at Botanical Beach. The best word to describe this part of the island is ethereal, with trees that carry the weight of thick layers of moss and waterfalls that carry water down to the ocean.
The Comox Valley is beautifully situated on the Eastside of Vancouver Island. Communities within the valley, such as Cumberland, Courtenay, and Comox, are all within a 5-to-15-minute drive to the ocean. From both Courtenay and Comox, you can look out at the Northern Sunshine Coast on mainland British Columbia and see the snow-capped peaks of the coastal mountains. The evening that I was in Comox, it was the November full moon. I had spent the afternoon exploring Cumberland and Courtenay, ending the day off with a short sunset walk down by the ocean to view the full moon rising above the coastal mountains.
Tofino is a special place in this world where wealthy tourists and dirtbags collide. I would consider myself more on the side of dirtbag, considering that I arrived in Tofino in December of 2020 having just driven across the country with my partner, sleeping in the back of our built out Honda Fit along the way. Surfers, fishers, loggers, Indigenous artists, bakers, musicians, and minimum-wage workers gather here amongst the wealthy few. It’s an interesting collection of people to be around, with good conversation, storytelling, and music always around the corner of this small town. Tofino is also a great place to learn how to surf. During my first week there, I dipped my toes into the surfing world. The experience was thrilling, being out in a wetsuit in the middle of December playing in the whitewash as the sun went down, knowing that back home in Ontario, my family was getting the first of many rounds of winter snow. Before you hit the water though, make sure to stop by the Common Loaf Cafe and indulge in one of their many sweet treats or amazing breakfasts. There’s something for everyone hidden out in this small coastal town.
This past winter, I spent three and a half months living in Ucluelet. Being in Ucluelet is like living in your own little protected bubble, away from the rest of the world. Here it’s just you, the small community that resides here, the ocean, sea lions, and great cedar trees. The rainforest will welcome you with open arms as bald eagles soar above head. On days when there isn’t a cloud in the sky, the ocean shines colours of deep blue and aquamarine and the seals play out in the big waves. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of them like I did, one afternoon I was sitting on a bench looking out at the scene in the photo above. Ucluelet is truly a magical place, with beaches, trees, and mountain views so big it’ll make you feel like nothing at all. Beyond the beauty, there is also an amazing cafe in downtown Ucluelet called Zoe’s Bakery. I spent most of my money there while staying on the coast, indulging in their delicious butter croissants and sourdough bread.
Each of these places has something special to offer to those who choose to adventure across the island. From one end of the island to another, you will be sure to find good people, good food, and something to do, whether it’s bumming it at the beach for the day or strolling the cobblestone streets in downtown Victoria. Vancouver Island has so much to offer for those who are willing to explore. The blue water, big trees, and sea creatures will be waiting for you.
By Micaela Yawney