Vancouver Island breathes life into a weary world. It will make you wonder what took you so long to find this place.
— By Pamela Grant
On the northwest coast of North America sits an island beckoning sustainable travelers to its remotest corners, asking only that visitors respect the culture of its indigenous peoples and protect its wild beauty. On Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, visitors can converse with a sea lion, kayak next to a humpback whale, or hike through a rain forest.
But, it is not all primitive landscape. In Victoria, British Columbia’s capital city, you can enjoy a formal English high tea and find a golf course that measures its carbon footprint. There is no need to look further than Vancouver Island for a glorious blend of excitement and solitude, with the traveler determining the right mix.
In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy clicks the heels of her red shoes and says, “I want to go home.” On Vancouver Island, you can click your heels and say, “I want to hike through a virgin rain forest,” or “Lead me to a Kwisitis Feast House to enjoy an authentic First Nations meal.” Located on the Canadian west coast in British Columbia, it is mostly separated from Washington State in the U.S. by the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The glittering city of Victoria sits on the southernmost tip of the island and dishes up many interesting cultural and entertainment centers. The Royal British Columbian Museum has a rare Vikings exhibit, and the Inner Harbour on the waterfront is filled with street performers, walkways, food trucks, stores and booths. Each afternoon, the Fairmont Empress Hotel hosts a formal English tea that is reminiscent of bygone days when Queen Victoria ruled the British Empire and Vancouver Island was one of the empire’s settlements.
First Nations Culture Mixed With Adventure
The British were not the first to settle wild, gorgeous Vancouver Island, and that is where the story gets interesting. The first settlers were the indigenous people who still thrive on Vancouver Island. The Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth and Kwa’Kwa’Ka’Wa’Kw are the original First Nations people who play an important role in preserving and sharing their ancient cultures. The Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre Society holds the treasure of the Kwa’Kwa’Ka’Wa’Kw, which includes a three-story totem pole, masks, headdresses and more. The Nuyumbalees Society was founded by Hereditary and Elected Chiefs of the Kwa’Kwa’Ka’Wa’Kw people, and the entrance fees help fund the cultural preservation of the Kikasuw, a Potlatch Collection of treasures and regalia, and the revitalization of the traditions, culture, and language.
All around the island there are opportunities to experience the culture and lifestyle of First Nations peoples while experiencing a wilderness adventure. In the northeast, visitors can join one of the Sea Wolf Adventures around the Broughton Archipelago. The business owner, Mike Willie, is a traditional singer and ceremony leader in the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw First Nation. He offers historical and cultural tours, during which participants can hear stories first hand while touring culturally shaped trees in the “cedar gardens” or taking chartered boat rides.
Going from the island’s south to north, travelers will find Ucluelet and Tofino on the west coast, serving as bookends for Long Beach and the Pacific Rim National Park. Lake Cowichan and the Strathcona Park are located on the island’s interior, while the Campbell River runs along the eastern edge and branches off into the interior. On the northeast side of the island is remote Port Hardy on the Queen Charlotte Strait, where whale watching excursions originate. Archeological finds indicate the First Nations have lived here for more than 8,000 years and the people now welcome visitors looking for true wilderness.
Since the Beginning of Time
The west coast Pacific Rim National Park Reserve includes 100 plus windswept islands called “Broken Group Islands.” The park offers hiking trails on boardwalks that take hikers through the giant tree rainforest. The boardwalk protects the forest from humans, while making it possible to walk through the mossy, wet, dark landscape where thoughts are your company. The adventure accelerates further north after climbing into a canoe or kayak to journey through places like the Clayoquot Arm Provincial or Kennedy River Bog Park, where spotting bear or cougar is common.
The Broken Group Islands are located in Barkley Sound and are filled with wilderness sounds. There are sea lions bellowing, seals barking, Gray whales spouting, porpoises splashing, sea birds cawing, and the powerful sound of water forced by waves through blow holes in the rocks. A kayak trip takes ecotravelers through mostly untouched environment that the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations people say they have occupied since the beginning of time. Wild camping without amenities is limited to Hand Island, Willis, Gibraltar, Turret, Dodd, Gilbert, and Clarke. A quiet trip through the coves refreshes the spirit. Kayakers can stop periodically to admire the giant anemones, collect sweet mussels clinging to rocks, and admire archaeological stone fish traps built by the Tseshaht First Nation.
Ecotravelers discover there are plenty of opportunities to visit “green” no matter where they find themselves on the island. Numerous ecolodges are scattered around Vancouver Island. You can stay in a tent, a four-star hotel, or a suspended spherical tree house. Free Spirit Spheres are suspended spherical shaped rooms in rainforest trees. Feeling the gentle rocking of the sphere hanging in the treetops is an unforgettable experience. A more traditional stay at the Ecolodge at the Botanical Gardens lets visitors leave a small carbon footprint, while getting a pass to the gardens. Even golfers can join the green movement and play a round of golf at Arbutus Ridge Golf Club in the Cowichan Valley, which won a Tourism Sustainability award for its ongoing green efforts.
From remote rainforest beaches to vineyards…from fishing villages to the city of Victoria…from solitary inlets to First Nation cultural centers, Victoria Island is an ecotravelers dream location. It is impossible to mention every site worthy of a visit simply because there are so many. Vancouver Island holds an important position in efforts to protect the world’s natural environment. Plan your visit well, and you will make a significant contribution, too.