I had the chance to live on beautiful Vancouver Island for 9 months while working as a Language Assistant in Comox. This job gave me the opportunity to travel, on the weekends, all around the island and discover some of the hidden, less known, beauties of this region. From white sand beaches to old growth forests, without forgetting the snow capped mountains and the turquoise waterfalls, this island has a lot to offer to nature lovers. And for those who prefer the city to the outdoors, Victoria is a beautiful city with its British heritage and architecture, museums, street artists and unique shops. I put together for you a short list of the most beautiful spots on Vancouver Island.
Mystic Beach is part of the Juan de Fuca trail on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. It is located approximately two hours North West of Victoria. This beach is only accessible via a 2 km trail from China Beach, but it is a quite easy trail, although it can get muddy. And believe me, the walk is totally worth it. Once you get to the beach, you will be welcomed by a beautiful sandy beach, turquoise water and, if the weather is clear, a view of the mountains of the Olympic National Park in Washington State. Once you start wandering on the beach, you will discover a waterfall coming down from the cliff and into the ocean as well as a rope swing over the water. I could have stayed for hours just looking at the view and having fun on the swing! Now, it has to be one of my favorite places on Vancouver Island.
Long Beach is located between Tofino and Ucluelet, on the West Coast of the island. It is one of the best surfing spots in Canada and one of the largest and longest beaches I have ever seen. It’s called Long Beach for a reason! It is a 16 kilometers long sandy beach with rugged islands that you can climb on at low tides. You can walk for hours in any direction while staying on the sand or you can rent a wetsuit and jump in. Just watch out for the waves and currents!
Cathedral Grove, part of Macmillan Provincial Park, is located on Highway 4, 16 kilometers East of Port Alberni. It is a pretty small park, but it is filled with gigantic 800-year-old trees. As soon as you enter the park, you feel like you have been shrunk to the size of a tiny bug. You would need 5 people holding hands to go all the way around some of these trees, which makes the park one of the most impressive parts of Vancouver Island. For more information and pictures, check out my article on Port Alberni right here.
Butchart Gardens is a private garden in the suburb of Victoria owned by the Butchart family. It was originally a limestone quarry until Jenny Butchart gradually transformed it into a garden starting in 1904. It is now a designated National Historic site of Canada. The garden has 6 different areas filled with flowers and decorations of different origins. The Mediterranean climate in Victoria allows for a wide variety of flowers and trees so there really is some of everything. There is a Japanese garden, rose garden, Italian garden, Mediterranean garden, fountains, light displays for Christmas Time and an array of activities year-round. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours, as there is so much to see and do.
I haven’t really explored the Malahat region, but I make it a mission to stop at all the viewpoints every time I come back from Victoria. The Malahat is… I don’t think you can call it a city or a village, but it’s an area on Highway 1, about an hour North of Victoria that is pretty elevated so you have an amazing view of the Saanich Inlet and the islands surrounding it. There are two different viewpoints from the highway that give you breathtaking views over the mountains and the islands and I make sure to stop at both of them, even though they offer similar views, because I just can’t get enough!
I don’t know if Downtown Victoria is absolutely gorgeous or if it just reminds me of Old Quebec which makes me like it more, but I just love that part of the city. The buildings look like they have so much history and there are castles and the parliament building is huge, plus, it is right on the water! And, there is a beautiful view of the mountains from the city. Honestly, I think the pictures kind of speak for themselves. For more pictures, check out my article on Victoria right here.
Meares Island is located right next to Tofino on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. The island is home to a campground and hostel; you can also rent paddleboards, kayaks and canoes or hike the Lone Cone, a mountain in the center of the island. My favorite part of the island is the beach where you can have a campfire and watch the sunset on the Pacific Ocean.
Know any places you think should have made this list? Write them in the comments below so I know what to check out on my next trip to the island, but for now it’s off to the mainland for me! I’m so excited about my next adventure! Follow me on Instagram @myjourneytoadventure as I make my way across North America.
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Who has heard of the Alberni Valley before? Anyone? I know I hadn’t. But with the biggest trees on Vancouver Island, some impressive waterfalls and stunning scenery, it has quickly become one of my favorite places on this island. So here are 5 things you shouldn’t miss if you are in the area or even if you are just passing through on your way to Tofino.
1. Cathedral Grove
This should be on your top 5 destinations on Vancouver Island, along with Tofino and Butchard Gardens. Cathedral Grove is part of MacMillan Provincial Park and it is home to the largest and oldest (up to 800 years old) trees on the island. Personally, I had never seen bigger trees ever; it took four of us to go all the way around one tree.
The park is located on Highway 4 and is divided in two parts, one on each side of the highway. Both sides are beautiful, but the biggest tree is on the left side if you are coming from Parksville (right side if you are coming from Port Alberni). It doesn’t take too long to hike the whole park, maybe about an hour and a half if you take your time and go on all the trails, maybe a little more if you like to stop and take pictures like I do.
This fall, part of Cameron Lake, which is right next to the park, flooded part of the trails so you might want to visit in the summer or early fall when the weather is less wet and prone to downpours.
Tip: you might want to bring some rain boots as the trails can get muddy.
Hole in the Wall
Hole in the Wall is right before the town of Port Alberni coming from Parksville and it is quite hidden. You have to know it is there to find it, but Google Maps knows everything! Don’t get discouraged if you can’t find it at first, just keep following the trail, I promise it is there and beautiful. Now, you must be asking, “what is Hole in the Wall exactly?” Well, it is just that, a hole in a wall of rocks where water found a way to fall through. There is also a river where people make inuksuks (little statues made of rocks put on top of each other) and a forest covered with bright green moss. The entire thing seems to have come out of a fairytale and it is the perfect place for a picnic.
Little Qualicum Falls
This one is a little bit out of the Alberni Valley, but close enough (it is located about 15 minutes before Cathedral Groves coming from Parksville) and worth mentioning. The park consists of a beautiful waterfall surrounded by well-maintained trails and bridges. The water is crystal clear and very deep even though you can still see the bottom. Just like Cathedral Grove, it doesn’t take very long to go all-around, maybe an hour, but the view is worth the stop.
This one is in the middle of Port Alberni and, I don’t know if we were just lucky or if it is always this pretty and entertaining, but I could have stayed for hours. At first sight, it is just a quai where people dock their boats, but you can see all kinds of wildlife on the river and in the woods on the other side. While we were there, a playful seal came to say hi and jumped in the water for us. We also saw some salmon and we weren’t lucky enough to see a bear, but they are sighted quite often in this area. The harbor also offers a nice view of the mountains surrounding the valley.
We missed salmon season by a few days when we went to Stamp Falls, but if you time it right, you could be there to see the salmon jump and go up the river. If, like us, you can’t be there on time, the view is still beautiful and there are hours of fun hikes to do. Be sure to make it to the top of the hill to see the bottom of the falls and the view on the forest. I would have loved to see it at sunset, but couldn’t, so you might see me there later this year on a clear day. It is the advantage of staying at one place for a while; you have the privilege to go back if you missed something or if the weather wasn’t on your side.
If you have the chance to visit British Columbia one day, I hope you will add the Alberni Valley to your trip as it took my breath away on multiple occasions. And if you live there, I hope you still enjoy it and take advantage of living in such a beautiful place (I need to find synonyms of beautiful, I must have used it about 10 times in this article. Oh well, it is what it is!)
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We had driven through Victoria on our way to Seattle a few weeks ago and it had just left us wanting more. British Columbia’s capital is truly a beautiful city that we had the chance to visit during the first weekend of December. From its British architecture to its impressive garden, it certainly did not disappoint.
We started our visit in Craigdarroch Castle. It doesn’t look like much on the outside, but the inside had my eyes open wide as saucers as soon as we crossed the front door. No expense was spared in the construction of this castle; just the fireplace located right in front of the door probably cost more than my car. I had no idea what the castle had been built for or when it was built, to me it was just a pretty building that I had seen while looking at pamphlets on the ferry to Port Angeles, but as we made our way around and up the castle, we learned about its history through dozens of boards. It turns out the castle was built by the Dunsmuir family, immigrants who invested in the right things at the right time and became one of the richest families in Canada at the time. The castle was later used as a hospital during the World War and as a university later on. You can visit the Craigdarroch Castle website to learn more about the Dunsmuir family and the history of the castle.
After hours visiting the castle, we made our way to downtown Victoria to see the parliament and tourist shops. We were lucky and got to go on a horse drawn tour of the Downtown area. These tours were organized to celebrate Christmas and were totally free. It rained all afternoon, but it didn’t stop us from going to see the Fisherman’s Wharf. It is a very pretty and original neighborhood made of about a dozen houses that float on the bay. The houses are multicoloured and decorated in all sorts of styles. Since it’s wintertime and the weather was awful, no one was there, but the little booths, shops and restaurants make me dream of a hot summer day, eating ice cream while walking around the floating houses and keeping an eye on the water in the hopes of seeing a whale or a friendly duck or two.
After dinner, we drove our frozen solid butts to Walmart to buy some more warm clothes. The rain had found a way into our coats and boots and the 0 °C weather had almost frozen our will to see any Christmas decorations at night. We decided to go for a movie and walk to town after the film, when the streets would be mostly empty and we could feel our fingers again. We saw Disney’s latest animated film, Moana! I could talk about it for days, but that’s not what you are here for. Just go see the movie!
We kept our promise to ourselves and took a walk downtown at night and it was totally worth it. First, the rain had stopped so it was actually comfortable outside. Second, the decorations are absolutely beautiful! Being from Quebec City and having visited Disney World at Christmas time, I am kind of used to Christmas decorations being all kinds of amazing, but the lights on the parliament were just incredible. To make it simple, there were lights everywhere! I couldn’t have hoped for a better end to my day… except, maybe some Christmas music to put us even more in the Christmas spirit, but we took care of that! My singing voice may not be the best, but there was no one there to complain. Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, Thy leaves are so unchanging!
We didn’t have a lot planned on day 2 because we wanted to take our time driving back to Comox to stop at the lookout points, but we had kept the best for the sunny day! We left early and arrived at Butchart Gardens at 9. We literally opened the park.
I had heard that it was beautiful, but I had not expected it to be so big. We spent more than four hours in the park, walking around, taking hundreds of pictures, and going on the Ferris wheel, of course. Unfortunately, the pictures don’t do it justice, but the cloudless blue sky with the bright green trees and the multicoloured Christmas decorations were simply gorgeous. My favourite part was the Japanese garden with its waterfalls and red bridges. I can’t wait to see it in the spring when all the flowers are in bloom!
When we finally got back to the entrance of the park it was almost two in the afternoon and time to leave Victoria, but our visit wasn’t over. We stopped at every lookout point on the way back and it was one of my favourite thing about this trip. We got to take our time and look at the amazing view while enjoying the rare rays of sunshine at this time of year.
We will have to go back to Victoria at one point before the school year is over, but for now, it’s time for Christmas break and a little vacation back home in Quebec City. I can’t wait to see where 2017 will take me!
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Comox Valley may be my home for the year, but I had never been there before so a little exploring was required. From Cumberland to Courtenay and Comox, the Comox Valley is a vast area that offers beaches, nature parks, waterfalls, mountains and outdoor activities. Needless to say, there is something for everyone and numerous days of fun to be had.
For the weekend of October 9 and 10, I invited two of my friends who are on the same program as I am, but in different cities, to come and visit the valley with me. They both arrived on Friday night so we were ready for fun activities on Saturday morning.
No one says October without pumpkins! We started our day at a pumpkin patch a few minutes away from my apartment. It seems to be a local attraction since most of the city was there. Luckily, we got there early and were able to enjoy the different activities before it got too crowded. There was a corn maze, decorated pumpkins, pumpkin and cinnamon desserts, a huge pumpkin patch where we could choose between a dozen different kinds of pumpkins (I didn’t even know there was more than one) and Halloween decorations. Since Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I had the best time looking at the pumpkins and going through the maze. The best part is, the sun came out just for us!
Our next stop was Goose Spit. It is a long arm of land that separates the strait of Georgia from the Comox harbor. It is also a long beach on one side and a bay on the other. The bay would be quite ordinary if it wasn’t for the Comox glacier behind it. The view is extraordinary! Our goal was to go on a paddleboard ride as neither of us had tried it before, but apparently it is too cold for that in October so we just took a little walk on the beach and some pictures. We also went to the marina to look at the seals and the boats.
After a light lunch at my place, we went for a walk at Seal Bay Nature Park, which is a few minutes from where I live. The park has many trails, but my favorite is the one that leads to the beach. It is not a sandy beach or a large beach, but the view that you get of the mountains of the mainland on the other side of the strait of Georgia is absolutely gorgeous. The trees on Vancouver Island are as tall as the skyscrapers in NYC and the ones in Comox may not be the biggest ones on the island, but they are still huge. There were leaves bigger than my head.
Before going back to my apartment, we made one last stop. 40 knots is a winery close to Seal Bay. I am not a wine connoisseur and I had never been at a winery, but I loved the experience. They made us taste all the different kinds of wine and explained the differences and when they were made. It was delicious and we were just a little bit tipsy when we left.
On the second day, I brought the girls to Cumberland, a small village about 15 minutes from Comox, inland. It is popular with snowboarders and skiers in the winter as it is close to the mountains and with mountain bikers in the summer. There is nothing much to do there, but I lived in the village for a few days when I first moved to the valley since it is home to the cheapest, but still great hostel of the area and I wanted to show them how different it was from Quebec City.
After a little walk on Dunsmuir avenue, we decided to visit Mount Washington. It is one of the two ski resorts on the island and it is absolutely enormous when compared to the ones we have in Quebec. I had visited it with my parents in September and had the chance to go all the way up to see the view, but the scenery was way different this time around as it had snowed! Do I need to remind you that the weekend before, I was on the beach in a bathing suit? I love it! The road to Mount Washington is quite long, but so worth it. You get a nice view of the glacier and the mountains all around and if you go on a clear day, apparently you can see the Pacific ocean from the top, but I couldn’t confirm nor deny it. I hope I get the chance to go skiing at least once or even to hike up the mountain before I leave the island.
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Amy and I left my apartment at about 6:30 AM as we wanted to get to Tofino as early as possible and it is about a 3-hour drive from Comox. We made a quick stop in Port Alberni to get Emma and arrived in Tofino at about 10. Unfortunately for us, it was raining pretty heavily when we got there, but it was supposed to stop in the early afternoon so our day at the beach got pushed back a few hours and we decided to visit the village for a while. We took our time looking through the souvenir shops, the bookshop and an art gallery and ended up at a restaurant for lunch as the last few drops of rain fell.
The weekend that we were there was Queen of the Peaks, an all-women surf competition. As soon as we were done eating, we left the village for Cox Bay Beach to see some surfing. Neither of us had ever tried surfing so we were very impressed. The weather was finally with us and the sun even came out. We later went to Long Beach to see what it looks like and it is probably the longest and largest beach I have ever seen, except maybe for Venice in California. The water was clear and it was beautiful.
When the sun set, we left the beach to go back to our Airbnb for dinner. We mostly stayed in our room that night, drinking some cider and talking.
On our second day in Tofino, we woke up early to go on a Hot Springs boat tour. These tours bring you by boat to a national park where you get to hike through the rainforest to hot springs for a nice soak. On the boat ride you also get to see whales, bears, eagles and seals. Seems pretty amazing, but we had made no reservation and the many different tours available in the city were all full because of the wonderful weather.
Since we couldn’t go on a tour, we bought a body board and rented some wetsuits and went for a swim at Cox Bay. We played in the waves for hours, took some pictures and got a view of the surf competition from the ocean. For Emma and Amy, it was the first time swimming in the Pacific ocean!
At 3 PM, it was time to pack up our stuff, bring back the wetsuits and drive back to Port Alberni and Comox.
Even though the weekend didn’t go as planned, we had the best time just looking at what Tofino has to offer. We’ll be back for a long weekend in the spring to try the hot springs, and we’ll make reservations this time!
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