Stay in an ice hotel, attend a winter festival and wander through an ice castle.
When it comes to fun for everyone in the spring and summer, there’s no West Coast destination quite like Vancouver Island. With daily direct flights from Calgary and Edmonton to Comox, Nanaimo and Victoria, it’s easy to explore from shore to shore.
Starting in the middle
The newly expanded Nanaimo Airport makes for an ideal entry-point to Vancouver Island thanks to its close proximity to Nanaimo and Parksville attractions and convenient routes to the island’s other regions. Upon arrival, visitors should stop in downtown Nanaimo to pick up the city’s namesake treat, the Nanaimo bar, from one of the many coffee houses in the area before scooting just past city limits to check in at the Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort in Parksville.
Rustic and elegant all at once, Tigh-Na-Mara offers a variety of accommodation options, from pet-friendly standalone cottages nestled in the woods to newly renovated oceanview rooms that offer picturesque vistas of the sea. In between time spent enjoying the property’s three kilometres of sandy beach and hiking its many nearby trails, guests can unwind in Tigh-Na- Mara’s world-class Grotto Spa (ranked number one in Canada) and feast at on-site eateries Cedars Restaurant & Lounge and Treetop Tapas & Grill.
The warmer seasons are also a great time to get a taste of Vancouver Island’s unrivaled golfing options. There are four Golf Vancouver Island operated courses all less than a 20-minute drive from Tight-Na-Mara, including Eaglecrest Golf Club, Fairwinds Golf Club, Morningstar Golf Club and Pheasant Glen Golf Course. Each can be booked in a stay package or as part of multi-course experience packages. Golf Vancouver Island operates a total of 14 scenic, premiere courses in four distinct regions across the island: Southern Vancouver Island, Cowichan Valley, Parksville & Qualicum Beach, and Courtenay & Campbell River. From designing all-inclusive packages for the optimal ladies’ escape, guys’ weekend or couple’s retreat to crafting fully customized experiences to meet specific needs and tastes, Golf Vancouver Island creates getaways that are sure to please.
Situated in the village of Ucluelet on Vancouver Island’s western edge, Black Rock Oceanfront Resort is an ideal home base for exploring the community’s iconic Wild Pacific Trail or enjoying the natural wonders of nearby Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. After a full day exploring the area’s old-growth forests, secluded beaches and pristine waters, there’s nothing like soaking in one of Black Rock’s outdoor hot tubs or recharging at its full-service Drift Spa, where facials, massages and esthetic treatments all use locally harvested flora-based skincare products.
When hunger hits, resort guests can feast on excellent West Coast cuisine at a number of on-site eateries. Black Rock’s newly reimagined Currents Restaurant features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Pacific and a menu made up of decadent local seafood, plant-based options, private-label wine and a crowd-pleasing assortment of appetizers and mains. For a nightcap or morning jolt, Big Beach Bar & Lounge and Wild Bean Café round out the dining options.
About a 40-minute drive away lies Tofino, known to many as the surfing capital of Canada. One of the best nearby places to surf, kayak, hike or just kick back and see wildlife is in and around Long Beach, where unforgettable sunsets are experienced almost every night.
In Tofino, a perfect place to retire for the day is the Tofino Resort + Marina. Situated harbourside overlooking a chain of islands, the property offers a truly authentic slice of island life. Key among its highlights is a package called The Ultimate Adventure, where guests lay crab traps before sailing out with a guide for whale-watching, bear-watching or fishing excursions.
Should guests catch fish or snare crabs, they can utilize the resort’s Cook Your Catch service, in which Top Chef Canada alumnus Paul Moran and his team prepare their spoils in the on-site 1909 Kitchen. Of course, catchless guests won’t be disappointed, either: both 1909 Kitchen and sister restaurant The Hatch Waterfront Pub offer a mix of fresh seafood, comfort food and international dishes.
Surf towns are known for their hip waterfront neighbourhoods, and Tofino is no exception. A short stroll from the Tofino Resort + Marina reveals quirky cafés, galleries and boutiques filled with local goods surrounding the central Village Green park.
A great place to find a souvenir in this area is at Two Trees Tofino, a shop specializing in locally made goods. Something to pick up as a gift or simply enjoy while on one of Tofino’s pristine beaches is a Modest Maverick beach blanket. Each design takes its inspiration from the lifestyle of the west coast, complete with names like Amphitrite and Clayoquot. Made with wool, the blankets are both stylish and practical for lounging by the shore or curling up at home.
A visit to Greater Victoria
No trip to Vancouver Island is complete without a stop in British Columbia’s capital, Victoria.
Among this picturesque city’s top-rated attractions is the Royal BC Museum — and for good reason. Running from May 15 to December 31, 2020, its star exhibit for the year is Orcas: Our Shared Future. Learn more about the history of these magnificent creatures through science, pop culture and Indigenous beliefs, find out why they’ve been misunderstood by westerners as “killer whales” and uncover the consequences of captivity and ecological advocacy taking place on behalf of orcas. Each thread of the exhibition ultimately serves the same purpose: to reveal how the future of humankind, orcas and our planet are inextricably linked. The museum also houses permanent collections made up of natural and human history artifacts, and special events for children and families are hosted regularly.
An orca skull. Photograph courtesy of the Royal BC Museum.[/caption]
Another part of Victoria’s appeal is that guests get a taste of city life without sacrificing natural beauty. A morning stroll through the 100-year old Butchart Gardens with a cup of coffee is one of the most serene experiences to be had in the city. Spring is an excellent time to see fresh blooms over the 55-acre landmark, though gardens remain lush all through September each year.
Kayaking should also be on the south-island agenda. A Paddle in the Park is an excellent option for families and first-timers all the way to seasoned pros. Billing itself as the closest nature to the city, A Paddle in the Park operates out of nearby Sidney and offers shuttles directly from downtown Victoria for day-long excursions and extended treks alike.
For the glamour lover, don’t miss out on Victoria’s upscale neighbour, Oak Bay. Dubbed “The Original Hollywood North,” the area was home to a prolific film studio that attracted Hollywood royalty like Lillian Gish back in the 1930s. Today, Oak Bay boasts hip boutiques and galleries along Oak Bay Avenue, vibrant public art, the Royal Victoria Yacht Club and some of the best bike trails on the island.
Last year, the Oak Bay Beach Hotel was named by the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards as one of the finest hotels in the country. Luxury amenities include a spa with heated seaside mineral pools and licensed patio overlooking both the Salish Sea and Mount Baker, as well as the historic Snug Pub and fine-dining establishment The Dining Room. Oak Bay Beach Hotel employs a concierge who is not only a Les Clefs d’Or — the highest form of prestige in the profession — but is also the vice president of the National Les Clefs d’Or Board of Canada.
When it comes time to depart Vancouver Island, many tourists are so smitten with its natural beauty and genuine hospitality that they wish they didn’t have to leave. The truth is, they don’t. Property options from cottages to family homes and beyond are available, and Macdonald Realty’s 20 BC outposts make it easy to find the right option — so visitors never really have to say goodbye.
Shawnigan Lake School
Anyone looking to give their kids a top-tier education amid natural splendour should consider the Shawnigan Lake School. Open since 1916, the boarding school is known for athletic excellence: Rowing Canada is training for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on its grounds, and its Canada Field is a training centre for Rugby Canada. Between classes and extracurriculars, students can enjoy myriad outdoor adventures thanks to the school’s namesake lake, the historic Kinsol Trestle, and ski-destination Manning Park — each a perfect excuse for parents to come visit the island a few times a year.