While other parts of North America are still experiencing cold temperatures and snow this time of year, spring comes early to Vancouver Island, a varied and picturesque destination with plenty to offer. It’s a close-to-home spring and early summer getaway perfect for everyone, from outdoor enthusiasts and golfers to beach-lovers and spa-seekers.
With miles of thick rainforest, rugged coastal views and sandy beaches, Vancouver Island can feel like an untouched natural gem. Yet the destination isn’t without vibrant cities that offer fine dining, great shopping and plenty of things to do. Add in Vancouver Island’s mild climate and early spring season, and it becomes a desirable getaway for families who are ready to begin their spring and summer adventures.
With WestJet offering direct flights to Victoria, Nanaimo and Comox from Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, Vancouver Island is an accessible, easy-to-get-to destination.
Wilderness, Wildlife and Adventure in North Vancouver Island
Kick-start your vacation in Port Hardy, the largest community in the Vancouver Island North region and a wilderness destination for travellers keen on hiking, kayaking, caving and fishing. As a nature-enthusiast, you’ll enjoy a stay in the environmentally friendly accommodations at Ecoscape Cabins. The cozy cabins, made using salvaged wood, reclaimed flooring and recycled plants, are just steps away from rainforest and beach trails, and they also feature cedar decks and shared fire pits for relaxation after your outdoor explorations.
For adventurous travellers hoping to catch a glimpse of marine wildlife, Telegraph Cove, a one-hour drive south of Port Hardy, is a must-visit. Stubbs Island Whale Watching, the first company in British Columbia dedicated to observing whales in their natural habitat, has been offering tours since 1980 and re-starts its spring/summer season in May. Take a tour for a chance to see orcas, humpback whales, porpoises and other wildlife, and to learn all about the animals from the naturalist on-board the custom-built whale-watching vessel.
Of course, your wildlife encounters in this part of the island could be even more memorable. If watching a whale breach from the seat of a kayak is a bucket-list item for you, there are a couple of ways to make that dream come true. Both North Island Kayak and Spirit of the West Adventures offer the opportunity to go kayaking with orcas in an educational and environmentally friendly way. Starting in the early summer, the guided sea kayaking tours can be multi-day adventures or a one-day trip — both are unforgettable experiences.
After your adventures on the water, return to the Telegraph Cove Resort, where you can unwind in one of the historic cabins or suites located on the 800-foot-long boardwalk that surrounds the village.
Although this part of the Island can feel remote, golf fans will still be able to find world-class links. The Vancouver Island Golf Trail is a 250-kilometre stretch that includes 13 courses between Campbell River in the north and Victoria, the southernmost city on the island. Driving south from Telegraph Cove, visitors can stop to play at two courses in Campbell River — the Campbell River Golf & Country Club and the Storey Creek at Quadra Island Golf Club — before continuing to play on courses down to the South Island.
Relaxation and Discovery Mid-Island
With direct flights from Vancouver and Calgary, the Nanaimo Airport is an ideal landing spot if you’re starting your vacation mid-island. Once you’ve arrived, make your way to Parksville, a coastal town on the east of Vancouver Island. Parksville is known for its huge sandy beaches and calm waters, and is a must-visit destination for hiking, mountain biking and golf enthusiasts — the Fairwinds Golf Club and the Pheasant Glen Golf Course are both nearby. Also in Parksville is the Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara Resort, widely considered to be the best ocean spa in North America, which celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2018. Make the most of its warm, rejuvenating mineral pool and the variety of spa treatments on offer, then, afterward, dine at the venue’s Treetop Tapas and Grill restaurant.
On the west coast of Vancouver Island, be sure to visit Ucluelet, an under-the-radar gem known for its surf, its “catch and release-style” aquarium and its accessible walking trails. The Wild Pacific Trail is an all-levels walking path with multiple access points, offering incredible views of the Pacific Ocean, ancient cedar trees and various marine life — your best chance to see migrating whales in this area is March and April. In fact, the town’s annual Pacific Rim Whale Festival runs March 10 to 25.
Just steps from the Wild Pacific Trail is The Francis, an intimate, five-star boutique inn with harbour views and elegant rooms. After a day spent hiking, surfing or just beachcombing at nearby Big Beach, unwind in your luxurious room here or relax admiring the gorgeous view from the inn’s outdoor spa tub.
If you’re looking for a little pampering, check out the Water’s Edge Shoreside Suites. In addition to several private outdoor soaker tubs, a lounge area filled with board games, and views of both the harbour and the marina, Water’s Edge houses the tranquil Aveda Concept Nurture Day Spa.
Shopping, Dining and Sightseeing in the South
Your trip to Vancouver Island isn’t complete until you’ve been to Victoria — B.C.’s capital city. While touring the picturesque Inner Harbour to see the British Columbia Parliament Buildings is essential, be sure to visit the city’s bustling shopping districts, too. Fort Street offers some great retail therapy — this street is known as Antique Row and is home to several antique stores as well as local clothing stores, bookstores and jewellery shops, including Idar Jewellers. For a special souvenir, buy a piece of handmade Idar jewellery that blends Nordic, West Coast and Celtic designs.
Don’t leave without visiting the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, a luxury boutique resort right on the beach. At the property’s Boathouse Spa, treat yourself to a relaxing dip in the three outdoor mineral pools that overlook the ocean before your massage, facial or pedicure. And if you can time it right, make it here for one of the multi-course Winemaker’s Long Table Dinners, which are held once a month from May to July in the property’s seaside gardens.
For another garden sojourn, drive up the Saanich Peninsula to see The Butchart Gardens, one of the South Island’s top tourist attractions. While colourful and full of life all year long, the gardens here are at their most breathtaking in spring and early summer. If you visit in the spring, expect to see cherry blossoms in the Japanese Garden and rhododendrons in full bloom. By early summer, azaleas, poppies and delphiniums are at their best.
Just a 20-minute drive from The Butchart Gardens is Sidney, a desirable town to visit — and to live in. If you love the area so much and don’t want to leave, experienced realtors from Re/Max and MacDonald Realty can help you find the perfect condo, townhouse or single-family home to call your own. And, from the Beacon Pet Hospital to the Stem to Stern Massage Clinic, the town of Sidney has everything you’ll need.
Whether it’s golfing, wildlife sightings, pampering at spas or active outdoor adventures you’re after, you’ll find it on Vancouver Island. And when spring and summer still feel far from reach elsewhere in North America, Vancouver Island is the place to go.