Beauty In The Hills And Valleys Of Vancouver Island
We headed off the mainland on our road trip around BC (British Columbia) and travelled the hills and valleys of Vancouver Island. Our trip started in the city of Victoria and then headed out around the Circle Path to experience the Cowichan Valley. From there we travelled through the Alberni Valley for a stay on the far west coast in Ucluelet. The final stop took us north to the Comox Valley. We saw the sea on all coasts of Vancouver Island and enjoyed the great natural beauty.
Our trip to Vancouver Island started on the ferry from Tsawwassen south of Vancouver to Swartz Bay outside of Victoria. The weather was grey so it was not a beautiful day for crossing sights. Since the trip was just under two hours, we paid for an upgrade to the SeaWest Lounge so we could quietly work. But we kept our eyes on the outlook for orca whales since we saw them when we went whale watching in Active Pass when we visited Steveston one year.
When we landed, we plotted a route to our first stop on this visit to see the hills and valleys of Vancouver Island.
We Started Outside Of Victoria At The Westin Bear Mountain Resort
When we planned this visit to Vancouver Island, we debated staying right in Victoria. But the prices were high and we knew we intended to head out most days to explore. We finally decided to stay a little out of the city at the Westin Bear Mountain Resort. It was an easy path to the highway. And still close enough to Victoria.
The resort was high above a series of new housing developments. And right on an 18 hole golf course. The main building had rooms with panoramic views over the golf course. Unfortunately we gave up our great upgrade with a view when we discovered the hotel was booked with screaming teenage female rugby players. It was a great reminder that hotels on the weekend can sometimes not be the relaxing retreat we looked for. But our large suite in another building on the golf course was a great quiet getaway.
As we had planned, most days we had breakfast at the resort and then headed out to explore. We wished we had booked longer to enjoy the facilities that the resort offered. There was a full spa and pool. We are not golfers but I am sure golfers would love this scenic course. And hiking paths for walking or mountain biking looked great.
The Westin Bear Mountain Resort was a great base to start our trip across the hills and valleys of Vancouver Island.
A West Coast Wine Tasting And Pairing
We started our visit to the Westin Bear Mountain Resort with a wonderful wine tasting and pairing at the resort. Bipin took us down below the resort to the cellar. He then proceeded to take us on an amazing wine journey along the western coast.
There was a large selection of wines for tasting. And we got the chance to try different wines back-to-back to see the difference that location makes. There were new wines from BC that we missed on our wine tasting trip to the Okanagan Valley. And we were interested to find some California wines that we missed when we visited the Napa Valley area.
At each stop on the wine tour, we got a great pairing prepared by the chef. We love to do wine tastings with a pairing to really see how the wine changes with different foods.
We were delighted to continue our wine tasting experience around BC on our stay at the Westin Bear Mountain Resort. A good experience on our sea to sea visit to Vancouver Island.
Victoria Was A Fun Day Trip
It had been years since David or I had visited Victoria. We headed into town to explore and splurged on Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress. The harbour area was busy and boats of all kinds were in port. The Parliament buildings stood high on the hill.
Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress was an iconic thing to do. And at the top of our list. We enjoyed a great selection of teas. The tea tray was stacked with delicacies that tempted us as the piano played softly in the background.
When we were finished tea, we could not resist trying the magic drink made with the Empress Gin. The gin turned from blue to purple as the tonic water was added. A fun way to finish a fun day at the Fairmont Empress.
We missed a visit to the Butchart Gardens on this visit to Victoria. These are some of the loveliest gardens we have ever visited. But we just ran out of time on this trip.
A stop to explore Victoria gave us another kind of experience when we travelled around the the hills and valleys of Vancouver Island.
A Stop in Sooke
David lived for many years on Vancouver Island. He was eager to show it to me. But boy had the island changed since he last visited.
We started out in Sooke. It boasted the “last stoplight in Canada”. We wandered around the town and along the shore. At Whiffin Spit Park we walked along the spit and looked out at East Sooke. In the distance we saw the mountains on the U.S. mainland.
As we drove along we caught our first view of the island wildlife. The small deer ignored us and continued to munch on the lawn in the subdivision.
Follow The Circle Path In The Cowichan Valley
From Sooke we headed north along the west coast of Vancouver Island to Port Renfrew. We enjoyed the drive through the rainforest and along twisty mountain roads. Several times we stopped along the way to look out to sea. No matter when we travelled, it seemed we found the tide out. When we arrived in Port Renfrew, we found a spot to eat with a view out over the water.
The paved road used to stop at Port Renfrew. An old logging road cut across the island. It has been paved and is now called the Circle Route. We used this to head through the Cowichan Valley. Narrow single lane bridges were still in place across rivers.
The scenery all around us was beautiful. Even if it was marred by the scars created by the clear cut logging done on the island. Ever time we crossed a river we kept an eye out for bears. We drove through beautiful country vistas.
We hit the highway on the east side of the island and headed back towards Victoria. It was such a great day going from sea to sea through the hills and valleys of Vancouver Island.
An Interesting Stop At A Meadery
As we travelled up to Port Renfrew, we looked for interesting spots to stop. When we saw the sign for the Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery, we knew we had to stop. On our travels around BC, we visited wineries in the Okanagan and Fraser Valley. We taste tested fruit wines and ciders. So we added a visit to a meadery.
As we wandered around the site, we saw the line of bee hives used to collect honey for both honey and wine. And saw lots of signs that talked about the process. Tours were available too.
The tasting room was busy but we found a spot at the small tasting bar. There was an interesting variety of products available to taste test, each with its own unique name. I started with the one that was closest to wine (Harvest Melomel). It was a dry rosé with a honey finish. But still not fruity enough for me.
David of course went right to the very sweet ones. The Vintage Sac was a sweet mead with a slight butterscotch taste. The Mad Marion was a sweet berry mead well on its way to port. But with a tangy flavour.
It was interesting to taste the mead in all of its varieties. We found it not to our taste. But people in the shop walked out with cases of mead and honey. So there was definitely a market. Such an interesting stop on our tour around the hills and valleys of Vancouver Island.
Through The Alberni Valley To Ucluelet
After 4 days in the Victoria area, we headed up the coast to Ucluelet and Tofino. I wondered if there was a way to keep going north from Port Renfrew. But realized our path needed to be up the east coast to just north of Nanaimo and then inland to the west coast. It was a long travel day to get to the furthest west populated part of Canada.
Our first stop on the highway north was at the Malahat lookout point. The sky was not perfectly clear. But it was still worth a look.
Many years ago, we travelled the path from Parksville to Tofino for a family day on Long Beach. We recalled much of that drive as we travelled through the Alberni Valley. Rainforests towered above us for much of the drive. On the early stretch, we passed stops at Englishman River Falls, Cathedral Grove and Pot Hole Falls in the MacMillan Provincial Park.
A short pause in Port Alberni let us refuel. On previous visits we made the detour in at Sprout Lake to see the Mars Water Bombers. If you have not seen these massive planes picking up tons of water, it is worth the stop if they are working.
As we hit the mid-point of the island, the steep snow covered peaks of the west coast mountains were visible. The elevation got steadily higher. We were warned of major road closures for construction on the road. When we returned, we planned our timing to miss the closures.
The sun was shining and it was hot in the Alberni Valley. When we passed the construction zone a mere 14 km (9 miles) from the west coast, we lost the sun and the heat. It was a striking change. And we stayed in mostly grey and cold weather for most of our visit to Ucluelet and Tofino.
A drive across the Alberni Valley provided stunning scenery. A definite highlight as we travelled the hills and valleys of Vancouver Island. Plan to take a full day to do the transit. There were so many great stops along the way. And make sure to check on road construction schedules.
The Moody West Coast In Ucluelet
We booked a charming B&B (Snug Harbour Inn) for our 3 days in Ucluelet. There were several large rooms in the main house and two large rooms in a separate building. The main building had a welcoming common area where we sat and relaxed. The back deck contained a hot tub with a great view out over the rocky coast.
There were 750 steps down to the water level. When the fog lifted for a brief time, the views were gorgeous. It was a great quiet spot to relax. Before we began the trek back up.
As we explored the small town of Ucluelet, we found an interesting collection of local art. And several great choices for food in the town.
Hiking On Vancouver Island
Ucluelet was a hiker’s paradise. Miles of hiking paths were available to explore. We headed to the Amphitrite Lighthouse one day and walked around the point. Along the path we found cleared nooks with benches where we sat and enjoyed the viewpoint. At each stop there was a different perspective on this moody west coast.
We saw little wildlife as we walked, although we were constantly on the lookout. But we found eagles as they soared overhead. And dove into the water for fish. When we went down to the water level, we saw some marine life in the low tide.
Even if it was grey and cold, it was great to wander along the hiking paths of Ucluelet. The moody west coast greeted us every day. A few days on the far west coast of BC was a good stop when we travelled from sea to sea on Vancouver Island.
Each day the weather promised clearing skies. One day we headed north to Tofino. Along the way we passed several spots that were starting points for hikes along the Pacific Rim National Park. Parking lots were available for hikers and for beach access points. To park we needed to buy a park pass. There were day rates and annual passes available for individuals or families.
We stopped at Long Beach. It was quiet on the beach. But the surfers were happy with the waves. And undeterred as the fog rolled in.
We Found A Different View In Tofino
When we arrived in the small town of Tofino, we parked and walked the main street. Gardens and art tempted us as we moved along. As we walked down to the main dock, the skies were still grey.
But when we finally stopped at The Hatch for lunch, we watched as the fog lifted and the sun came out. It was a great lunch choice. When we picked it, we did not know it was Paul Moran’s restaurant (the recent winner of Top Chef Canada). It was amazing how much more beautiful the scenery was when bathed in full sunlight. An eagle even came out to say hello.
Tofino was definitely a place we wanted to return to on another trip to the far west coast of Vancouver Island.
Comox Was A Wonderful Surprise
After our stay on the west side of the island, we headed back across the Alberni Valley and north up the east coast to the Comox Valley. On our travels around BC, we looked for places that we might want to live one day. The area around Courtenay and Comox was definitely one of those. The valley was surrounded with mountains that were a skiers paradise in the winter. In the late spring they still had snow on top.
The waters surrounded the small towns. The downtown area in Comox was quaint with gelato stores and good food. The town harbour was surrounded with a busy park area. Beaches lined the shores.
We spent much of our days in Courtenay and Comox just wandering around the towns. We looked at real estate. And realized we were probably 5 years too late to get a really good deal. But then, I am sure we are not the only ones who wanted to live in the paradise of the hills and valleys of Vancouver Island.
Keep Heading North To Campbell River
One day we decided to head even further north and crossed the 50th parallel. David remembered Campbell River as a tiny community. But when we were welcomed to Campbell River by rows and rows of condos with beach views, we realized that Campbell River too had grown.
Our first stop was a nature walk to the Elk River Falls. We parked and headed out along the path. The path wound steadily down. That meant a good hike back out. As we approached the falls, we found the first viewpoint. Then we continued along and found a set of stairs that led down to the suspension bridge. The views of the Elk River Falls from the shore or the bridge were stunning.
But the treat on our day in Campbell River was a whale watching trip with Adventure Quest Canada. We were so excited when we first saw the pair of Orca whales. But then we found the pair of humpback whales playing. They splashed their fins and tails over and over again. And then delighted the crowd as they jumped up and splashed. The best whale watching day ever!
Nature, waterfalls and whales provided great adventures when we visited Campbell River on our sea to see visit on Vancouver Island.
Wine On Vancouver Island
We missed the wineries in the south of Vancouver Island. But enjoyed a stop at the 40 Knots Winery just outside of Comox. The winery is located right at the end of the Comox airport runway. It was named for the gale force winds that hit this part of the island. But also celebrates the stall speed of the owner’s Maule Bush Plane.
The winery had a long wine list and a good number of wines were open for tasting. As usual I started with the rosé wine but still did not find the fruity wine I searched for on our wine tasting adventure in the Okanagan. We had to try the signature Stall Speed Meritage blend. And David sampled a few of the sweet offerings.
David was quite interested in several of the unique wines. There was a 2016 Safe Haven that celebrated the Search and Rescue SAR 442 unit. And a 2017 White Noise labelled with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal EOD hazardous skills badge.
We enjoyed the chance to add to our BC wine tasting experience when we travelled through the hills and valleys of Vancouver Island.
We Travelled Sea To Sea On The Hills And Valleys Of Vancouver Island
Our travels around Vancouver Island were a great part of our 5 week visit to BC. While we enjoyed a little city life in Victoria, most of the time when we travelled through the hills and valleys of Vancouver Island we got a much more rural view. The seas were wild and beautiful. Mountains had not yet all lost their snow peaks. And the valleys were verdant green.
During our travels, we got many opportunities to see the local wildlife on Vancouver Island. Eagles were everywhere we looked. The island deer were found from north to south. We did not find any black bears in the wild. But that was ok. Our day whale watching from Campbell River left an indelible image of nature’s beauty in our minds.
When we planned our trip to BC, we were glad we didn’t miss the chance to travel from sea to see as we explored the hills and valleys of Vancouver Island. But it was time to head back to the mainland. At our next stop, we planned to relax and enjoy a few days in Vancouver before we headed home to Toronto.
Have you explored the hills and valleys of Vancouver Island? Did you have a favourite stop?
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