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!
But the whale watching trip from Campbell River also offered us so much great natural beauty. We saw the mountains on the mainland along the Sunshine Coast we travelled earlier on our visit to BC.
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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I totally love Vancouver Island and this post sure brought back some amazing memories. I only had a weekend there (as I was staying in Vancouver) but I managed to do Victoria and a few places north of the city as well as a short hike. Loved the food there as well and the history. Makes me want to get back out there and do more hiking/exploring.
Danik, I am glad this brought back good memories. I hope you get back to explore more of Vancouver Island. Linda
Really smashing read! Vancouver Island is somewhere that I absolutely fell in love with while living in Canada years ago. Id love to revisit and explore as deeply as you have. Ill be absolutely saving this post for future reference! 🙂 Thanks
Neil, I am so glad to hear that this blog post brought back such good memories of your times on Vancouver Island. I hope you get back to see more. Linda
You have put together the perfect road trip for my hubby and I – I want to do the whole thing! We love this part of the world but have only explored a little. I have visited some of these places by boat. I did a sailing trip as a teenager out of Seattle and through this area where I promptly fell in love.
Andi, I hope that you and hubby get to explore Vancouver Island. We loved the chance to travel from sea to sea and see so much of the island. We have visited many times. But this was our most comprehensive visit. Linda
I’ve been to Vancouver once and loved it. It was in the Winter and I’d love to go back when it was warmer. Visiting Victoria and the gorgeous views of Comox are certainly high on that list. How were the wines on Vancouver Island? The Meritage looks divine and wine tasting is one of my favorite activities. Looking forward to exploring Vancouver like this soon.
Rosemary, I hope you get to visit Vancouver Island. We loved the differences from north to south. We loved the chance to do wine tasting from the interior in the Okanagan to out on the island. The Heritage was good. But I did not find a rosé I liked. Linda
I love your Vancouver Island adventures. We didn’t get up to Ucluelet, but I heard about all the amazing art on the island! I would love to visit the Meadery too – love any alcohol with a honey base!
Hannah, We were so glad we planned a longer stay on Vancouver Island for this trip. We would love to go back and spend some more time there. It is one of the spots we might consider moving one day. Linda
Just incredibly beautiful! I would love to visit and just enjoy the nature and tranquility that I already get from your pictures. However, while the sceneries are natural and rustic, the food and drinks are more than posh – looking so good! And the best part is that after long walks I wouldn’t feel guilty just inhaling all these delicacies 😉
Renata, We definitely spent a lot of time in the outdoors to burn off some of that delicious food. There were just so many options to explore nature. Hope you get to visit one day. Linda
What a delightful trip, full of beautiful things to do and lovely food and drinks. Like you, I love wine tastings with pairing. It let us experience the wines in so many ways. Also, I would love to try the whale watching trip. I think you just feel so small as a human being. Amazing article! Thank you for showing so well the Vancouver area.
Marlene, I am glad this showed you a part of BC that you may not have been aware of. We loved the chance to discover some new areas on Vancouver Island. Linda
We will be in Victoria next week! We sill do the Afternoon Tea at Fairmont Express and the B Gardens but we won’t be able to see the rest of the island. Maybe we will do that next time~
Carolina, I hope you have a wonderful visit to Victoria. You should enjoy both the Fairmont Empress and Buchart Gardens on your visit. I am sure it will tempt you to want to visit more. Linda
That whale watching trip in Campbell River sounds amazing! Wonderful nature, sensational wildlife and some good wines are always a winning combo for making good memories!
Milijana, We too loved that Vancouver Island offered so many different things to see and do. And I am sure we have much more to discover on a return trip. Hope you get to visit one day. Linda
There are so many places to explore around Victoria! The perfect place to have some outdoor adventures! xo – Kam
Kamree, We did love the chance to explore the island. There is a little of something for everyone. Linda
Wow, what a cool area. So much diversity. How long would you recommend for fist time visitors? A week? I hope the Westin Bear Mountain did you right (aka improved things greatly) when you encountered the ‘youth group’. One of my biggest pet peeves is hotel noise and I expect staff to deal with the problem, so I don’t have to pull out my broom and be “that cranky old lady”. 😀 Snug Harbor Inn looks quite peaceful and noisy, youth-free though, I think that would be my hunker down choice for a few days.
Vanessa, If you want to do north to south, you probably need a week to do it properly. It is a long drive from Comox to Victoria so that takes up a day. And you can only really travel up the east side of the island. To get to the west you need to drive over and back on the same road. But a week could get you north or south. Westin Bear Mountain did awesome customer satisfaction recovery once the issue was brought to the attention of the right person. And they did ultimately move us to a great room. When uncontrolled noise is an issue, I am afraid I do become that cranky old lady. So better to remove me from temptation!!! Linda
Ooh I met someone while travelling who worked on the ferry that took you there, they spoke about how amazing the views were and the wine tasting but this is the first article and photos I’ve seen of it, loving it!
Tom, I am glad I was able to show you some of the great spots on Vancouver Island. The ferries are great for going to and from the island. And up the mainland too (see the new post). I do hope you get to visit one day. Linda
I’ve yet to really visit Victoria. Did a cruise stop many, many years ago but we went whale watching. I hadn’t realized there were wineries in that part of Canada. It seems strange that the Westin served California wines during the wine tasting. What was the name of the fun purple drink?
Debra, The wine tasting was interesting for us given we had just recently been wine tasting in California. I think part of the objective was to taste test some of the BC wines back-to-back and show they are equally as good as the U.S. wines. The fun purple drink was Empress Gin made specially for the Empress Hotel. Hope you get to get back to Vancouver Island. Linda
I’ve never been to Vancouver Island, but my favorite travel podcasters discuss it all of the time and LOVE it. It looks like you have the most idyllic and relaxing trip. I’m a huge fan of wine tasting, but the wine tasting near where I live is always a huge, loud, raucous event. The wine experiences on Vancouver Island seem laid back and relaxing! You totally had me at splurging for tea and the magic purple drink! I’m always looking for new places that allow you to feel far away, but also allow for relaxation. This has made my list, great post!
I do hope you get to visit Vancouver Island. There really is something for everyone. So much variety on the island. Linda
I couldn’t have read this post in any better moment. We are actually planning our trip to Vancouver around next Feb. I am so thrilled for our trip as everything about the Vancouver island is so intriguing and fun-looking. I am surely going to experience the whale watching this time. Thanks for the post.
Daniel, I am so glad when a blog post is timely. I hope this had given you some additional help with planning. There are more blog posts on the site with more detailed info. Hope you have an amazing time. Linda
Oh yahoo, you have done so much on that trip. I recognized a few places from my last trip on the island, but it also seems I have missed a lot… The whale watching in Campbell river is exceptional and I am so happy to see you saw whales breach. I wasn’t that lucky. Although consider yourself luck that you didn’t see any bears in the wild. I did saw one 5 m from me and it is freaking scary 🙂
Jenny, We loved the chance to see so much on our last visit to Vancouver Island. I too am glad we did not see any bears. But the whales made up for any lack of wildlife we missed. Linda
I need to visit Canada. I have neither seen an Orca whale nor a moose and I recently learnt that the Orca whales are a natural predator of moose and its quite shocking, surprising, fascinating, all at the same time! Good to know that you managed to spot Orca whale in your earlier cruise.
The hotel definitely looks serene with great view and great food. Too bad you didn’t have the peaceful weekend you wanted. I hope those rugby players won the tournament they were there for!
I love it when the hotel we stay have a wine tasting session, esp., if its in a wine producing region. Its a nice experience, isn’t it?
The highway is absolutely a pleasure to drive and the scenery are fascinating! I will definitely include Victoria when I plan my trip to
Bhushavali, I do hope you get to visit Canada. And if you do, Vancouver Island is a great spot to travel to. Linda
I didn’t know there’s a Vancouver Island. The nature there is absolutely beautiful. It’s hard to choose which one is the best. But the humpback whales surely knew how to ‘wow’ you. I heard about the Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress. Now I’m so hungry. 🙂
We did enjoy all the natural beauty we found on Vancouver Island. And Afternoon Tea was a great treat. Linda
Ahhh Vancouver is on my bucket list and you just made me want to book a trip asap. The Westin looks amazing and their wine tasting looks divine! And I would love to do tea at the Fairmont. Whale watching is defnitely on my list- your photos are so majestic!
Chloe, I am so glad that this blog post has made you want to visit Vancouver Island. We did love our stay at the Westin. It was a great base to explore around Victoria. Hope you do get to visit. Linda
Wow there is so much to see and do on this island. I would love the afternoon tea and the wine tasting and pairings especially. I have been wanting to visit Vancouver for quite a while and now you are making me want to go oven more! I’ve never been whale watching – that must be so cool also!
Mireille, We love visiting Vancouver regularly. But we had not explored Vancouver Island for awhile. So it was great to go back and discover some new places. And awesome experiences. Linda
It is great you selected the stay a little out of the city at the Westin Bear Mountain Resort, which is on the path to the highway. This resort looks beautiful and as it is on an 18 hole golf course. The resort has wonderful natural beauty inside and also having those exotic drinks with that greenery view must be incredible way to start the journey. It looks a great base to start the trip across the hills and valleys of Vancouver Island.
Yukti, We debated where to stay. But were really glad with our final choice. It was a great base. Linda
Looks like great fun! It seems so beautiful there, and this reminded me of our trips. Our trips seem to be very similar; filled with nature, museums, good food and wine. I love the photos in this article! Seeing whales play like that is my dream. When ever I see them, I can only see the glimpse of a tale or a fin.
Paula, It had been awhile since we visited Vancouver Island. So it was great to really see how much there was to see and do on the island. It was the most amazing spot for whale watching. We too had only seen glimpses of tails or fins in the past. Linda
A glass of wine and one of those cheese or cured meat platters is a marriage made in heaven. I’d much rather have a nibbley dinner like this, than a full on meal. It’s all in the presentation.
Jay, We too love to snack our way through wine tastings. Amazing how different the wine tastes with a proper pairing. Linda
Love your Vancouver Island adventures. Loving your B&B more! 750 steps to the water level and a beautiful sunset to end a wonderful day…I can imagine this awesome day. I have plans to spend a year in Canada and 3 months in Vans – fingers crossed that I will get to visit Ucluelet and Tofino
Georgina, It was a great trip to explore Vancouver Island from north to south. So many different areas to find. I hope you do get to visit the island. And make it to the west coast of the island. Linda
Loved your story about Vancouver Island. We live in Calgary now; moved here from Lake Cowichan last year. We go back often to visit friends. I was disappointed you did not linger in the Cowichan Valley more because there are so many wonderful wineries there as well as wonderful restaurants. And the Saturday market in Duncan is not to be missed. Also a trip down to Cowichan Bay would have been interesting too. We used to take visitors out on whale watching trips from there (there are a few different operators there). They head south so you can see the resident Orcas which are often in the news. Next time, right? And don’t forget to head over to Salt Spring Island too!
Lynda, Glad you enjoyed the virtual trip back to the island. Thanks for all the great suggestions for a return trip to Vancouver Island. Salt Spring Island is definitely on our plans next time. Linda
What a beautiful trip! I especially like your trip to Elk River Falls through a suspension bridge. I will also say yes to the opportunity to whale watching. So may interesting things to do and see in the valleys of Vancouver Island.
We loved the variety we found when we travelled around Vancouver Island for sure!