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Canada: Vancouver Island, Treasure Island

Here, the trees are the age of cathedrals, the sandy beaches extend to infinity, the waves of the Pacific Ocean are the joy of surfers, off the coast meet orcas and whales while the deep forests are the domain. bears and cougars… and we can even afford the most British 5 o'clock tea!



At the western end of Canada, off the coast of British Columbia and the city of the same name, Vancouver Island is the last frontier of Western Canada, where everything seems bigger than life: landscapes, forests, skies, distances.

An exceptional destination, undoubtedly among the most beautiful in North America ...

Due to the Covid-19 epidemic, Canada's borders are currently closed to non-residents (except in exceptional cases). More info on the official website for tourism in Canada.

Vancouver Island, the last frontier on the Pacific



Over 450 km long, theVancouver Island, easily accessible by ferry from the city of the same name, extends across from British Columbia over an area of ​​32 km134 (more than Belgium), most of which remains devoid of any human presence. Its population is concentrated in the southern part, around its capital Victoria.

At the gates of the city, nature takes back all its rights, and the island is only crossed by two main roads which lead, one towards Tofino west (Highway 4), the other to Port Hardy to the north (Highway 19).



The north of the island is hardly inhabited. Mountainous and covered with an impenetrable rainforest with thousand-year-old trees, Vancouver Island takes on the guise of a virgin island, mysterious in the mist or in the rain, which seems to have not changed since the dawn of time.

On the western facade, another natural sanctuary unfolds facing the waves of the Pacific: the immense beaches of ocher sand bordered by the dense coniferous forests of the Pacific Rim National Park, which are now one of the privileged meetings for surfers from all over the world.

You can also go sea kayaking, observe whales and bears in their natural habitat or take an extraordinary hike along the mythical West Coast Trail. A true paradise for lovers of “Into the Wild” trips.

Victoria: a very British Canadian



Gateway to the island, a 15-minute flight and ferry ride from Vancouver, the city of Victoria (85 inhabitants), which owes its name to the Queen, is nearly 000 km from London, but it nevertheless exudes an irresistible scent of "Old Europe", more particularly around its port. (Inner Harbor).

Slightly anachronistic and delightfully provincial in charm, the capital of British Columbia, home to parliament, happily cultivates its British heritage and character. Victoria is also reminiscent of an English-speaking counterpoint to Quebec City.

There is no shortage of vestiges of history: the rich collections of Royal BC Museum,  Parliament Building (late 19th century), the birthplace of painter Emily Carr, Helmcken House, the oldest house in British Columbia, or the imposing Craigdarroch castle (19th s).

Flower gardens, Victorian houses, neoclassical buildings, brick warehouses and cornices with a view of the nearby United States coast make up a most alluring cityscape.

Victoria's flagship - and its symbol - is none other than the Fairmont empress, one of the most beautiful hotels in Canada. One of the hotels built at the beginning of the 20th century along the Canadian Pacific Railway, this historic palace, perfectly renovated in 2017, elevates its elegant silhouette of a Victorian castle facing the port.

Sleeping there is of course a must, but you can also go there to dine or have a high tea in the rules of the art under the woodwork, the Corinthian columns and portraits of Queen Victoria revisited in a pop art way. Royal, of course.

Other local heritage not to be missed: Chinatown, a stone's throw from the port. Today reduced to a single street (Fisgard St), it had its heyday in the last century.

Oldest Chinatown in the country (1858), the district bears on its walls all the memory of the local Chinese community, which represented up to 30% of the city at the beginning of the 20th century. It was inseparable from the rise of Victoria during the Gold Rush and the construction of the railroad.

Today, even if it is no longer really the epicenter of the Asian community of Victoria, we walk there with pleasure, admiring the architecture of the buildings marrying Edwardian and Chinese styles, housing here a traditional herbalism, there the oldest Buddhist temple in Canada (1911). After walking the lane of Fan Tan Alley, which is considered the narrowest in the country, you can end your walk at the Don Mee restaurant, famous for its dim sum.

To end the visit in style, 20 km from Victoria (shuttles from the city center), do not miss the Butchart Gardens, pretty thematic gardens which extend over 22 hectares. We particularly appreciate the Japanese garden, the rose garden and the submerged garden. Tours run from March to October. Another "old Europe" aspect of Victoria, contrasting singularly with the rest of Vancouver Island.

Mc Millan regional park: forests for cathedrals

Going north of the island by the Trans-Canada Highway, a whole different type of vegetation awaits the traveler, a thousand leagues from the well-ordered compositions of Butchart Gardens. Nature takes back its rights as soon as Victoria leaves, still domesticated and cultivated by man in the south, then totally wild, untamed and grandiose.

A 2-hour drive from the capital, between Parksville and Port Alberni, the Mc Millan regional park allows to take all the excess, in the section of Cathedral Grove that crosses Highway 4. Why cathedral? Quite simply because the trees here are the same age as our medieval sanctuaries: Cathedral Grove is the last vestige of the forest that covered the island more than 1 years ago! It is moreover with a very religious emotion that one enters the paths of this natural sanctuary.

Thanks to the trails, Cathedral Grove allows you to observe from the inside the formidable proliferation of the temperate rainforest typical of the coastal zone of British Columbia. It is dominated by the Douglas fir (Douglas Fir), named after the famous Scottish botanist David Douglas who identified it, as well as the thuja (Western red cedar) which are the tallest and oldest trees in Canada. The oldest tree still standing would have over 800 years, measuring 70 m in height and 9 m in circumference!

At its feet abound a whole universe of ferns, lichens covering even the branches of trees, or strange plants like the Devil's Club, from its Latin name Oplopanax horridus

Looking up, we can barely see the sky. This magnificent decor with infinite shades of green, impenetrable and mysterious, transports us straight to a Tolkien novel

Tofino, at the end of the road

La Highway 4, which crosses Cathedral Grove before winding between lakes, valleys, coniferous forests and mountains, is among the most beautiful roads in Canada. It heads west to Vancouver Island - which it is also the only one to serve - and the immense sandy beaches of the Pacific.

Route terminus: Tofino, a small picturesque fishing port, nestled at the end of a peninsula between the ocean and the splendid bay of Clayoquot sound, classified as a biosphere reserve by Unesco. At the gates of the village, the rainforest, dense and preserved, stretches along endless beaches, home to all kinds of animals, including black bears.

In the bay, where the creeks multiply in a fascinating aquatic labyrinth, gray whales and porpoises sneak in season between the many granite islets. In the background, the mountain range crossing Vancouver Island from north to south unfolds its peaks, some with eternal snow, forming a splendid end of the world.

Tofino is one of those magical places, really apart, because of its geographical location, but also the atmosphere that reigns there. It's hard to do more "West Coast" than this corner of boreal paradise, where you live while taking the time to admire the surrounding nature!

In the 70s, Tofino, situated-qui-aht, was also one of the promised lands of Canadian hippies (nicknamed the "granolas") and draft dodgers, Americans who fled the Vietnam War.

She has since become one of the hot spots of world surfing for the fabulous breaking waves of the neighboring beaches. And, in recent years, with the opening of excellent restaurants (Wolf in the Fog, 1909 Kitchen) and a few luxury resorts, Tofino has come to embody a bohemian chic, totally cool and absolutely no snobbish. In short, a place for everyone, very busy in summer.

Off season, Tofino regains its calm, inviting contemplation of the splendid surrounding nature. You can take one of the many hiking trails, get on a bike to wander the surrounding area or take a long walk on one of the wonderful sandy beaches of the neighboring Pacific Rim, facing the raging ocean.

The more athletic can indulge (or learn) surf, Au sea ​​kayak or salmon fishing, or fly over the region, seaplane. From March to October, sea trips are organized to observe the gray whales, But also sea ​​lions, Sea lions and "bald" eagles.

From May to September, boat trips in Clayoquot Sound at low tide allow you to observe the black bears that go to shore in search of food before hibernation. Magical. Finally, in recent years, the contemplation of winter storms (storm watching) attracts quite a few curious travelers to Tofino. Nature, always nature ...

Pacific Rim National Park and West Coast Trail, dream beaches

At the gates of Tofino, the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, one of Canada's great national parks, stretches 130 km south along the west coast of Vancouver Island. Major destination of the island, it offers an extraordinary concentrate of the local ecosystem, the rainforest and its fauna, but also superb virgin beaches which extend for tens of kilometers. Beaten by the winds and waves of the Pacific, they are among the most beautiful beaches in America.

Admittedly, the cold water (10 ° C) is not suitable for swimming, but the magnificent ribbons of sand invite relaxing and romantic walks, while the waves have made the place a privileged surf spot. The most popular places for surfers are Cox bay and the splendid Long Beach, which is no less than 16 km long. In October, Tofino hosts “Queen of Peak”, the only competition for female surfers. 

Bordering the beaches, the dense humid forest, an exceptional ecosystem, can be discovered, between Tofino and Ucluelet, along the paths developed and equipped with interpretation panels. One of them allows you to discover the culture of the Nuu-chah-nulth-aht, the native tribes of the region. Finally, the Kwisitis Visitor Center, at the entrance to the Pacific Rim Reserve, explains the local flora and fauna, as well as the history of West Vancouver Island.

Continuing south, about forty kilometers from Tofino, the quiet fishing port ofUcluelet can serve as an alternative base to explore the area. You can also stop there to explore the Wild Pacific Trail, three short hiking trails that wind along the jagged peninsula.

Here, the beaches give way to spectacular rock formations, offering beautiful views of the ocean and the Broken Islands archipelago, especially around the picturesque Amphitrite lighthouse along the Lighthouse Loop trail. Very easy, the Wild Pacific Trail can be traveled with the family.

On the other hand, this is not the case with West Coast Trail which, for seasoned hikers, remains the absolute must see on Vancouver Island. And for good reason… This superb 75 km hiking trail runs along the west coast to the south of the reserve. Pacific Rim National ParkInter Bamfield (north) and Port Renfrew (South). The physical challenge is considerable: the journey takes 5 to 7 days of walking on a sometimes uneven ground and in a constant humidity, because it rains almost 300 days a year in the region.

Far from any civilization, the path, open only from May to September (reservation required) plunges the hiker into the heart of a nature as spectacular as it is intact, sometimes following the beach, sometimes by venturing into the land. No road or village in these places. An exceptional trek, totally cut off from the world.

Telegraph Cove and the north, on the trail of whales

North of Vancouver Island, nature is just as grandiose, especially around Telegraph Cove. This picturesque village on the east coast of Vancouver Island is reached after a 6 hour drive from Victoria (450 km).

Past Campbell River, a Mecca for salmon fishing, Highway 19, which runs towards the north of the island, crosses splendid mountain landscapes, punctuated by lakes, waterfalls, torrents and covered with a dense forest of conifers and maples. To the west, a small road leads to the Strathcona Provincial Park, the largest park on the island, totally wild with peaks reaching over 2 m. As the kilometers go, traffic is increasingly scarce.

Telegraph Cove, at the far north of the island, is reached via a narrow winding road leading down to an isolated cove where the village nestles. A hamlet, rather, because only 20 inhabitants live there year-round (but many more in July-August…). Singular place which consists of elegant colored wooden houses, some built on stilts above the water.

Originally, in 1911, Telegraph Cove was a simple telegraph station, connecting the north of the island to the rest of the world. Then, the village developed around the salting of salmon, exported to Japan, and a sawmill still in service. The current road was not built until the end of the 50s.

Today, Telegraph Cove, whose wooden houses have all been transformed into hotels, lives mainly on tourism, attracting lovers of large aquatic critters. Indeed, the waters of Johnstone strait and Robson Bight Ecological Reserve neighbors welcome hundreds of orcas and humpback whales who particularly appreciate the places for its pantry and the rocks at the mouth of the Tsitika river ... where cetaceans like to scratch their bellies!

- observation trips at sea (3 hours by boat or zodiac) are spectacular. Besides orcas and whales, porpoises, dolphins, bald eagles, sea lions, sea lions and seals are on the menu. And, if that's not enough, grizzly bears departing from Telegraph Cove take you on a bear encounter.

At sea, the prospect of the island's mountainous coastline on one side and the Strait Islands and the British Columbia shore on the other leaves the traveler in awe, speechless. in front of so much power and beauty ...

Cormorant Island and Alert Bay, the soul of the First Nations

Two excursions are worth the detour from Telegraph Cove: first, Port Alice, a small village that can be reached via the small Highway 30 in half an hour. The road, superb and sometimes crossed by black bears, joins a large fjord which emerges, 40 km further, on the Pacific. During our visit, a whale and its calf had found refuge there to the delight of the local community.

Another must-do discovery: Cormorant Island, a small crescent-shaped island of 4 km by 1 km, located a few kilometers from the coast in the Broughton Strait. It is accessible by ferry from Port Mc Neill, located about twenty kilometers from Telegraph Cove.

Cormorant Island is home to the Namgis First Nation, and more specifically the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw (Kwakiutl) tribe, one of the oldest communities in the Northern Islands. In addition to the beauty of the place and the superb panorama of Vancouver Island, the place is a must to discover the culture of the First Nations of the region, especially at U'mista cultural center.

This museum contains a fascinating exhibition around the potlach, ritual giving ceremonies practiced by the First Nations who were banned by the Government of Canada from 1884 to 1951.

The center has repatriated the ceremonial objects confiscated and scattered in private collections and museums around the world. One of them belonged to the surrealist poet André Breton. Through these true works of art, the rituals, culture and symbols of the culture of the Namgis are presented to the public.

Next to it stand several more or less ancient totems. Further, near the Big House, gets up the tallest totem pole in Canada and one of the tallest in the world. Made in 1972, it measures nearly 53 m!

We can prefer those of Namgis cemetery, located at the entrance to the small port ofAlert bay with pretty wooden houses. A century old for some, they seem to scrutinize the immensity of the sea. A site apart which arouses admiration and contemplation.

Factsheet

Find all the practical information and addresses in the Canada West Routard in bookstores

See also our portfolio Vancouver Island, wild by nature

Destination Canada: official website for tourism in Canada

Tourism Vancouver Island

Tourism Victoria

Tourism Tofino

Parks Canada

How to get there ?

Direct flights to Vancouver from Paris CDG with Air France, Air Canada and Air Transat. Flights to Victoria with Air Canada with connection in Vancouver. Find your plane ticket.

Ferry connection to Swartz Bay (Victoria) from Tsawwassen (Vancouver) several times a day with BC Ferries. Bus transfer from Vancouver with BC Ferries Connector.

Car rental essential to visit the island. However, there is a bus service between Victoria and Tofino.

When to go

Vancouver Island enjoys a mild and humid climate all year round, very rainy in winter, less in summer. The period from May to mid-October is the most suitable for travel. July and August can be very busy, especially in Tofino and Telegraph Cove. Reservation imperative. June and September, quieter and offering beautiful days, are the best months. But don't forget your raincoat.

Good addresses

Victoria

- The Fairmont Empress : 721 Government St in Victoria. The Victoria icon is part of the very select club of historic hotels built in the early 20th century along the Canadian Pacific Railway line. Inaugurated in 1908, this palace, whose architecture evokes an Edwardian castle, was elegantly renovated in 2017. For those who can afford it, spending the night in this refined cocoon is an unforgettable experience. But you can treat yourself to a piece of the dream by having an English high tea ($ 82 anyway) in the tea lobby with beautiful Corinthian columns, or by tasting tasty cuisine inspired by the local terroir at the Q at restaurant. the Empress (meals $ 24-34 at lunch).

- HI Victoria Hostel : 516 Yates St in Victoria. Very well located in the city center, this renovated and comfortable AJ occupies one of the first warehouses in the city, dating from 1882. Dormitories from 4 people, but also affordable double and triple rooms with shared bathroom. Large, well-equipped kitchen with dining room, TV and billiards room, laundry room. Dorm beds $ 30-44 bed linen included. Private doubles and triples $ 75-105.

- Spinnakers : 308 Catherine Street in Victoria. A little out of the way, this brasserie with a large, lively room and a terrace on the water is very popular in Victoria. First of all, for its house beer (which can even be tasted with chocolate), but also its traditional cuisine (salmon, chowder, lamb, burgers, etc.) very tasty based on local products in the spirit of "farm to table ”. Mains $ 15-22, count $ 40-50 for a meal

- Don Mee: 538 Fisgard St in Victoria. It is the empire of dim sum in Chinatown, an institution to taste these delicious steamed bites typical of Cantonese gastronomy. Also an arm-long Chinese food menu, dominated by seafood and Peking duck, as it should be.

- Canoe : 450 Swift St in Victoria. This old factory dating from the end of the 19C, located opposite the port, now houses a busy pub, but also a microbrewery and a restaurant. Magnificent decor with brick facade, wooden frame, hanging canoes and crystal chandeliers. Ideal for a drink.

Tofino - Ucluelet

- Pacific Sands Beach Resort: 1421 Pacific Rim Highway in Tofino. Opened in 1972, it is one of the very first resorts in Tofino, impeccably renovated and maintained. A chic address with an exceptional location in the middle of a large park on the edge of Cox Bay beach, well known to surfers. Wide variety of quiet and very comfortable accommodation, ranging from studios to elegantly designed and fully equipped family apartments (kitchen, TV, jacuzzi and terrace for some…), all overlooking the ocean and with bay windows. Doubles starting at $ 229. Offers and packages on the Internet. Also on site, the cozy Surfside Grill offers excellent burgers, tacos and fish & chips to take away.

- HI Whalers on the Point Guesthouse : 81 West St in Tofino. Superbly located on the waterfront with views of Clayoquot Sound, this chic AJ offers double and family rooms for 4 or 5 people, with toilet and sink (shower is outside). Cozy common area facing the ocean, kitchen, patio with barbecue, living room with billiards table. Bed in dormitory around $ 60 (€ 45). Doubles starting at $ 140.

- Kuma: 101 4th St in Tofino. One of Tofino's most popular tables with tasty and inventive Japanese-inspired cuisine, served in a warm atmosphere. Excellent ramen, miso beef and salmon. Dishes to share. Very good value for money. Mains $ 15-19.

- Wolf in the Fog : 150 4th St. in Tofino. Without doubt one of the best tables in Tofino, named “Canada's best new restaurant” in 2014 and emblematic of the remarkable local culinary scene. Excellent fusion cuisine, offering successful marriages from fine local products: halibut, trout, octopus, pork, chanterelles, poultry ... but also simpler dishes (burgers, cards) nicely assorted. Very good cocktails, local beers, (expensive) wines and a superb bar: the place is also worth a visit for a drink. Reservation essential. Mains $ 12-18 for lunch, $ 15-32 for dinner. Hearty dishes to share $ 45-80.

- The Common Loaf: 180 1st St in Tofino. Snack bar and bakery open for ages in a pretty house with wooden rotunda on 2 levels. Muffins, cinnamon buns, scones, homemade muesli, quiches, soup of the day and sandwiches to eat on the go.

- Tacofino: Live to Surf Complex, 1184 Pacific Rim Hwy, in Tofino. Tacos $ 4,50-6, burritos under $ 14 and gringas (tortillas) $ 4-5. Hearty tacos served in a hippie-style food truck that can be enjoyed on a large wooden table. The concept was so popular in Tofino that Tacofino has spread throughout British Columbia, and rightly so.

- Ukee Dogs: 1576 Imperial Lane in Ucluelet. An old garage converted into a small restaurant with a roots atmosphere. On the menu, creative hot dogs, but also burritos, tacos and pizzas and cookies. Main courses $ 12-18.

Telegraph Cove

- Telegraph Cove Resort: The wooden houses on stilts of Telegraph Cove are now part of a resort: it is possible to spend the night in these dapper historic homes that have kept their rustic charm. There is also an annex, a large wooden building, perched on the heights of the village, with 24 standard rooms and a campsite in the heart of the forest. Open May-Sept. Camping $ 34-40 for 2 adults. Playhouses from $ 145- $ 340 for $ 10 per double. 

- Killer Whale Café : the only real restaurant in Telegraph Cove open from breakfast to dinner with fish & chips, burgers, and more elaborate dishes. Tasty chowder and salmon. Main courses $ 15-35.

Activities

- Prince of Whales Whale Watching: 3 hour sea trip to watch whales at Telegraph Cove by boat or zodiac (better yet) for thrill seekers. The spectacle is guaranteed as the waters of the Johnstone Strait are popular with cetaceans. Very professional crew and lots of information on the animals along the way. Price: $ 130.

- Jamies' Whaling Station: since 1982, one of the specialists in sea trips in Tofino by cruiser or zodiac to observe whales, killer whales, sea lions, black bears ... Very professional and efficient. Price: $ 109 for 3 hours.

- Adventure Tofino Wildlife Tours: another advisable agency in Tofino for wildlife observation trips, cetaceans on the sea side or black bears on the Clayoquot Sound side. Price: $ 109 for 3 hours.

- West Coast Aquatic Safaris: Spacious boat viewing with raised deck for whale and bear spotting around Tofino. Price: $ 109 for outings from 2:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.

- Discover the Past Watching Tours: remarkable guided historical tours of Victoria by passionate and exciting guides. We highly recommend the one in Chinatown. Also after dark Ghost Tours (in English only). Price: $ 20 for a 1 hour visit.

- The Pedaler Beer Tour: interesting thematic bike tours of Victoria (gastronomy, history, castles, seafront…). The micro-brewery tour, led by a true connoisseur of local mosses, will delight hop lovers eager for discoveries… in moderation of course!



Audio Video Canada: Vancouver Island, Treasure Island
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