Image credit: Tourism Vancouver Island/Boomer Jerritt
Nikki Bayley explores nature and culture on Vancouver Island
For once the tourist board slogan isn’t writing cheques that the destination can’t cash: ‘Beautiful British Columbia’ is the proud boast and they are not exaggerating – especially when it comes to Vancouver Island.
The spectacular scenery of this Pacific North West island is ravishing; soaring Douglas firs, red cedars and Garry oaks, the snow-capped peaks of Golden Hinde and the Comox Glacier and the pristine waters that surround it.
And forget any preconceptions you may have had about a sleepy, small spot – Vancouver Island is about the size of the Netherlands, and is renowned for its beauty and its year-round holiday versatility.
Unless you’re dealing with clients who want a glitzy Vegas-style shopping experience, they won’t be disappointed. Alongside breathtaking natural beauty, they’ll find the wildlife that goes with it, plus award-winning golf courses and ultra-luxury spas.
Add in a sophisticated culinary scene plus surfing, biking, kayaking and hiking and you’ve set the scene for a holiday of a lifetime.
SELL: NATURE, CULTURE, ADVENTURE
Vancouver Island will stimulate all your clients’ senses. They can go whale watching and see pods of orcas, humpbacks and grey whales breach the water.
They can feast on some of the world’s best oysters; the delicate salty-sweet Kusshis and briny Effingham Inlets; or nose-dive into the freshest just-caught seafood from wild salmon from the Campbell River to Ucluelet halibut.
Simultaneously, they should sniff, swirl and sip a glass of locally-grown Pinot Gris on a Comox Valley winery tour. They’ll definitely taste the difference in harvested-that-morning vegetables piled high on their plates.
When it comes to getting active there are endless inlets and coves to kayak, trails to bike and mountains to hike. And thanks to the mildest climate in Canada, they can ski in the morning and still play a round of golf after lunch in December. Over on the west coast, Tofino is a paradise for year-round surfers with consistent summer swells, but the wild winter weather brings the best rides. They could sign up to a surf school and leave a true Canadian surf champ.
But it’s not all off-the-grid adventure; softer pleasures await too, maybe shopping until they drop in quirky boutiques and unique stores selling local designers’ wares, crafts and art. And no visitors should miss the chance to soak up the therapeutic benefits of hand-harvested, locally-gathered seaweed in soothing spa treatments. Restaurants are world-class, beer is brewed locally in craft breweries and talented mixologists throw together cocktails made with locally-distilled Victoria Spirits oaken gin.
SEE: CITY TO COAST
British Columbia’s capital Victoria is on the southern tip of the island. Known as the most British of all Canadian cities, its formal gardens and lovely harbour are perfect for clients looking for a sophisticated, but relaxed city break.
Victoria may be compact but it has plenty to offer; it’s home to Canada’s oldest Chinatown, the Royal BC Museum, which has an excellent aboriginal First Nations exhibition and Emily Carr House, which has Canada’s largest collection of work from one of its most famous artists. It’s also the hub for whale watching trips through the nearby San Juan islands.
Golfers will love the 155-mile Golf Trail with its brace of award-winning greens along the east coast of the island, from Campbell River all the way down to Victoria. Tranquil ocean views, abundant wildlife and that famous Canadian hospitality await.
Out on the west coast, Tofino is Canada’s surf capital; soak up the sunshine and beach life in the summer with a busy calendar of food and music festivals. In the winter months it’s also home to the curious phenomenon of storm watching; grab a blanket and a cup of cocoa and curl up indoors and watch the drama unfold. You’ll find luxury galore among the wild nature here with high-end resorts and full service spas.
The northern tip of the island is home to more than eight million acres of temperate coastal rainforest – twice the size of Africa’s Serengeti – where grizzly bears gather to feast on salmon and the seas are home to grey whales, orcas and humpbacks.
STAY: LODGE LUXURY
Victoria has the most choice of accommodation from the opulent luxury of the Fairmont Empress on the harbour with its famous afternoon tea service, to family-friendly properties, with full kitchens, such as The Oswego Hotel.
Most of the big name luxury resorts are dotted along the west coast around Tofino; the Wickaninnish Inn is a Relais & Chateaux property with direct beachfront access, exceptional restaurant and a full service destination spa. A few miles up the coast, the Pacific Sands Resort also boasts beachfront access and offers a fully-equipped kitchen in each suite.
On Vancouver Island getting out in the wild doesn’t mean roughing it – not unless you want to – even spotting wildlife like grizzly bears at the Great Bear Lodge comes with a certain amount of luxury. This boutique floating lodge, which can only be accessed by floatplane, may be rustic but each of the eight bedrooms has its own en suite bathroom and gourmet meals from the freshest possible local ingredients – and yes – that includes the same salmon that the bears are feasting on too.
Even the humble fishing lodge takes on a stylish sheen. Up in the northeast point of Campbell River, Painter’s Lodge makes the perfect base for anglers looking to fish the salmon capital of the world. Set sail from the Lodge’s dock to Discovery Passage to land chinook and coho salmon. Take a complimentary water taxi to its sister resort, April Point, to soak up the therapeutic treatments at its Aveda spa.
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