Vancouver Island-Canada’s Great Pacific Adventure

From  kayaking  among  orcas  to  watching grizzly bears feast on salmon, the wildlife encounters   that   await   on   Vancouver Island   are   stupendous.   The   scenery—from  rocky  fjords  to  impenetrable  old-growth  evergreen  forests—is  the  Pacific Northwest  at  its  most  spectacular. And the   postcard-perfect   city   of   Victoria awaits  when  you  want  a  dose  of  urban sophistication   along   with   your   natural splendors.  Vancouver  Island  is  too  big, and  its  highlights  are  too  diverse  and numerous,  to  cover  on  a  single  visit,  but no  matter  what  itinerary  you  carve  out, you won’t be disappointed.

At over 32,000 sq. km (12,355 sq. miles), “Van  Isle”  is  the  largest  island  in  Western North America—it’s about the same shape as New York ’s Long Island, but 10 times the size. Most people’s point of entry is Victoria,  one  of  the  loveliest  port  cities  in  the Pacific,   and   which   a   smitten   Rudyard Kipling once compared to “a little bit of old England,” set against something akin to the natural beauty of Italy’s Bay of Naples combined   with   the   Himalayas.   The   city’s enchanting  Inner  Harbour  is  lined  with such  landmark  buildings  as  the  Fairmont Empress   Hotel;  stop  for  a  drink  in  the hotel’s  Bengal  Lounge,  but  skip  the  over-priced  guest  rooms.  Victoria’s  top  attraction  is  the  marvelous  Butchart  Gardens ,  whose  20  hectares  (49  acres)  of painstakingly    maintained,    gorgeously arranged  plants  and  flowers  leave  even non-garden-types  agape.  From  Victoria, the only way to go on Vancouver Island is west: It takes about 5 hours to drive from end to end, though many remote areas are accessible only by floatplane.

Killer whales are the big cheese of Vancouver’s wildlife offerings, and Telegraph Cove,  near  the  northwestern  tip  of  the island,  is  one  of  the  best  places  in  the world  for  orca  watching.  Here,  Johnstone  Strait  is  home  to  more  than  100 orcas,  so  sightings  are  practically  guaranteed.  To see the whales  from  land,  head  17km  (11  miles) south of Telegraph Cove to Robson Bight Ecological  Reserve,  where  the  orcas scratch  their  bellies  on  socalled  “rubbing stones” along the shore. Sea kayaking is also possible along Vancouver’s protected waterways—with such majestic surround-ings, this is always an unforgettable experience.  Whether  you  see  a  pod  of  orcas  or just a few playful porpoises, you can’t help but come away humbled by nature.

The  town  of  Campbell  River,  along Vancouver’s  northern  coast,  is  known  as the  “salmon-fishing  capital  of  the  world,” but there are plenty of spots all over Vancouver  for  freshwater  and  saltwater fishing  (for  steelhead,  trout,  halibut,  rock cod and ling cod, shellfish, and five species of  salmon).  Grizzly  watching  has  also become  quite  popular  here,  and  the  best way  to  see  these  formidable  bears  is  with Knight Inlet Lodge’s grizzly tours .  Viewing is from the safety of a boat cruise along shores  where  grizzlies  are  known  to  fish, though depending on the season, you may be able to climb tree stands to observe the bears from land.

The rough and rugged west side of Vancouver  is  famously  pounded  by  Pacific gales and waves in fall and winter. Storm watching is an activity in its own right here and  most  awesome  at  Long  Beach  in Pacific  Rim  National  Park  (near  the resort towns of Tofino and Uclulet). Gaze in amazement  at  the  sheer  power  of  nature lashing  the  shore,  and  then  tuck  in  some-where cozy and dry for a hot chocolate.

When the city of Vancouver (across the Strait  of  Georgia)  hosts  the  Winter  Olympics    in    2010,    visitor    numbers—and prices—are  likely  to  go  up  all  over  the region  as  soon  as  Bob  Costas  and  crew show  TV  audiences  worldwide  just  how breathtaking, and jampacked with outdoor activities, this part of the world is.