Vancouver Island, Coast to Coast
For any “road cruiser,” whether in a car, a tricked-out Sprinter van, or a fully loaded Winnebago Adventurer, the big dream is a coast-to-coast trip. But before you jump into a bucket-list journey that can take many months (and hopefully hundreds of side-trips) to complete, consider a practice run — a miniature coast-to-coast drive through some of North America’s most beautiful landscapes. We’re talking about spending a few days crossing Vancouver Island from the Salish Sea west to the wild Pacific Coast.
Victoria: The Butchart Gardens
We’ll start in the city where cruise ships dock. Victoria might seem at first like a little sister to (or ferry-boat expansion of) the metropolis of Vancouver. It’s actually the provincial capital of British Columbia, and is packed with sophisticated charm.
The Butchart Gardens is a uniquely civilized introduction to Vancouver Island’s natural beauty, with 55 acres of carefully shaped landscapes tended by 50 full-time gardeners. The attractions include an Italian Garden, a Japanese Garden, a Rose Garden, all crafted around Jennie Butchart’s original Sunken Garden — a former limestone quarry she decided to make beautiful in 1912.
Nanaimo: Trails and Tastes
From Victoria, we head north via the Brentwood Bay ferry (the oldest ferry link on the coast of British Columbia) to Nanaimo, a place of towering trees and taco trucks, but famous across Canada as the birthplace of the “Nanaimo bar.” This no-bake dessert features layers of custard and chocolate ganache over a crust of shredded coconut, nuts, and graham cracker. In a region famous for its trails, the least strenuous has to be the Nainamo Bar Trail, leading visitors to bakers serving the treat’s most creative interpretations.
Qualicum Beach & Courtenay: Elevated Vacation or Elven Fantasy
Continuing along 19A to Qualicum, we come to a choice of two fantastic glamping getaways. Turn left, and you’re at Free Spirit Spheres, a dream-like rainforest resort consisting of cozy, globe-shaped treehouses suspended by cables in the middle of the coastal rainforest.
Or continue half an hour up the coast to Courtenay and the Rainforest Yurt: An Elven Fantasy. This gorgeous woodland lodging is to a tent what the Ritz-Carlton is to a Motel 6. The interior boasts a curving staircase leading up to a sleeping loft, while the valley outside is filled with stately trees and paths leading down to the beach.
Coombs: The Old Country Market
Turn back south for a stop at The Old Country Market. What started as a simple produce stand gradually evolved. Today, it’s a traditional Scandinavian sod-roof building with a happy family of goats munching on the grass overhead, and people munching down below at the taqueria, the cafe, the pizzeria, the bakery, the doughnut shop, the ice cream parlor … or shopping for European deli goods and ….