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 ….


This is an excerpt from the latest issue of Porthole Cruise and Travel Magazine. To continue reading, click above for a digital or print subscription.

Reporter, mystic, musician, and beekeeper, Grant Balfour has published work in outlets as diverse as Kung Fu Magazine, Biscayne Times, the Australian poetry journal Cordite, and the Weekly World News. His second-favorite beaches include Richard’s Bay, South Africa; Sanur, Bali; Los Mochis, Mexico; the northern bank of the Elbe in Hamburg; and the one five minutes from his home in Florida. His favorite beach is the one between his ears.