Vancouver Island insider: trips you may not have considered

Nineteen (or 20) experiences you may not have considered, right in your backyard

Kaylie McKinley enjoys the view from high atop the Tofino Tree Hammocks.

Everybody’s heard of Long Beach, Cathedral Grove and Butchart Gardens.

And if you’ve lived for any length of time on Vancouver Island, you’ve probably visited them too.

But with 32,000 square kilometres to play in, chances are good you’ve yet to experience everything the Island has to offer.

With writers on the ground in nearly every community, Black Press may know Vancouver Island better than any other publisher. Tourism Vancouver Island is in the business of connecting people with our Island’s best experiences.

We’ve asked them to share some of the Island’s underpublicized gems.

Here are five Vancouver Island destinations that you may not have considered

Port RenfrewPort Renfrew: One tends to look north when thinking of remote, unspoiled Vancouver Island communities, but one of Vancouver Island’s most overlooked spots is less than two hours out of Victoria, greeting the open Pacific from our southwest corner. A bridge between the West Coast Trail and the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, Port Renfrew offers the ecological wonders of Botanical Beach and Avatar Grove, buoyed recently with the developed of the Wild Renfrew waterfront cottages and its revamped fresh and funky pub. Visitors from the north can get there via Lake Cowichan and the Pacific Marine Circle route.

Tree Hammocks and the fallen bomber: Amidst the natural splendour of the Tofino area are two man-made oddities that you can reach by hiking an hour or so through some relatively difficult wilderness. Seventy-one years ago an RCAF scouting mission pancaked into the side of a hill. Twelve men survived and the wreckage is more or less intact. The location is not exactly a secret but it’s not obvious either. Even more obscure are the Treetop Hammocks, a series of arboreal nets ranking from the size of a small field to a one-person crow’s nest rigged high in the trees, offering a great view of the Tofino/Clayoquot area. Neither attraction is easy to hike to, or well-marked. People turn back. People get lost. The appeal of this one is in the adventure. We’ll leave it to you to scour the internet and the brains of people around the community for clues on how to get there.

Tea FarmThe Cowichan Valley Teafarm: Some time this year, Victor Vesely and Margit Nellemann will harvest the first crop of homegrown tea in Canadian history. But their neat little farm nestled in the pastoral countryside between Duncan and Chemainus is doing more than proving Agriculture Canada wrong. It’s been delighting visitors for a decade now with a charming mixture of pottery, farming and high-quality teas.

Grizzly bear tours: Everybody knows about the excellent whale watching tours that run out of a variety of Island locales, but grizzly bears? Aren’t they a mainland animal? Well, yes, but one of the best ways to see them in the wild is by hopping a grizzly tour from Campbell River or Island communities further north to the mainland inlets beyond. Multiple boat and even seaplane tours are available. And yes, chances are you will see whales too.

Harbour sealSnorkelling with seals: Have you ever been kissed by a seal? It might happen on this excursion staged regularly out of Nanaimo. More than 250 harbour seals live on Snake Island, a narrow sliver of rock about 15 minutes by boat from Departure Bay. Sundown Diving offers regular tours where you can bump flippers with this crowd of seals as they bustle along through their day-to-day activities.

Not every cool experience is necessarily a destination. Here are 14 other experiences that may not be worth a day trip in and of themselves, but might be well worth checking out if you are in the neighbourhood.

Campbell River: Willow Point Reef, a finger of rock that extends into the entrance of Discovery Passage which on a really low tide is like a window into the undersea world. Beachcombers can explore the nooks and crannies and see starfish, sea urchins, and even octopuses.

Comox: the Comox Air Force Museum has a variety of vintage aircraft in an outdoor setting and the museum has a lot interesting memorabilia, including a POW diary and drawings from ‘The Great Escape’ camp.

Fanny Bay: The Wacky Woods are a forested property full of artist George Sawchuk’s unusual scattered musings on life

Parksville/Qualicum: a 10-kilometre round trip, Top Bridge Regional Park features a bicycle-friendly trail connecting Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park a magnificent suspension bridge spanning the Englishmen River

Port Alberni: Hole in the Wall is a short hiking destination where a small, pretty waterfall pours through a unique round hole punched through an imposing wall of shale

Nanaimo: A favourite area hike is Ammonite Falls, featuring fossils and a gorgeous little waterfall you can get to the base of with a rope-assisted climb.

Ladysmith: another destination hike, Heart Lake is accessed by a relatively steep 20-minute climb that features two lookouts with spectacular views of the Gulf Islands.

Lake Cowichan: Most visitors come for the water sports, but the town’s Kaatza Station Museum features a great slice of logging history including the legendary Wilmer Gold collection of old logging photographs.

Duncan: The Raptors offers visitors a chance to get up-close and personal with owls, eagles, hawks and other birds of prey

Brentwood Bay: Next to the legendary Butchart Gardens, the Tod Creek Trail takes walkers down to the remnants of the former cement plant owned by the Butchart Family.

Saanich: Big, in the middle of town, and offering a variety of hikes, Mount Douglas Park goes from seashore to mountaintop and offers amazing views of the Greater Victoria area.

Victoria: Here’s one the tourists know better than most up-Island residents. Ghostly Walks is a creepy 90-minute city tour exploring some of the most gruesome slices of the capital’s history

Metchosin: Matheson Lake is almost in East Sooke, and easily accessible from the Galloping Goose Trail if one wants to ride out from the city. It’s got a beautiful old-time swimming hole, and is a gorgeous place to walk around the lake, or sit and contemplate one’s navel in nature in relative quiet.

Sooke: In the mid-1800s, Leechtown exploded in Vancouver Island’s first gold rush. Now few signs remain at the site north of Sooke, but you can get there walking the Galloping Goose Trail.

— with files from Black Press

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMcKinleyBP

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