|Tribune Bay on Hornby Island|
Ah, the simple pleasures of a sandy beach on a sunny summer day—emerald light reflecting off the water, light breezes whisking cool air onshore, sinking your toes in sand as soft and warm as fresh-dried cotton. We have dozens of places Vancouver Island visitors and residents can do all that. Yep, way up here at 49 degrees north.
Most people think of tropical islands for beach time, but we’ll happily compare our strands of sand with any, anywhere in the world. We have long, lazy golden-sand stretches of shore where, when the tide’s out, families can haul buckets and shovels hundreds of meters out and build tall sand castles in quiet bays. We have glistening ivory commas of wilderness beach where, after a short hike, travelers can picnic with only the call of eagles and barking of sea lions for conversation, ancient old-growth trees at their backs. We’ve world-famous surfing beaches; south-facing sun-warmed coves whose waters warm to tropical temperatures in July and August; tiny pockets of white-shell beach where minks prowl the shallows for fish; rock-guarded coves whose emerald waters shine with the marigold colors of sunflower stars
Vancouver Island’s total shoreline is nearly 3,500 kilometers; neighboring islands add another 2,400 kilometers of shore. No one’s ever measured how much of that is beach, and lots of “beach” is gravel merging to sand. But clearly there are thousands of places perfect for strolling, sunbathing, picnicking, poking about and, yes, swimming.
Here are some of our favorites. From well-known to rarely visited, these exemplify our beach scene:
- Long Beach, Tofino: This is perhaps Canada’s most famous surfing locale, a 16-kilometer stretch of sand in Pacific Rim National Park’s Wickaninnish Bay that’s a popular destination for wave-riders who treasure the steady North Pacific swells that roll in to shore. But it’s also perfect for long (very long!) beachcombing strolls, and lucky wanderers may still find the occasional glass fish-net float washed up on shore. Nearby Chesterman Beach, at the south end of Tofino, is a broad, firm stretch of sand that’s great for bike-riding.
- Tribune Bay, Hornby Island: Sometimes nicknamed “Little Hawaii,” the half-mile arc of sand here on Hornby’s most popular provincial park faces almost directly south, and is shallow hundreds of meters out. That means both sand and water warm so much in July and August that it’s a fine destination for quasi-tropical sunbathing, swimming and general family fun. Hornby itself is a delightful, quiet and quirky vacation locale—one of the island’s other key attractions is the recycling centre.
- Rathtrevor Beach: Parksville, Qualicum Beach and the shoreline between the two towns is a generations-old family vacation destination, with dozens of resorts ranging from quaint cabins to world-class spas. The main attraction is the sunny summer weather and the beaches thus blessed, and Rathtrevor is one of the most popular of all. Backed by low bluffs, with sandflats that stretch offshore almost a quarter-kilometer at low tide, the beach and its provincial park are crowded with families playing in the sand, every day from late June to early September.
- San Josef Bay Beach, Cape Scott Park: Visitors must walk 45 minutes through spruce woods to reach this wilderness shore at the far northwest corner of the Island—and the reward is one of the most scenic, peaceful, untrammeled beaches in the world. Framed by forested headlands, with a glistening arc of sand backed by old-growth spruce fringe, the beach is the haunt of eagles, seals, bears and shorebirds more than people. Its southwest exposure brings in the sun, the headlands moderate the Pacific swells, and few places in the world offer an experience like this.
- Kanaka Bay Beach, Newcastle Island: The east-facing shore of Newcastle Island Provincial Park, in Nanaimo Harbour, is a 90-degree arc of sand, pebble and rock that’s an easy 10-minute hike from the island dock. Aside from the chance to watch herons, sea lions and other wild shore creatures, and to wade in sun-warmed waters, the northeastward views of the Coast Range on British Columbia’s mainland are magnificent.
- Botanical Beach, Port Renfrew: More rock than beach, this famous stretch of shore two hours northwest of Victoria is one of the best places to view the marvelous, colorful life found in Pacific tidepools. Here, at low tide, visitors can admire ivory nudibranchs, emerald anemones, purple and orange sea-stars, silver baitfish and innumerable other gems of intertidal marine biology. Nearby Port Renfrew Bay has a long stretch of protected sand on the inland shore, northeast of the town of Port Renfrew.
- Gabriola Sands, Gabriola Island: Like several famous resorts far south of Vancouver Island, this small provincial park at the north end of Gabriola has a morning beach and an afternoon beach, one facing east into the early sun, the other west into the long afternoon and evening of summer. In between the two is a verdant sward with ample room for picnics, croquet, pickup football games and just general lazing about.
- Montague Harbour Provincial Park, Galiano Island: The north shore of this small park has a beach glistening with the white clam and oyster shells that have accumulated here, broken into pieces, over the decades. Amber-trunked arbutus trees lean out over the water from the hillside, and sailboats lean into the breeze as they cruise the channel between Galiano and Salt Spring Island.
Wonderful as all these beaches are, keep in mind that they are just a few among thousands. It’s easy to find your own, too, whether you simply pull over to the side of the road along one of our many shore-side highways, head out in a kayak to your own private cove, or take advantage of the many tour operators who take visitors to remote locales. As they say in tropical latitudes: Life’s a beach—so have fun.
For more information on the many beach-side provincial parks, please visit www.bcparks.ca.
|The view from Quadra Island|
Quadra Island’s name reflects a novelty of Northwest Coast history—in many cases the first explorers to chart these complicated waters were Spanish. Here, at the north end of the Strait of Georgia opposite present-day Campbell River, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra sailed by in 1775, and his name was affixed to the island by Canadian geographers in 1903.
Place names are all that remain of the Spanish explorers, who found the entire region of little interest to the Hapsburg crown. It remained for modern voyagers to recognize the riches of this special place: Quadra island is a quintessential Salish Sea outpost. Here are tall old-growth cedars, firs and hemlocks; salmon ply the tide-swept channels around the 410-square-kilometer island; orcas pass by and eagles call from cottonwood roosts; and canoeists and kayakers ply quiet waters, both fresh and salt. Though it is just a 15-minute ferry ride from the small-city bustle of Campbell River, the island’s atmosphere is pastoral and peaceful. Most of all, the premier visitor destinations on the island reflect the Kwakwaka’wakw people who have lived here for centuries.
Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge is poised on the bluff overlooking Discovery Passage on the southeast side of the island. A splendid example of classic Northwest lodge architecture, it features massive cedar beams and posts and incorporates elements of a traditional longhouse in its foyer and lobby. Owned and operated by the Cape Mudge band, Tsa-Kwa-Luten is one of the few Canadian First Nations hospitality destinations.
Just a few minutes away is one of British Columbia’s finest attractions, the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre, a compact museum in which heritage Kwakwaka’wakw masks, totems, bentwood boxes and other artworks are on display (www.nuyumbalees.com). Most represent ceremonial regalia that was taken from local families during the potlatch ban around the turn of the century, and repatriated in the past two decades. Both beautiful and meaningful, these are semi-sacred treasures that have returned home from exile, and their appeal is vivid, their stories compelling.
Also of interest are a quiet, little-visited park at the end of the road on the north island, Main Lakes Provincial Park; and the famous marina and inn at Heriot Bay, much beloved of Inside Passage sailors and an excellent spot for an alfresco dinner on a balmy summer evening.
To learn more about Quadra Island, visit the island’s tourism site, www.discoveryislands.ca.
|Salt Spring Island Market - Photo: Tourism BC/Tom Ryan|
Asparagus to zucchini, zinnias to apples.
Vancouver Island farmers markets are among the most delightful mainstays of life on our shores. The Island’s climate and topography combine to create an ideal agricultural environment, and our lifestyle preferences help provide an economic boost for the many family growers and gatherers who produce foods here. This is one of the world capitals of local, sustainable food preparation; farmers markets are an integral part of that ethos.
While the farmers market trend has swept North America over the past two decades, it has long been part of life on our Island. Aside from the fact our climate and landscape lend themselves to growing everything that isn’t tropical, it has always made more sense to provide for ourselves rather than ship goods in from the mainland. Several of the commercial food and produce stands along Highways 1 and 19, between Victoria and Campbell River, represent multi-generational family businesses that long predate concepts such as “locavore” cuisine.
Locavores not only believe in supporting local growers, they take advantage of the simple fact that fresh-picked, local produce and meat tastes better—and small producers offer varieties not found in big stores. Few chain-store grocery shoppers have ever had the chance to enjoy the crisp, sweet-tart taste of a Gravenstein apple, for example; or the hearty heft of bread made with heritage Red Fife wheat. Local beef, lamb, fish and shellfish are equally distinctive.
Farmstands and commercial produce markets are common across the Island, and travelers will encounter them along almost every major road. In addition, visitors seeking a genuine Island lifestyle experience will gain great enjoyment from a morning or afternoon at one of our many farmers markets. Most of these operate on weekends at local parks or public squares, and savvy market shoppers know the best time to go is late morning, when produce stalls are still well-stocked, and food vendors are gearing up for lunch. For more information visit www.islandfarmfresh.com.
Island towns that have weekly markets include Nanaimo, Duncan, Sooke, Metchosin, Cowichan Lake, and several locales on the Saanich Peninsula north of Victoria. Victoria itself has three major farmers markets.
While the Saturday market in downtown Ganges is one of Canada’s oldest and best-known, Salt Spring Island offers an especially enchanting variation on the centrally located farmers market. Here, along the island’s many quiet back roads, families place food and flower stands by the side of the road, with everything from fresh-baked bread to dahlia bouquets on offer. When it comes to buying locally, that’s as local as you can get.
Farmer's Markets in the Vancouver Island Region.
For this edition of islandMOMENTS, we asked our Facebook Fans what their FAVORITE Farmer's Markets are in the Vancouver Island Region.
Here are their Top Ten...
- Comox Valley Farmer's Market
- Campbell River Pier Street Farmer's Market
- Cedar Farmer's Market
- Duncan Farmer's Market
- Errington Farmer's Market
- Sooke's Saturday Marketk
- Craig Street Market (Parksville)k
- Qualicum Farmers Market
- Moss St Market (Victoria)
- Tofino Public Market
|Photo: Discover Comox Valley - Comox Valley Farmer's Market|
For more information about things to do on Vancouver Island, visit www.vancouverisland.travel
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