If you’ve been to the west of Canada you’ve probably heard about this beautiful and stunning island called Vancouver Island. My first glimpse of this place was when my wife and I flew over, on route from Brisbane to Vancouver. We were flying at sunrise and the mountains rose from a sea of cloud with the sun piercing the peaks. Lucky for me, my wife had planned a week long road trip on the island well before we even left Australia.
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We first went right across the country to my wife’s hometown, in Newfoundland, before returning to Vancouver a month later to finally explore this rugged island.
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The first thing we did once we arrived at the Vancouver Airport was to rent a car. There is this great site called Easy Rent Cars that have some insane deals on car rentals. We got a brand new Jeep 4wd for $17 a day to cruise around in for 10 days. You’ll still need to get insurance on top of this and we used RentalCover as they charge around $10 a day. This is far cheaper than the insurance that the rental car companies will use.
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If you use this link you can get US $30 off your rental price.

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The rental company picked us up and took us straight to the office where all the cars were. There we filled in the paper work, signed our life away and were out of the parking area after 10 minutes. It was very hassle free and an easy process.
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Driving in Vancouver was a little hectic at the start. For one, I usually drive on the left and getting the road position took a little getting used to. Also, Canada has these strange intersections called 4 way stops. There are stop signs on every side so that was really confusing. My friend told me that whoever gets there first then it’s their turn to go. This is very confusing because during peak hour who knows who was there first. 
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We stayed with my wife’s brother in downtown Vancouver for a few days before driving out to Horse Shoe bay and taking the ferry over to Nanaimo. The ferries run all day and the company puts on more ferries if there is a long weekend or special event. We booked the earliest ferry over which was 6am. We wanted to get to Vancouver Island as early as possible and make a full day of exploring out of it.
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If you want to check the timetables for the ferry you can click here
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Getting to the ferry terminal

First, you will need to drive to Horseshoe bay and follow the big overhead signs for which lane to take to get to the harbour. Once you get in line you just wait and drive forward as the other cars go forward. Once you’re there you’ll see a small booth up ahead where you show your booking and then the warden will tell you which lane to go into. There are a lot of lanes going onto the ferry so make sure to stay in the lane the warden tells you. Just follow the crowd and park your car as close to the one in front as you can. Now you can go up stairs and enjoy the ride.
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There is food, drinks and all sorts available up on the deck. Unfortunately, on the way to Departure Bay we didn’t see anything because of the thick sea fog but coming back to Vancouver the mountainous view is amazing. 
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The trip will take a total time of 1.5 hours to reach Departure Bay on Vancouver Island. Nanaimo is the 2nd biggest town on the island after the capital, Victoria. We didn’t go to Victoria because we didn’t have too much time but it would be a great place to visit if you are on the island. 
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Seeing that we were on a road trip we decided that we would buy a cooler from the Walmart in Nanaimo and stock up on some things there. Vancouver Island is quite expensive so it is better to buy the majority of your food there than anywhere else. Our first stop was going to be Ucluelet on the west side of the Island. There is only one road in there and one road out so if you want to see a lot of the island you’ll need a lot of time. 
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We loaded up the jeep with all the food that we bought in Nanaimo and were on our way. 
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Crossing the island is magical and the scenery changes quite a lot. There are a lot of things to see along the way so make sure you leave before lunch time to make the most of the drive across the island. 
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Nanaimo to Ucluelet

The first place to stop is Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park  just a short 45 minute drive from Nanaimo. This provincial park has a really nice hiking trail that will take you around 30 minutes to complete. You pretty much circle the river and check out 3 or 4 impressive waterfalls. This place is amazing and a must stop place along the way.
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Just down the road is the world famous Cathedral Grove. Here you’ll find a small trail on both sides of the highway where you can walk in and amongst 800 year old trees. The trees are massive and the trail follows a loop around so you can check out the whole area. Be careful when driving through here because the road is very narrow and there are a lot of camper vans pulling out onto the highway with little notice.

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The first major town is Port Alberni around 90km from Nanaimo. We stopped here for lunch as it is quite a large town and you could actually take a boat from here all the way to the west coast.
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From here the drive winds its way through the forests and past the rivers and yo can follow the signs to stop off points along the way. We highly recommend stopping at Wally Creek. This is a road side stop just by the river which apparently, has a cliff jump. You can walk down onto the rocks down below and there is a very impressive flow of water over some rocks here. If you need to stretch your legs on the way this is the spot. Location is here.
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Wally Creek
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From here we didn’t make another stop until we came to the fork in the road. Right to Tofino and left to Ucluelet. Tofino is a world famous tourist town and from the moment you drive into town you can see why. Huge inlets, towering mountains and cafes all along the main strip its a cool town. We found that accommodation in Tofino was very expensive so we decided to stay in Ucluelet instead. 
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Ucluelet is around 40 kms from Tofino and you’ll drive through the Pacific Rim National Park to get there. Ucluelet is a gem in its own right with kayaking, hiking and its own selection of amazing cafes to choose from. We rented an Airbnb cabin right in town and paid $154 for 2 nights. For the same place in Tofino would be 2 or 3 times that so we just couldn’t justify the cost. 
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There are a LOT of things to do around this area and if you have the time and money I’d recommend at least one week or 2 if you can fit it in. This is a place you come for a long time. 
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What we did in Ucluelet

My wife and I both love hiking so the first evening we went to hike the wild pacific trail at the Amphitrite lighthouse. The trail is just around an hour long, especially if you stop a lot and take photos. This is also a great spot for sunrise with some really beautiful views to the rocks out in the ocean. 
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Florencia Bay

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Just outside of Ucluelet is one of the nicest beaches along the whole west coast, Florencia Bay. This beach is packed with surfers as the waves are pretty good here. You can also walk all along the beach as the sand is hard and it’s a really nice walk. We saw bear poo and bear footprints all along the sand close to the forest, so be sure to keep an eye out for these beautiful creatures.
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We also tried to go to the Shorepine Bog Trail which is right near the turnoff to Florencia Bay. As it was the trail was closed because a bear was sighted in the area but that would be another cool little trail to check out. 
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Rainforest trail

The rainforest trail was the absolute highlight of the trip for us. This loop that goes on both sides of the forest is along a well maintained wooden boardwalk and you get to walk right up high off the forest floor. There really isn’t anything else like this and its free to check out. Each loop is around 800m to 1km long so it doesn’t take too long to complete.

 

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The rainforest trail is around halfway between Ucluelet and Tofino so for the sake of this post ill call everything after this point Tofino area.
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Cafes

During our time in Ucluelet we mainly cooked our own food from our Airbnb but we did go out a couple of times for coffee and for lunch at a really cool pizza joint. There is also one small shop that sells organic produce and is a hit with backpacker crowd. Barkley Cafe right in the centre of town makes some of the best coffee around so be sure to check them out. We also went to Cedar Family Grill for lunch on our last day in town. We shared a pizza from there and one between 2 people is definitely enough. The staff are really friendly and with tips the bill was less than $30. There is also the Co-op food store where we stocked up on things that we had run out of. It’s pretty much a huge grocery store where you can get just about everything. Prices are more expensive than in Walmart but for things you forget or need on a whim this place has you covered.

What we did in Tofino

 Long Beach

As you drive along the main road to Tofino the first thing you’ll see is long beach. A 16km long stretch of wide, hard sandy beach where you can ride your bike or take a long walk. When the tide is out you can even walk up and climb on top of the big rock right in front of the carpark. You’ll see plenty of photos of people causing up the beach on their push bikes at low tide as this beach is perfect for an afternoon ride.

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Radar Hill

Just as you enter Tofino on the left hand side there is a turn off to Radar Hill. This is a cool spot that has a really good viewpoint over to Tofino and the mountains of Vancouver Island. The road up is short and you can drive almost all the way to the top before a short walk to reach the very top.
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Tonquin Park

As we only spent 3 days and 2 nights in Ucluelet we didn’t get to see a whole lot but if you make it one night to Tofino for sunset you have to check out Tonquin Park. It is just a short drive from town and you can park and walk the 200m from the carpark down to the beach. The night we went here the sunset was unbelievable and we wished that we could stay for longer. If the price of accommodation in Tofino wasn’t so expensive we may just have done that. 
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We did try to book a sight seeing tour on an aeroplane but we just didn’t have enough time. The weather wasn’t that great and you have to a few days in advance to book. There are 2 companies in town that offer the sight seeing tours and I would highly recommend this if the weather is good. Tofino Air Service offers per person so if you are alone or a group of 2 then you can easily just join with another group. The other company, Atleo River Air Service has charter planes which means you have to book the whole plane. The cost is $400 so you’ll have to find 2 other people to share with you or just pay the money and go with a half empty plane.
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There is also kayaking tours and overnight trips that you can go on with a guide. Some companies offer kayaking without a guide but this may be hard because they want to see that you have experience. This is hard to prove if you aren’t a hardcore kayaker. That being said where there is a will there is always a way so its best to try. There are a lot of really cool islands around that you can explore but when the weather changes the water becomes very rough so be sure to go when the conditions are favourable. 

Cafes

While we were in Tofino we did checkout some really cool cafes. As the weather is usually pretty cool in this par of the world most of the cafes have a fireplace which creates a really nice ambiance. You can waste away the morning just sitting and having some coffee and a cake while reading a book or having a chat with your friends.
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Some of the cafes we went to were Common Loaf Bake Shop, Tofino Roasting Co, Sugar Shackand Tofitian Cafe
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Common Loaf Bake Shop was by far one of the best ones. They have a huge selection of breads and the prices are pretty reasonable. They have an upstairs where you can sit if the downstairs in full, which is more than likely as this place is super popular.
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Tofino Roasting Co is a really cute cafe on the Gibson Street corner just as your going through the main centre of town. This place has some amazing hot chocolate and a fireplace where you can come and escape the cold air and get warm again.
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Sugar Shack is an ice cream shop and they are all about the zero waste. My wife and I actually ate here twice and found it to be incredible. 
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Tofitian Cafe is a bit out of town but if you are coming from Ucluelet then it’ll be the first place you go past. There are a number of different shops in this little shopping area on the east side of the main highway. Their coffee is really good and will give you something to kickstart the morning with.
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Leaving Ucluelet for the east coast.

We had a week on the island and sure we could have easily stayed the whole time on the west coast but we didn’t and we headed east to check out a new part of the island. We actually left the last 4 nights of our trip open to decide what we would do. If we liked Ucluelet we would stay and if not we would go somewhere else. As it turned out there wasn’t a whole lot of accommodation available for us and the accommodation that was available was way out of our budget. The weather was also turning for the worse so it was time to leave and head east.  
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I had done some research and found that there were some hiking trails up the top of the Mount Washington Ski Field. We searched on Airbnb and Booking.com but didn’t find any good accommodation up at the ski field but we did find an awesome Airbnb in Courtenay which ill link here
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We paid $60 for our stay in Courtenay but we didn’t arrive until the dark and we also left in the dark to get up to the ski field for sunrise so I can’t say too much about Courentay. We did however drive along the east coast north to Courtenay but we didn’t really find it that interesting. 
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We left Courtenay an hour or so before sunrise and headed up the to the ski field. The road is really good and you climb right up to over 1100m. When we got to the top it was -5 and everything was frozen with a layer of ice on it. 
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Strathcona Wilderness Park is the huge park at the top of the hill and there are actually 2 entries to this park. One is from the ski field and the other is from Buttle Lake, a 130km drive around to the other side of the mountain. The trail we took was the Paradise Meadows Loop Trail. We didn’t actually complete the whole trail because it is quite long but we did enjoy the sunrise along the wooden boardwalk.
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You’re so grateful when the suns ray come up and hit you when it is -5 degrees outside. The trail follows a board walk and because it was covered in ice it was treacherous. We had to be very careful walking along here not to slide out. Once the sun came out the ice slowly melted away and it is so beautiful up there and I can’t recommend it enough.

Campbell River

Our next stop on our road trip was Campbell River, the last major stop on the island before the remote north and west of the island. 
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Campbell River has a lot of cool things to do in and around the town so I’d recommend staying here for at least 4 or 5 days to get a true feel for the area.
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The first thing we did when we got to town was to go to the visitors information centre. The staff are extremely friendly and can arrange anything for you. If you have the money there are a lot of really cool trips that you can take. One being the boat journey to go and see the Grizzly bears. This trip looks so good however at $430 a person it was just way out of our price range. If this is something that you really wanted to do then I’d save the money and go because it just looks so incredible. 
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There is one thing that we really wish that we could do while we were in Campbell River and that was to go on the Corilair Historic Mail Run. 3 times a week a small float plane goes out to the small communities and delivers the mail. They offer tourists the chance to go along for the ride and help deliver the mail. This is probably the only way that the business stays afloat but the ride looks incredible. The cost is $199 a person and the trip lasts a couple of hours, landing around 5 times. If you would like to know some more information click here
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We rented a place on Airbnb for our stay in Campbell river as it had a kitchen and was fully self contained. The place we stayed was Cozy River Hideaway for $120 a night. It was a little out of town but that was no problem as we had the jeep. Elk Falls Provincial Park was right across the road so it made for a perfect place to base ourselves.
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The Elk Falls in a huge waterfall and if they release the water from the dam the flow can be quite insane. There are sirens all around to alert you if they are going to release the water as it could be quite dangerous. There is a big swing bridge that crosses the canyon and from there you have a really good view of the falls. We actually stood on the bridge for quite some time just being in amazement at how much water goes over the edge. There is also a hiking trail on the other side where you can actually go to the top of the falls. Here you have another unique view points and this is certainly one of the highlights of Campbell River.

Around 20km north of Campbell River there is the hike to Ripple Rock. The 2 rocks used to be just 2.7m underwater in the middle of the channel where ships would travel from America to Alaska. Some ships fell prey to the 2 rocks by hitting them and damaging their ships. In 1958, after 3 years of planning, a team of engineers used explosive charges to destroy the 2 rocks. After the explosion the 2 rocks sit 14 and 15m underwater respectively and the channel is now safe for ships to pass through. 
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The hike out to ripple rock is an alright on. You pass through some dense forest along a single trail. I’d say that the time invested in this hike isn’t really worth it. The path is good but it is kind of boring so you’d be better off spending you time at Elk Falls or somewhere else. 
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If you are around the town at night be sure to go down to Dick Murphy Park for the sunset.
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The park is on a spit sticking out into the water and you have some really nice views back to the mountains. There is a lot of driftwood here as well and you can sit and make a fire as the sun goes down. There were a lot of people just sitting around and making a nice fire to have some marshmallows around. This is a really cool area so don’t forget to check it out. 
Our final day came and it was time to head back to Nanaimo. You can’t go to Nanaimo and not try the famous Nanaimo Bar. There are a few bakeries in town but I got mine from a local one in Nanaimo town. These things are the best and you really can’t come here and not have one. 
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In Nanaimo we also went to Morrell Nature Sanctuary. There are a lot of trails through the forest in here and it was a really nice spot to stretch the legs before me made the trip back on the ferry to Vancouver. Morrell Sanctuary is on private land and if you are travelling with your dog it is allowed to come in here with you.
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The ferry ride back was the exact same boat that we had come over on. The procedure is much the same as going to the ferry in Vancouver. Just follow the overhead signs for the ferry terminal, you can’t miss it. Get your ticket checked in the booth, wait in the car to drive onto the ferry and thats that. 
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Our trip back was really beautiful. The afternoon sun was shining and the mountains were clearly visible this time. The coast along this part of the world is truly amazing. Once we got back to Horseshoe Bay we actually spent the afternoon exploring the small bays around this area before heading back to the city. One spot I can really recommend for the sunset is Point Atkinson lighthouseIts just a 20 minute drive back towards Vancouver from the ferry terminal. There are a few people here as its a great spot to see the sun set over the city. You can see Mount Hood standing huge from behind the city skyline. Its a great spot to end your road trip before heading back to the main city.

Logistics for the trip

Renting a car

We used Easy Rent Cars. We have found that they are the cheapest one to go with and we’ve rented from them 4 times before and never had a problem. You just sign up for an account, put in your dates and locations and they’ll find you the cheapest options available. Like I said we rented a brand new Jeep for $17 a day from them. That worked out even cheaper than a 4 door sedan and was such a cool car for us to take on our road trip.
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You can get US$30 off your first booking by using this link.

Taking the ferry

You don’t have to pre book the ferry if you don’t want to. Its possible to just get in the line and pay at the booth. As you drive into the ferry area there are big signs saying how many spots are still available on the ferry. If you know when you want to go use book ahead. That way you know exactly when you’ll be going and wont have to chance it and maybe have to wait ages for the next one. The ferry bookings and timetables can be found at BC ferries by clicking here

Where to stay

As I mentioned above the cost of accommodation on Vancouver Island is substantial. There is always the option to camp however the island is one of the rainiest places on earth so be prepared to get wet. We used Airbnb for all of our bookings and found that they were really good choices. If you’re going from May until September you’ll have to really plan as this is the summer season and it may be hard to find a spot.
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You can get $50 off your first stay on Airbnb by clicking here.

Where to eat

There are an abundance of cafes, restaurants and the like on Vancouver Island. The one downside is the cost. My wife and I deliberately chose places with a  kitchen so that we could cook our own food. Sure they cost a little more than a hotel room but we would save a fortune vs eating out at a restaurant every meal. We bought a cooler in Walmart in Nanaimo. Here we stocked up on food that we thought would last us for our time in Ucluelet. All we needed to do was stop off and get a bag of ice to keep the food cool while we were travelling between Ucluelet and Campbell River. 

Booking Activities

If you would like to book activities during your time on the island this is best done by either going to the tourist information centre in the local area. They can call and book in the trip for you with most of the operators. The other thing to do is go directly to the company you want to book with and make a booking direct with them. Remember that some times you need to book a few days in advance so keep that in mind.
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My wife and I wanted to do the scenic float plane ride but couldn’t because we didn’t book far enough in advance. Also check the weather to see what it will be like in the coming days. Sometimes flights and kayaking trips will be cancelled if the weather is bad.