Vancouver Island, located off of Canada’s Pacific Coast and situated north of Seattle, is known for its mild climate, outdoor lifestyle, breathtaking scenery, and thriving arts communities. On Vancouver Island’s southern tip lies Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. With its boat-lined Inner Harbour, neo-baroque Parliament Buildings, grand Fairmont Empress Hotel and English-style gardens, this city is popular with both tourists and homebuyers. With abundant parkland, Vancouver Island is a popular destination for hiking, biking, and camping. The island’s rugged west coast is also well-known for outdoor activities such as surfing and kayaking.
Central Vancouver Island
Stretching along the sheltered east coast of Vancouver Island, the Central Island offers visitors glorious parks, sandy beaches, warm ocean temperatures, tranquil lakes, exceptional golf courses, and fabulous fresh and salt water fishing.
Central Island features Vancouver Island’s second largest city, Nanaimo. A fun-filled and energetic city, Nanaimo is known for its commercial success and lovely harbour. The word “Nanaimo” is derived from the Coast Salish word “Sney-Ny-Mous” which means “meeting place.” Famous for its varied landscapes and more than 24 outdoor parks, Nanaimo boasts one of the most beautiful waterfronts in Canada.
Vancouver Island Hub
Nanaimo is also the mid-island transportation hub to and from the British Columbia mainland. BC Ferries has daily sailings from Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver on the Mainland) and Duke Point to Tsawwassen on the lower British Columbia mainland. This makes Nanaimo easy to travel to, and a great central location to set up base for tours of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
The new Island Highway (Highway 19) hugs the coast from Nanaimo up to Fanny Bay, the northernmost point of Central Island. It’s always a visual treat to look across the Strait of Georgia at landmarks on the mainland and enjoy the miles of scenic, sandy beaches.
North of Nanaimo and just off Highway 19 is the protected harbour of Nanoose Bay. The local marinas, one as large as 400 berths, are a destination for visitors throughout the Pacific Northwest and around the world. The Nanoose Bay area is a vacationer’s paradise, offering a wealth of activities including sailing, windsurfing, fishing, tennis, diving, hiking, canoeing, and much more.
Exiting off Highway 19 onto the Oceanside Route Highway 19A takes you through seaside communities with homegrown hospitality and an abundance of activities and accommodation to choose from. Parksville marks the beginning of Oceanside country with the focus on the outstanding waterfront. When the tide is low, vast stretches of sand beckon to sandcastle builders and beachcombers. As the tide comes in, the water is warmed by the hot sand and is perfect for swimming. Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, just south of Parksville, features a fine 2 km sandy beach, wooded stands with great nature trails and birdwatching opportunities. Arts and crafts in the Parksville area are world-renowned and feature a diverse selection of paintings, pottery, and jewelry. Feel free to relax in the sun, play in the water, stroll along the shoreline and play a round of golf. Parksville has something to please everyone.
From Parksville you can head west along Highways 4 and 4A through the pastoral Coombs area toward Port Alberni (Pacific Rim). Coombs old-fashioned country stores are scattered around Coombs Emporium and Frontier Town. The small stores sell crafts, knickknacks and many antiques. Don’t miss the grass-covered roof of the old market that is home to several grazing goats!
Island hoppers can also enjoy Gabriola Island, accessed from Nanaimo by BC Ferries. The island is partly residential but also holds large expanses of forest with abundant wildlife. Long stretches of unspoiled coastline can be explored.
Nanaimo & area communities to explore
- Gabriola Island
- Nanoose Bay
- Qualicum Beach
Traveling to different island climates and natural settings of Vancouver Island is one of the pleasures for visitors to the Central Island region. Shop, eat and sleep in style while exploring a historic harbour city of Victoria. Dine at Canada’s only floating pub and restaurant on Protection Island. Hurtle down forested mountain bike trails. Canoe across placid blue lakes. Smile at the delightful sight of goats on the grass-covered roof of a country market in Coombs.
Nanaimo, the Island’s second largest city, has evolved into a lively urban centre with its smartly restored downtown and walkable harbor front.
Many visitors arrive in Nanaimo via its ferry terminals, floatplane services, cruise ship terminal and revitalized airport. Great hiking and cycling trails, kayaking and boating opportunities, ziplines and even a bungy jump zone are within walking distance of downtown. Explore the Old City Quarter before catching a passenger ferry to Protection Island for a pint at Canada’s only floating pub and restaurant. While you wait for your meal, the kids can even fish through the floor of the restaurant.
Outdoor pursuits are available wherever you’re based on the island. Milner Gardens and Woodland is one of Vancouver Island’s favorite public gardens. Scuba divers can explore artificial reefs in Nanaimo’s harbour. Meet locals and their canine companions on beachside promenades. Golfers can roam between 19 courses in the region while their non-golfing partners opt for whatever pleases them: shopping, culinary tours, birdwatching and kid-friendly outings to wildlife and barnyard petting zoos.