Banner photo courtesy of Tourism Nanaimo
Located at the heart of the Island, Central Vancouver Island boasts over a dozen beautiful and unique communities all just a short drive from one another. From the slow food movements of the Cowichan Valley to the quirky culture of Coombs and everything in between, a three-day escape to Vancouver Island is guaranteed to be an exploration of food, culture, and nature all at a relaxed pace only the Island can offer.
Day 1 – Parksville Area
Kick off this central Island circle route by heading straight for Errington to visit the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, home to many varieties of birds and even a resident black bear. A stop at Coombs –where you can fuel up with donuts, smoked salmon, and meringue cookies (in whatever order you please)–is a must. You’re likely to find a gift or two to take home, whether that’s a piece of pottery, or a tie dye tee. From here it’s a scenic loop over to Cathedral Grove, home to some of Vancouver Island’s largest Douglas Firs. If you fancy a picnic at this point, stop in at the BC Parks picnic area just before Cathedral Grove.
Looking to add ocean breeze to this day of the trip? Pull over in Parksville to experience one of the world’s finest beaches. Travellers and residents alike stroll the boardwalk, but an overnight in one of the town’s beachfront hotels makes for an unforgettable stay.
Day 2 – Nanaimo
Well rested after your stay in Parksville, drive back to Nanaimo just in time for lunch. Head downtown to find a myriad of culinary options inspired by local ingredients. Whether it’s a quick stop at a coffee shop, a chic bistro, or farm-to-fork restaurant, it’s all within walking distance in the city’s core. Cap off your meal with a stop at one of the locations on the Nanaimo Bar Trail to savour the town’s signature treat.
Feeling full and energized, it’s time to pick your next adventure. Those with a flare for adrenaline can take a fear-defying bungy jump or rent mountain bikes and explore the Doumont trail network. If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground while exploring land and sea, grab a few snacks and catch the foot ferry to Saysutshun for an 8 km walking loop that’s packed with viewpoints and interpretive signs.
If the ocean is calling, respond with a guided kayak trip or whale watching tour, all of which is accessible from the Nanaimo harbour.
Finish your day off with a local libation from one of the many craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries before resting your head in a downtown hotel.
Day 3 – Cowichan
Day three begins with another short drive south from Nanaimo to the Cowichan Valley. Known for its abundance of farms, artisans, and culture, this area is ripe with unique flavours sourced from local ingredients, particularly wineries and brew pubs. The newest addition to the Cowichan cider scene is Valley Cider, located just north of Duncan on Mays Road.
From Mays Road, make your way to the coast to visit the Genoa Bay Cafe for lunch with a picturesque, waterfront setting. Then, lace up your hiking boots and head up Mount Tzouhalem for a short hike to the summit, where you’ll discover a breathtaking a view if the Valley you won’t soon forget.
Finish your day off with a relaxing evening in Cowichan Bay, where you’ll find a myriad of quaint and colourful storefronts and restaurants offering some of the best seafood chowder on the island, marine experiences, and artistan creations.
On this three day getaway, you’ve got a few options for arriving on Vancouver Island through Nanaimo.
- BC Ferries: You can access Central Vancouver Island by way of Tsawwassen or Horseshoe Bay, which both dock in Nanaimo.
- By Air: You have a few different options for flying into Nanaimo. If you’re coming in from the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), then you’ll likely hop over to the Nanaimo Airport on a major carrier like Air Canada or Westjet. If you’re coming from Vancouver and prefer a more scenic experience, Harbour Air offers float plane service from downtown Vancouver to downtown Nanaimo. Both terminals offer car rentals close at hand.
Find out more about Vancouver Island and start planning your own itinerary today!