THE ISLAND ROUTES
VANCOUVER ISLAND, BRITISH COLUMBIA
DRIVING THE EAST COAST of Vancouver Island from Nanaimo to Port Hardy on Highways 19 and 19A can take just four hours. But what’s the rush in the off-season, when heritage hamlets, locavore gems and surf-battered beaches beckon in Canada’s mildest winter region?
Begin your journey in the island’s harbourfront second city, where the bookstores, coffee shops, music stores and art galleries lining Commercial Street invite leisurely exploration.
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park
The 19A passes small communities and Salish Sea bays. Stop at Rathtrevor’s driftwood-studded sands for beachcombing and skedaddling sea otter sightings.
Morningstar Farm, Parksville
Sidestep from the highway to visit this farm, home to the Little Qualicum Cheeseworks. They serve up generous samples (try the Bleu Claire) and also sell delectable, velvety blackberry wine from the on-site Mooberry Winery.
If you prefer beer over blackberry wine, stop in at the Cumberland Brewing Company for a pint. The old village’s hip storefronts invite further perusal, but skiing at Mount Washington is just 30 minutes away.
Drive past Campbell River and detour via Beaver Cove Road to reach this scenestealing charmer, where the brightly painted old buildings present the perfect photo op.
Save your memory card for equally beguiling Alert Bay, a short ferry ride away from Port Mcneill. Its boardwalk shacks and striking totems are joined by bald eagles whirling overhead.
Explore the north’s main town, then make for Cape Scott Provincial Park. Its forest-fringed San Josef Bay beach is a dramatic, wave-whipped reminder of the raw beauty of winter travel.
Vancouver Island’s Mount Washington, just 30 minutes from the village of Cumberland.