Vancouver Island Adventures – outdoor activities in Canada for everyone

Read about Vancouver Island Adventures - outdoor activities in Canada for everyone Photo: Mark Vukobrat

Canada is one big adventure playground with boundless possibilities for outdoor activities and adventure. I’ve always loved to go hiking and cycling but these days I must admit to being a little more cautious about doing anything too extreme, preferring to leave the crazy stuff to my grown-up kids! But on my trip to Vancouver Island last year I tried a few outdoor activities in Victoria and Nanaimo that anyone with an adventurous spirit will love, offering excitement but no real danger. Here’s a selection of my 5 favourite Vancouver Island adventures that are enjoyable for all ages and abilities.

Read about Vancouver Island Adventures - outdoor activities in Canada for everyone Photo: Mark Vukobrat

Whale Watching in Victoria

Whale watching on Vancouver Island an adventure experience you won’t want to miss during your trip to Canada. In Victoria I tried a whale watching tour with Orca Spirit, who run trips twice a day from the Coast Victoria Hotel and Marina. I was on one of the Orca Spirit covered boats, which not only gave us a great view from the observation deck, but an inside cabin with WC and hot drinks available to escape the cold and wind in between the whale spotting. The smaller zodiac would be a good alternative for those who are looking for a more adventurous experience, since you are open to the elements and the smaller boats can sometimes get closer to the whales.

Whale watching in Victoria photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Whale watching in Victoria

The best time of year for whale watching in Victoria is between the months of April and October when the whales come into the Juan de Fuca strait to feed and breed throughout the summer months. If you don’t spot a whale on one of the trips in these months, Orca Spirit will offer you another trip for free, so you may want to book at the beginning of your stay just in case you want to go again.

Whale Watching trip from Victoria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Whale Watching trip from Victoria

The whole whale watching trip took around 3 hours and was about more than just the whales, although of course spotting the Humpbacks and Orcas are the highlight of whale watching in Victoria. During our tour, the marine naturalist guides on board pointed out other wildlife, like the bald eagles perching on the rocks and the seals that bask around the Trial Islands, where they find rich pickings feeding underwater on kelp, sea urchins and sea cucumbers.

Whale Watching trip from Victoria Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Whale Watching trip from Victoria

As we got out into the straits we saw a group of boats gathering close to where a grey humpback whale had been spotted. The whale surfaced several times, blowing up water and then diving down again with a flick of the tail with a wide open mouth to scoop up the shoals of krill. We could see the bubbles on the surface where the whale had dived and then it would be around 10 minutes of the “Whale Wait” before it would surface again in another spot.

Whale Watching trip from Victoria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Whale Watching trip from Victoria

It was definitely worth bringing a pair of binoculars or a telephoto camera lens if you had one, to get the best views and photos of the whales. We also had fun observing a group of sea lions who were playing (or was it fighting?) in the water by the rocks, biffing each other and literally throwing their weight around. There was plenty of information on board about the whales and other wildlife and the enthusiasm of our naturalist guides was totally infectious.

Read More: Top 10 things to see and do in Victoria

Seals on trip from Victoria Photo- Heatheronhertravels.com

Seals on trip from Victoria

Where can I book?: Vancouver Island whale watching tours are offered by OrcaSpirit.com from Victoria in both covered boats and open zodiacs from two different locations in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Check out their website for more information on times and cost – Adults $115 per person + conservation fee & local tax.

Tip: You may also want to take a sea-sickness tablet or buy some ginger flavoured sweets in the Orca Spirit shop if you suffer from motion sickness.

Snorkeling with seals in Nanaimo

Perhaps less well known than whale watching, but an equally memorable experience was the snorkeling with seals that I tried while in in Nanaimo with Sundown diving. Nanaimo is a great place to base yourself for easy access to lots of outdoor and adventure activities on Vancouver Island.

Snorkeling with seals in Nanaimo Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Snorkeling with seals in Nanaimo

Our tour started the Sundown Diving shop, where we pulled on thick wetsuits over our swimsuits and were issued with masks and snorkels – Sundown Diving is also one of the places that offers scuba diving in Nanaimo. We joined our boat at the jetty with Captain Ed, who took us out past Newcastle Island, where some albino racoons were playing on the beach, with a pair of river otters diving in the channel behind the boat.

Snorkeling with seals in Nanaimo

Snorkeling with seals in Nanaimo

As we reached Snake Island the seals were basking on the rocks, but at our approach they started to dive into the water surrounded by rocks that was like their own private swimming pool. Now it was time for us to join them in the water, so we donned our masks and flippers and jumped in. I was expecting to be cold in the water, but in fact the wetsuit was so thick that I felt toasty warm and it was buoyant too so I didn’t have to try too hard to stay afloat.

Snorkeling with seals in Nanaimo Photo Sundown Diving

Snorkeling with seals in Nanaimo Photo Sundown Diving

As we swam closer to the seals and entered the enclosed area of water, they observed us from a safe distance, so we could just see the little black heads and whiskers above the water. Captain Ed had told us that a few of the seals, especially the younger pups would likely be more curious and would come closer to check us out. Sure enough before too long there were a few seals swimming quite close and diving under the water near us.

Snorkeling with seals in Nanaimo Photo Sundown Diving

Snorkeling with seals in Nanaimo Photo Sundown Diving

With the masks and snorkels we could float around and observe any action under the water, but I found the water quite murky green and the visibility quite low, so in the end I preferred to watch the seals from above the water. Although the seals were not that close (although possibly closer under the water than you realise!) it was a thrill to be in the water and in a space that is their natural habitat where we humans are the awkward ones.

Read more: Nanaimo: Food, fun and adventure on Vancouver Island

Snorkeling with seals in Nanimo Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Snorkeling with seals in Nanimo

After around an hour in the water it was time for our snorkeling with seals adventure to end. We swam back to the boat where Captain Ed had a most welcome thermos of hot chocolate awaiting us to warm up during our return trip to the harbour.

Where can I book?: More information about Snorkeling with seals in Nanaimo on the Sundown Diving Website . The experience lasted around 4 hours, including the time to get equiped in the diving shop and getting out to the seals with around an hour in the water. The experience runs 5 days a week and the group size is normally 4-6 people. If you want to take photos of the seals you’ll need a waterproof camera and be sure to have it secured to you with a strap.

Cycling to the vineyards of the Saanich Peninsula

If you want to try some cycling on Vancouver Island, I can recommend Victoria which has many cycle trails leading out of the city. In fact Victoria is known as the Cycling Capital of Canada and the Saanich Peninsula the the north of the city is an ideal place for a bike ride, with quiet country roads, farmland and vineyards.

Cycling to the wineries near Victoria Canada photo- Heatheronhertravels.com

Cycling to the wineries near Victoria Canada photo- Heatheronhertravels.com

In Victoria I took a cycle tour with Seawall Adventure Centre who are based in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. They rent bikes so you can make a self guided tour on well marked routes around Victoria, or take one of their guided day tours like the wine tour of the Saanich Peninsula that I joined. The service includes a drop-off service in a mini-van which can take you to the start point of some trails or bring you back at the end of the tour if you run out of energy or find that all the wine tasting has suddenly made you sleepy!

Cycling near Victoria Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Cycling near Victoria

Our cycling in Victoria took us first through the Downtown area before we joined the Lochside trail beside the river and along the route of an old railway line. The trail took us on shady woodland paths and gravel tracks, occasionally joining the road until we reached our first wine tasting stop, just in time for lunch!

Read more: A foodie guide to Victoria in Canada

Wine tasting near Victoria Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Wine tasting near Victoria

At De Vine Wines & Spirits we rode up the drive with views over the vineyards and tasted our way through a few of their organic wines. A little further we stopped for lunch at Church and State winery, which has a large restaurant and also has vineyards in the Okanagan Valley. Sitting at the bar we munched on their gourmet pizza and tasted our way through the Lost Inhibitions range, with quirky labels like “I love it when you shut up” and “Too glam to give a damn“.

Wine tasting near Victoria Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Wine tasting near Victoria

The Church and State winery is very close to the beautiful Butchart Gardens, so if you are making a self guided tour, this would also be a great place to stop. Finally we arrived at Sea Cider, where we sat in their cafe overlooking the apple orchards and tasted some different ciders, from the fruity “Pippins” to the refined and delicate “Kings and Spies“, accompanied by a delicious platter of local cheeses.

Tasting platter near Victoria at Sea Cider Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Tasting platter near Victoria at Sea Cider

Biking on Vancouver Island in the area around Victoria is a great way to spend a day, stopping at some of the wine and food producers of the valley. You can take it at your own pace on a self guided tour, or have the option of everything being organised with mini-van support on the Seawall Adventures guided day tour.

Where can I book?: Seawall Adventure Centre hire bikes from $40 for Adult bike for a full day. Their full day Saanich Peninsula Wine Tour is $139 including wine tastings and lunch. We visited De Vine Vineyards open daily 11am – 6pm for tastings, Church and State Winery open 11am – 6pm for tastings and bistro open Weds-Sun 11am-3pm,  Sea Cider open daily for tours and tastings 11am-4pm.

Hiking in Vancouver Island at the Gowlland Tod Provincial Park

If you’re looking for some easy hiking trails on Vancouver Island, check out the Gowlland Tod Provincial Park near Victoria, where you can hike the trail with views over the stunning Finlayson Arm Fjord. It’s only 30 minutes from Victoria but you might as well be a world away from the bustling city as you smell the pine needles crunching underfoot and drink in the views of the fjord.

Hiking near Victoria at Gowlland Tod Photo Mark Vukobrat

Hiking near Victoria at Gowlland Tod Photo Mark Vukobrat

I discovered this hike with Mark Vukobrat of Hike Victoria, who picked us up in the city and drove us to the convenient start point for the trail. As we walked Mark pointed out the different forest plants that were used by the first nation peoples, the moss that they used for lighting fires and the bulbs and berries that they would gather for food.

Hiking at Gowlland Tod outside Victoria, Canada Photo: Mark Vukobrat

Hiking at Gowlland Tod outside Victoria, Canada Photo: Mark Vukobrat

Hiking at Gowlland Tod near Victoria Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Hiking at Gowlland Tod near Victoria

Another fun feature of Mark’s tour is that he is a talented photographer and takes lots of photos of his guests at the key viewpoints – your favourite print is included with the tour, while others can be ordered afterwards. Mark knows all the best scenic spots and is famous for his jumping photos where he takes you to one of his secret locations and photographs you jumping in the air. From the angle it looks as if you are about to jump off the cliff although in reality it’s quite safe and definitely a talking point to show friends when you get home!

Hiking at Gowlland Tod near Victoria Photo Mark Vukobrat

Hiking at Gowlland Tod near Victoria Photo Mark Vukobrat

This is one of the best hikes in Victoria that will suit solo travellers, couples and families, especially if you’d like the added bonus of having some cool photos to show from your adventure. Mark has been asked to take wedding anniversary shots and even photographed an impromptu marriage proposal overlooking the fjord. If you’d like to do a self-guided hike of the trail, this is also easy to do as it’s well marked with several information signs along the way, with more information on the parks website.

Read More: How to spend a perfect weekend in Victoria

Hiking near Gowlland Tod inear Victoria Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Hiking at Gowlland Tod near Victoria

Where can I book?: More information on the Hike Victoria Website where you can check times and availability for Mark’s Gowlland Tod tour, there is normally one at 9am and another at 3pm. Adults $78 + tax per person. Packages of photos taken on the hike are also available. If you want to hike the trail self guided you can find more information on the Gowland Tod Provincial Park website.

Kayaking on Vancouver Island and around Canada

Kayak in Nanaimo to Newcastle Island

I had planned to try some kayaking on my trip last year to Vancouver island, paddling a kayak from Alberni Outpost Adventure Centre across to Newcastle Island. The gulf islands stretch all along the coast of south Vancouver island and are rich in First Nation history as well as offering lots of rocky caves and inlets to explore by kayak. Sadly, the weather was against us on that occasion so instead we took the ferry to the floating Dinghy Dock pub on Protection Island for dinner.

Read more: Nanaimo: Food, fun and adventure on Vancouver Island

Kayak tour in Nanaimo harbour photo Alberni Outpost

Kayak tour in Nanaimo harbour photo: Alberni Outpost

However on previous trips to Canada I’ve really enjoyed my kayaking adventures and can highly recommend that you try this adventure experience if you visit any of Canada’s National or Provincial parks. At Algonquin Provincial Park north of Toronto we went canoeing with a guide at Lake Opeongo, spotting the tangled sticks of a beaver lodge and a beaver who quickly dived under with a twitch of his flat tail. We kept our eyes peeled for Moose that are prone to emerge suddenly from under the water where they have been feeding.

Kayak in Canada photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Kayak in Canada

Later on that trip we visited Mont Tremblant park in Quebec province and spent a day canoeing the Meandre de Diable, a winding stretch of river with sandbanks to stop for a picnic. We saw river turtles sunning themselves on a log and watched the dragonflies skimming the water, enjoying the sense of peace and being close to nature.

Read More: Top 10 Canada Moments from Toronto to Montreal

Hopefully I’ve inspired you to try some of these outdoor activities on Vancouver Island and around Canada that give you a sense of adventure but can be enjoyed by all ages and abilities. With so much open space and wilderness, that’s often surprisingly close to the cities, Canada really is an adventure playground waiting for you to discover.

Where to stay in Victoria, Canada

The Inn at Laurel Point in Victoria

For part of my visit to Victoria, I stayed at The Inn at Laurel Point, which is well located overlooking the harbour at Laurel Point, a short walk from all the main sights of the inner harbour and downtown area. From my balcony I could look across the landscaped gardens towards the harbour where I could see the float planes coming into land.

Inn at Laurel Point in Victoria, Canada Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Inn at Laurel Point in Victoria, Canada

My room was in the Erickson wing, which was built in the 1980s, designed by well known Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, where all the rooms overlook the gardens and harbour. The large bedroom and extremely spacious bathroom were elegantly modern in coffee shades, with a touch of Asian inspiration in the decor and artwork.

I would certainly recommend that you try to book a room in the Erickson wing as the bedrooms are luxurious and spacious, while other rooms in the Laurel wing of the hotel are more traditional in style. As is typical with Canadian and US hotels, breakfast is not included in your room rate, but you can order breakfast separately in the Aura restaurant where I had a delicious lunch, or take a short walk to one of the numerous downtown eateries.

More information and book here: Inn at Laurel Point Website | 680 Montreal Street
Victoria, BC, V8V 1Z8. There is parking available in the hotel’s underground car park with a $17 charge although this is included in some room packages.

Magnolia Hotel in Victoria

After exploring Vancouver Island I returned to Victoria and stayed at the lovely Magnolia Hotel, a luxurious boutque hotel that is close to the Inner Harbour. I felt very pampered in my bedroom with silky fabrics, neutral tones of cream and pearl and elegant dark wood furniture.

Magnolia Hotel in Victoria Canada Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Magnolia Hotel in Victoria Canada

The hotel is just a few minutes walk to the Inner Harbour and from my corner room I could watch the 3000 bulbs of the BC Parliament Building light up as dusk fell, creating a magical spectacle. My room included many luxurious touches; a marble bathroom, comfortable sofa with plenty of magazines to leaf through and a delicious treat of fruit and chocolates.

There were information cards in my room, with maps and suggestions for curated trails around the city, and the hotel also has bikes for guests to get around the city and experience some of the lesser known neighbourhoods and viewpoints.

The adjoining restaurant The Courtney Room offers sharing plates, seafood, steaks and fine wines. If you have a hire car, as I did, there is a valet parking service, or you can ask the helpful staff to advise you on nearby car parks or on street parking.

More information and book here: Magnolia Hotel and Spa website| 625 Courtney Street, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 1V8

Where to stay in Nanaimo, Canada

I stayed at the friendly Coast Bastion Hotel, which has a great position on Nanaimo’s waterfront. From my upper floor room I could see across the harbour to Protection Island and Newcastle Island, with sailing boats moored in the bay.

Coast Bastion Hotel in Nanaimo Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Coast Bastion Hotel in Nanaimo

My room was comfortable, bright and modern, with a couch near the window to relax and take in the view. The bathroom was clean and spacious with modern fittings. This hotel is very well located close to the ferry terminal and downtown area, with an adjoining car park, making it a convenient base if you are touring the area or staying in Nanaimo a few days.

More information and book here: Coast Bastion Hotel Nanaimo

Plan your adventure in Vancouver Island, Canada

You can find more information about holidays in Victoria and Canada on the Tourism Victoria Website, the Hello BC Website and the Canada Keep Exploring Website.

Heather flew from London Gatwick to Vancouver with Air Transat and onwards to Victoria. Air Transat flies daily from Gatwick to Vancouver from £407 return. Look out for the Option Plus Service which gives you additional benefits such as seat selection, priority check-in, a dedicated check-in counter, extra baggage allowance, priority boarding and a comfort kit for optimal comfort on board.

From Vancouver there are several connecting flights each day to Victoria with West Jet.

On arrival at Victoria Airport, look out for the YYJ Airport Shuttle which runs a regular bus transfer to downtown Victoria, dropping off at your hotel or other convenient points in town. There is a check-in desk for the YYJ shuttle in the arrival hall of Victoria Airport and the service costs $25 CAD per person one way. The transfer time takes around 30 minutes.

If you need to rent a car in the downtown area of Victoria, there is a convenient rental location with Avis at 1001 Douglas Street and also a desk at Victoria Airport. You won’t need a car to explore the downtown area of Victoria, but it’s useful to have a car for exploring attractions around Vancouver Island.

Remember that in addition to a valid passport, UK Citizens need  to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) in advance. This can be obtained online for $7 CAD here but ensure that you do not leave it to the last moment in case of any problems.

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  • Reply
    Zoe Dawes
    June 6, 2018 at 12:24 pm

    Such a lot to see and do on Vancouver Island. So glad you got to see whales! When we went we didn’t see any tho did get some great views of seals and eagles. Very informative article.

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      June 6, 2018 at 12:35 pm

      @Zoe It’s a big place, I’ve been twice now and feel I’ve only scratched the surface!

  • Reply
    Nim singh
    June 7, 2018 at 7:21 am

    Love the snorkeling idea. Haven’t done that yet!

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      June 7, 2018 at 2:43 pm

      @Nim – must admit I wasn’t looking forward to getting wet but it ended up being a highlight of the trip

  • Reply
    Becky Moore
    June 7, 2018 at 9:29 pm

    Snorkelling with seals must be incredible, lovely photos!

  • Reply
    Kathryn Burrington
    June 8, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    So many wonderful things to do. Kayaking, snorkeling with seals and whale watching would be top of my wishlist. I’ve been whale watching from Victoria before but sadly didn’t see any but thay’s nature for you and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    Kathryn Burrington´s last blog post ..When is the best time of year to visit Canada?

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      June 10, 2018 at 12:25 pm

      @Kathryn – hopefully you’ll get another chance to go back to see the Whales

  • Reply
    Karen Burns-Booth
    June 8, 2018 at 10:40 pm

    I love kayaking and what a great place to do it! Live the cool west coast of Canada too.

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      June 10, 2018 at 12:25 pm

      @Karen Definitely loads of fun outdoor activities to do here

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