Take in the small-town ambiance set in the natural beauty that the island has on show. Getting away from the mainstream, we will travel the road less taken, the Old Island Highway which offers a pleasant winding journey and passes through many unique towns that offer a variety of sights, sounds, and activities.
Mill Bay, an old logging and mill town, had much to show off despite its small size. Visit a winery, or take in the beautiful Bamberton Provincial Park. Cowichan Bay, a bit further on and near the heart of the island’s wine country, is a wonderful waterfront village with wharves, float homes, fishing, whale watching, and great restaurants and eateries. The natural sheltered harbours of Maple / Genoa Bay have Canada’s warmest year-round temperatures. Hike up Maple Mountain and take in the panoramic views of the Bay and beyond. Still in the Cowichan Valley, we pass through Crofton, a town that grew from the logging industry with a still-operational pulp and paper mill. From here, B.C. Ferries sails to Saltspring Island, visible from Crofton’s shores.
Still in the Cowichan Valley, we head up near Chemainus, home to the world famous outdoor mural gallery and the Chemainus dinner theatre. This ocean-side town offers many boutique shops, art galleries, and a farmers’ market to browse. Just past Chemainus is the rural town of Saltaire, a true west coast small town with panoramic ocean and mountain views. The historic coal mining town of Ladysmith is a bigger centre with a fascinating history. Inhabited for centuries by the First Nations people, the coming of the European brought industries in the way of mines, logging, and mills. While the coal is long gone, the town is still active in logging and milling. This lovely town has a picturesque main street with lots of shops from the quaint to the quirky.
A little further north, we find the towns of Cedar, Cassidy, and Yellowpoint. These rural towns are a slice of west coast farm life, while the Yellowpoint Lodge offers a “casually elegant” escape from the everyday with excellent food and accommodation right on the ocean. Leaving the rural idyll of the countryside, the City of Nanaimo is the next centre we pass through. This is Vancouver Islands other major city, with lots of shops, restaurants, and things to see and do.
On the way to the seaside towns of Parksville and Qualicum Beach, we pass through the towns of Oyster Bay, Lanzville, and Nanoose. Each of these small towns offers unique views and history. Parksville and Qualicum Beach are a haven for those looking for a slower pace and all the amenities at hand. These lovely seaside communities offer diversions for every age, including golf, fine dining and miles of sandy beach. Next up are the tiny towns of Buckley Bay and Fanny Bay. Buckley Bay is home to the B.C. Ferries cable ferry to Denman Island, while Fanny Bay is home to the best oysters around.
The next point of interest is the Courtney / Comox area, home to the Mount Washington ski area, great mountain biking, loads of farms, and offering many activities for the adventurous traveller. Here you can truly dine from field to table, with many restaurants offering local produce and seafood. From here, there are many options available for the next destination!v