If you are planning on driving to Port McNeill for your kayaking tour with Kingfisher, you may want to choose to add a few stops along the route.
When taking the ferry from the mainland of British Columbia to Vancouver Island you can either sail to Nanaimo or Swartz Bay (Victoria). The tips below are for the route from Nanaimo to Port McNeill.
A good resource is http://vancouverisland.travel. Here are our favourite places to visit on Central Vancouver Island.
Nanaimo is a port town with a quaint downtown, good hiking trails and access to beautiful Gabriola Island. If you are travelling with kids, a little south of Nanaimo you can find WildPlay with ziplines and tree ladders, perfect for an afternoon of fun for young and old.
To the west of Parksville, on highway 4 your first stop will be Coombs: Make sure to say hi to the famous goats on the roof at the Market. Further down the road, you would want to check out the impressive Englishman Falls. Continue driving towards Port Alberni and you will find yourself surrounded by dense rainforest. You can hug these giant old growth cedars and firs for yourself in Cathedral Grove Park.
Keep driving to the west coast, and you will find the coastal towns of Tofino and Ucluelet. For visiting both of these towns, you want to add an extra night (or two) to your drive. Stop by one of the many surf shops in town for your first surfing lesson. You can also opt to stay dry and go for a stroll on one of the many beautiful beaches in the area, or the Pacific Trail in Ucluelet. There are various whale watching and hot spring tours to see more of the area by boat – we recommend the ones where you can do both!
Back on highway 19 (or if you are skipping the west coast route on highway 4), continue driving north. Near the town of Qualicum, Horne Lake is worth a stop for its cave tours and lake hiking and camping. Your next stop is the Comox Valley, home to the towns of Courtenay, Comox, and Cumberland. Courtenay is a great town to stretch the legs for a stroll along the shops on 5th Avenue. Cumberland has world-renowned mountain biking trails, a quaint downtown strip, and great swimming at nearby Comox Lake. Just outside the town of Comox you can find some beautiful oceanfront parks and beaches.
From the Comox Valley you can decide to stay on the Inland Highway 19, or drive the scenic (slower) Coastal Highway 19A to Campbell River. When taking highway 19: half an hour north of the Comox Valley, you can take the exit to Mount Washington. Vancouver Island’s largest ski resort in the winter, in the summer it is open for hiking and mountain biking. When taking the scenic coastal route: go in search for sand dollar shells on Miracle Beach or watch car races at the Saratoga Speedway.
Campbell River is the next town on your drive. The self-proclaimed “salmon capital of the world” and is a great place to start many outdoor adventures from. From late July to late October you can go snorkeling with the salmon as they enter the Campbell river system. Visit the Discovery islands of Quadra, and Cortes a short ferry ride away.
Campbell River is also from where you access Strathcona Park: a large mountainous area with plenty of outdoor opportunities. A short drive east from Campbell River brings you to the spectacular Elk Falls. If you want to explore more of Strathcona Park, keep driving to two accommodation options: the Strathcona Park Lodge or the Buttle Lake campground further down the road. If you are into rock climbing, you want to keep driving to the Crest Creek Crags, just before the village of Gold River.
For activities on the next two hours of your ride to Port McNeill, you want to read Things To Do on Northern Vancouver Island.