Whales, Bears, Cities, and Nature – Escape to Vancouver Island

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This itinerary features visits to Indigenous hosts in the lively now-urban centres Victoria and Vancouver of traditional Coast Salish Territory, remote coastal wilderness destinations, and the unrivalled beauty of Vancouver Island’s scenery.

In Victoria, the shared territory of the Esquimalt, Songhees, and Saanich people, embark on an exciting whale-watching journey. Travel to remote Tofino in Nuu-chah-nulth Territory to discover the remote and untamed rainforests and pristine ocean beaches seldom seen by people, home to bears and eagles; and paddle east of Tofino in a traditional dugout canoe to Meares Island, a home to the Ahousat people for thousands of years.

A captivating stay on Quadra Island in Kwakwakaw’akw lands provides a perfect base for nature viewing excursions in search of whales and other marine life and bears.

Day 1: Explore Victoria

Upon arrival in Victoria, drive to your hotel. Victoria offers visitors an ideal and enticing mix of Indigenous and colonial histories with vibrant, cosmopolitan features – everything from sunny beaches and sparkling lakes to championship golf courses, spas, shopping, gourmet restaurants, and a happening nightlife. Victoria is also home to innovative museums, engaging art galleries, and historical sites.

Victoria has a wide range of accommodations to choose from.

Day 2: Whale-watch in Sidney

A short drive brings you to the seaside village of Sidney, one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Embark on an exciting 3.5-hour marine cruise by zodiac on the Salish Sea. Tour the Gulf Islands Archipelago for guaranteed whale sightings in the heart of orca feeding grounds with Sidney Whale Watching.

You may see transient and resident orcas (killer whales), grey whales, humpback whales, minke whales, and other marine life. From Sidney drive to world-renowned Butchart Gardens. Stroll through the many themed gardens and delight in the dynamic palette of colours and fragrances.

Day 3: Travel Victoria via Nanaimo to Tofino

Travel from Victoria to Tofino as a panorama of scenic beauty unfolds before you. In Nanaimo, visit Saysutshun Newcastle Island, a special place of physical and spiritual healing for the Snuneymuxw. Once host to mines, quarries, and herring salteries, the island is now a protected marine park with more than 22 km of maintained trails to accommodate all fitness levels. Schedule an interpretive trail walk with Snuneymuxw hosts or stop by Q’uluc’tun Bistro for a snack, bike or kayak.

From Nanaimo, drive to Port Alberni, in the traditional lands of the Nuu-chah-nulth people, majestically located on a deep-water ocean inlet. Here, visit the Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, which houses hand-crafted art from the Nuu-chah-nulth, Coast Salish, and Kwakwaka’wakw people.

Your drive will end at Pacific Rim National Park – a marvel of ecological and geographical diversity on the rugged coastline in the heart of traditional Nuu-chah-nulth Territory. The park reserve’s temperate rainforest is home to western hemlock, Sitka spruce, and western red-cedar.

Stay at Tin Wis Resort , owned an operated by Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, where every room is ocean-view.

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Day 4 - Explore Tofino

Enjoy an excursion in a traditional Indigenous dugout canoe to Meares Island, one of the homes of the Ahousat people, with T’ashii Paddle School. Join a Nuu-chah-nulth guide and learn about Indigenous culture, history, and the local environment.

In the afternoon, visit Ray Vickers Gallery. The gallery is owned by world-renowned artist Roy Henry Vickers: accomplished carver, design advisor of prestigious public spaces, sought-after keynote speaker, and author of several successful books. Built by the owner and his family, the beautiful traditional Northwest Coast longhouse features a carved and painted cedar plank exterior and doors of beaten copper and is a Tofino landmark.

Taashi Paddle School

Day 5: Travel Tofino to Quadra Island

This morning, your route will lead you to cultural and natural features, including the 13,000-year old Hupacasath petroglyphs at Sproat Lake. Visit the picturesque falls and deep gorges at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, bordered by steep mountains.

Upon arrival in Campbell River, you will have a 10-minute ferry ride to Quadra Island, followed by a short drive to your beautiful oceanfront resort, the Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge. This Indigenous-owned and operated lodge features Pacific Coast Kwagiulth architecture, as well as traditional and contemporary native art, the freshest seafood, and the Kwakwakaw’akw culture of Laichwiltach First Nation.

Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge

Day 6: Wildlife-viewing

Today, Explore the Salish Sea and traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation with Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours. Two different options exist depending on the season.

First Peoples, Water and Land June 15 – August 14: For millennia the traditional home of the Homalco First Peoples provided it’s residents with all the necessities of life. Travel to Bute Inlet aboard a comfortable, heated boat through the Salish Sea, while watching for its residents that include humpback whales, orcas, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins, bald eagles and other seabirds. Your time in Orford Bay includes an interpretive walk and exploring the estuary by zodiac where you will learn about traditional uses of the land, view petroglyphs and possibly see bears feeding on sedges.

The Great Bears of Bute August 15 – October 15: Experience a 7-8 hour marine and land wildlife tour with a focus on grizzly bear viewing in Bute Inlet. Homalco guides will transport you by bus to a variety of bear viewing platforms and prime ground viewing locations to look for the magnificent bears that come down to feast during the annual salmon run that typically begins in mid-August. Along the way, guides will share knowledge about the bears, salmon, Homalco people and ties to the land.

Homalco Wildlife Tours
Homalco Wildlife Tours

Day 7: Travel Quadra Island to Vancouver

Today you board the ferry for your return trip to Campbell River where your drive continues south along the eastern shores of Vancouver Island through Coast Salish lands.
As you drive through Comox, you are passing through the traditional lands of the K’ómoks First Nation where you can visit the I-Hos Gallery, where you can view and buy excellent examples of authentic west coast Indigenous art.

Arriving in Nanaimo, you board a BC Ferries vessel and sail across the Salish Sea to Vancouver. The remainder of the day is at leisure.

In Vancouver, stay at Skwachays Lodge, an Indigenous-owned boutique art hotel for socially responsible travellers. There are 18 unique and modern suites that tell timeless stories, including the Longhouse Suite, Forest Spirits Suite, and Drum Circle Suite.

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Day 8: Explore Vancouver and Urban Walking Tour

This morning, you will join one of Talaysay Tours cultural ambassadors for a leisurely 90-minute Talking Trees walking tour through what is now Stanley Park in Vancouver. Your guide will share the many stories of this region, as well as intimate cultural and scientific knowledge of the Northwest coast trees and plants. You will hear how the Coast Salish people continue to use these plants for food, medicine, art, and technology.

Afterward, you will have free time to explore the city on your own. Be sure to visit Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, a public gallery named after the acclaimed Haida artist, Bill Reid.

You may wish to enjoy a casual lunch or dinner at the celebrated Salmon n’ Bannock Bistro, featuring a menu of local wild fish, organic and free-range meats, bannock and other culinary delights inspired by a variety of Indigenous traditions.

How to get here

This driving itinerary requires a car.