Plan Your Trip to Central Vancouver Island

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At the hub of it all, Central Vancouver Island starts many a traveller’s adventures. Whether they bookend a trip with a stay in a coastal community or make it their homebase, the region’s ease of access and range of experiences can make for a trip in and of itself too.

Nanaimo | Ben Giesbrecht

What To Do in Central Vancouver Island

Many of the Island must-stops can be found in this region; think well-known favourites like goats on a roof, outdoor trails with waterfall vistas, and sprawling ocean views.

In Nanaimo, the blend of nature and culture runs deep. You’re likely to have breakfast at a farm-to-table cafe, hit the trails, and wrap up at a museum, all in one day. It’s easy to navigate from one activity to the next, whether you’re strolling downtown or zipping into cozy gear to go whale watching. And if you’d like to say you’ve island-hopped, you can visit the neighbouring Islands, such as Saysutshun, the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation (Newcastle Island), and Gabriola.

Parksville beachcombing | Graeme Owsianski

Spanning along the coast, this part of Central Vancouver Island is more than just the renowned beach in Parksville. Lighthouse Country is marked by curved bays and coastal pull overs, including beachfront restaurants and gift shops. While in town, travellers often opt to hunt for treasures at the many thrift shops, plunk down for the day on a beach towel, or hike Little Mountain for sunset views.

The quaint community of Port Alberni can be en route to adventures further west, or the last stop on a central Vancouver Island road trip. It’s nestled into a valley, surrounded by inlet waters, and is an overall cozy spot. Some folks hop on the Frances Barkley, a cargo ship that makes day-long jaunts to and from Bamfield, while others choose to tuck into the local tacos and donuts whose reputations span beyond the valley hills. Don’t miss out on a steam train ride, while exploring the logging history of the region.

The Beach Club Resort in Parksville

Where to Stay

The accommodations in Central Vancouver Island put you exactly where you want to be. Lounge it out at a seaside resort in Parksville, make a temporary home in one of Port Alberni’s boutique style inns, or stay in a historic downtown hotel with ocean views. With highway access to zip between each location, any of the towns in this region can serve as your base to explore the central Island and as far as your sense of adventure takes you.

BC Ferries | Mike Anderson

How to Get There

Central Vancouver Island is a major hub, whether you’re flying in or catching the ferry. For travellers coming from the lower mainland, there are ferries from both Horseshoe Bay, which lands at Departure Bay in Nanaimo, and Tsawwassen, which lands at Duke Point just south of Nanaimo. The drive from Nanaimo to Parksville is just 45 minutes, and about another 45 minutes to Port Alberni. To see it all, we recommend bringing your own car—or renting—and calling it a road trip.

Direct flights to the Nanaimo Airport bring passengers from major destinations, including Vancouver and Calgary, and if you prefer to travel by two feet, take a quick, 20-minute floatplane or Helijet from Vancouver over to downtown Nanaimo.

POSTED BY: Hannah Smith

Hannah is a digital enthusiast and wordsmith, skills she puts to use as a staffer at Tourism Vancouver Island. You'll find her voice behind the region's social media accounts, sharing her love for the Island. She's also held gigs as a translator, a search engine optimization specialist, and even a ghost tour guide. Hannah splits her time between the coastal beauty of Nanaimo and the big sky country of the Peace Region in Northern BC. Ask her about her favourite places to eat, what her dog Walt is up to in her home office, and what Netflix series she's currently binging.

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