Gorgeous sun-filled days, fresh air, long walks along sandy beaches and dining at delicious restaurants are just a few of the things we savor in the Northwest. If you’re thirsty for exploration, our up-island guide is chock full of local favorites and off the beaten path destinations. Escape to pristine waters for quiet kayaking, explore breathtaking caves and soak your cares away for three unforgettable days.

When you arrive in Victoria on the Clipper, Budget Car Rental will pick you up from our terminal and transport you their rental car lot where you can pick up your wheels and hit the road for three days of discovery on the largest island in the Canadian coastal archipelago.

Day 1: Nanaimo

Centrally located on the Island, the town of Nanaimo is a relaxing “up-island” escape from the bustle of Victoria. Named “The Harbour City,” Nanaimo is a gateway to many other destinations including Tofino and Parksville, as well as cities off the coast and many others in the Gulf Islands. An easy drive, Nanaimo is just 110 km away from Victoria, and you can be there within a couple of hours once you have arrived in Victoria.

Morning Stroll

Stretch your legs after the drive with a walk around the city’s harbor and grab a bite in one of the many restaurants near the water. We happen to be big fans of both the classic dinner, Modern Café as well as Lighthouse Bistro and Pub located right along the majestic waterfront.

Nanaimo Harbour
Soak in the sights and sounds at Nanaimo Harbor. Photo: Neil Cutler

Afternoon Dive

British Columbia is known as one of the best cold-water diving locations in the world, and Nanaimo’s harbor is home to a myriad of sealife for divers and snorkelers to discover. Explore the harbor’s famous artificial reefs, underwater halls, and chambers, where you might encounter wolf eels, octopus, rockfish among a vast array of other creatures from the cold coastal waters. Afterward, dive right into the city’s bustling pub culture and celebrate your aquatic adventure with the locals.

Nanaimo Diving
Enjoy Nanaimo’s colorful undersea wildlife with a scuba adventure. Photo: Kathleen Reed

Sweet Indulgence

As the locals would attest, you can’t spend a day in Nanaimo without trying its signature sweet treat, a Nanaimo bar. This classic local dessert consists of a wafer crumb-based layer topped with custard-flavored icing and covered in melted chocolate. Yes. Please. For the ultimate Nanaimo Bar experience, follow the self-guided Nanaimo Bar Trail.

Nanaimo Bars
Don’t miss Nanaimo’s decadent signature dessert. Photo: Craig Dugas

DAY 2: Parksville

Day Paddling

Parksville’s golden beaches appear as though they are straight from the California coastline. The difference being, that you never know what kind of show Mother Nature will cook up along our northern coastline. Get out on the water to explore in a kayak and check out everything from purple sea stars to sea lions. You can rent one and take a tour through Adventuress Sea Kayaking, ranked number one tour in Parksville on TripAdvisor.

Afternoon/ Evening Relaxation

The award-winning Grotto Spa at Tigh Na Mara offers an invitation to leave busy mainland days behind to enjoy the therapeutic waters of a whirlpool and the calming rush of a waterfall. This spa offers everything you need to pamper yourself, from facials and pedicures, to body wraps and massages. Be sure to make time to visit the resort’s pristine sandy beaches and maybe even take a dip! Parksville is home to the warmest waters in Canada, at times reaching up to 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Continue your evening of well-deserved relaxation with a sunset walk along the resort’s three kilometers stretch of sandy beach. Afterward, make the impossible decision between the resort’s two delicious restaurants: Cedars Restaurant Lounge or Treetop Tapas and Grill. You can’t go wrong with either pick.

Tigh-Na-Mara Resort and Spa
Restore and relax at Tigh Na Mara Resort and Spa. Photo: Raul Pacheco

DAY 3: Qualicum

Morning exploring Horne Lake Caves

Vancouver Island is sometimes referred to as “the Island of Caves” and is home to some of Canada’s longest and deepest cave systems. Horne Lake Caves, located 26 kilometers west of Qualicum Beach, is the perfect place to explore breathtaking limestone caves and karst landscapes with experienced guides. Tour options ranging from one to four hours, or adventurous types can head out to explore on your own. Travelers of every skill level are able to experience the beauty and mystery of Vancouver’s incomparable caves.

Horne Lake Caves
Explore deep within the limestone caves. Photo: Kyle Greenberg

Afternoon at Qualicum Beach

This friendly coastal community is the perfect place to spend the day with your family. Stroll the sandy beaches, pop into seaside boutiques, check out the Saturday farmer’s market and enjoy Qualicum’s quaint atmosphere. Join the locals on May 29th for the 40th Annual Qualicum Beach Family Day. Enjoy free swimming at Ravensong Aquatic Centre before the annual parade at noon. Spend your afternoon on the listening to live music, or seeking out your favorite local cuisine.

Qualicum Beach
Kick off your shoes and stroll along sandy shores at Qualicum Beach. Photo: SouthLakesSnapper

Evening of Art

Much of Qualicum’s unique charm and heritage is rooted in it’s arts community. The focal point, the Old School House Arts Centre, built in 1914, is now home to a variety of community artists from painters to photographers. These open-door studios give you a chance to intimately interact with the artists in a unique way, and its the perfect way to cap off your weekend escape.

Whether you’re exploring Vancouver Island’s coastline by water or foot, gallivanting through caves, or relaxing at a spa, there is truly something for everyone to fall in love with on Vancouver Island.

Book Your Clipper Getaway Now

Clipper Recommends:

  • Relax luxuriously with a little pampering during your weekend away. A spa package at Tigh-Na-Mara Resort is perfect way to rest and rejuvenate.
  • Rent a car at Budget and discover Vancouver Island on your own schedule. Grab a map to help you make your way to your hotel or explore any part of the island!


Feature Photo: Paul Hamilton