The Getaway
The Majesty of North Vancouver Island

The northern part of Vancouver Island is a lauded eco-tourism hub, and yet, if you asked the average Canadian about the Broughton Archipelago, they'll give you a blank look. So, allow us to let you in on a few well-guarded secrets about this marine wonderland. This is Kwakwaka'wakw Territory, full of mountains, coastal rainforests, and reminders of ancient human civilizations. Come with an open mind and appetite for the wild; you'll leave with a nourished soul and revitalized senses.

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01 The Gateway to Adventure: Port McNeill

Killer whale statue by the waterfront Julian Worker / Shutterstock.com

Port McNeill is a springboard for fresh and saltwater fishing, grizzly bear safaris, and otter and whale-watching excursions. Consider Sea Wolf Adventures, a First Nation company, for wildlife tours. The town's proximity to the Broughton Archipelago is another drawcard. This labyrinth of islands at the southern end of Queen Charlotte Strait is home to the largest marine park in British Columbia. Access is by boat only from Port McNeill, Telegraph Cove, and Alert Bay. Venture into this seemingly unspoiled region with its nods to ancient history. While boating, kayaking, and exploring the Broughton Archipelago Provincial Park, you may come across midden beaches, clam gardens, and petroglyphs on Berry Island.

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02 Telegraph Cove: A Step Back in Time

Telegraph Cove BC Canada, evening sky

Colorful buildings on stilts make Telegraph Cove one of Canada's most picturesque villages. Only 20 people live in this boardwalk resort community. The village is a departure point to see orcas in Johnstone Strait during summer and grizzly bears in Knight Inlet. Stay at a heritage cabin, walk the eight-hundred-foot-long boardwalk, and visit the Whale Interpretive Centre for answers to all your killer questions. Many guided tours to the Broughton Archipelago leave from Telegraph Cove too.

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03 Alert Bay: Cultural Richness

A totem pole at the Namgis Burial Grounds, one of the few remaining native cemeteries on the British Columbia coast where totems remain on their original site. Capitan Crizelini / Shutterstock.com

Alert Bay on Cormorant Island does an excellent job of honoring the First Nation peoples that have long inhabited the region. View the grave-marking totems at 'Namgis Original Burial Grounds from a respectful distance. Visit the U'mista Cultural Centre to educate yourself about Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw cultural heritage and gain insight into the potlatch regalia. The Indigenous artifacts are a must-see. Finally, relax in Alert Bay Ecological Park, which feels faintly like the Florida Everglades. It's a birdwatcher's paradise and great for a scenic hike among Sitka spruces.

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04 Sointula: Harmony and History

View of the ocean through the trees on the Beautiful Bay Trail, Bere Point, Sointula, Malcolm Island, British Columbia

At the beginning of the 20th century, a Finnish group fancied the idea of escaping the Dunsmuir mines and building a Utopian community. They made a deal with the government in 1901, became the formal owners of Malcolm Island, and named the community Sointula, which means "Place of Harmony." Things went a bit pear-shaped after that, and the group declared bankruptcy in 1905, with the government reclaiming much of Malcolm Island. But a few resilient individuals continued to live at Sointula, and some of their descendants remain.

If you're in Malcolm Island during summer or fall, you must head to Bere Point Regional Park to see the orca rubbing beaches. Killer whales come close to the shore for a bit of a scratch along the rocky ocean floor. If you like hiking, do the Beautiful Bay trail for views of this interesting behavior, or stick to the campground, and you won't miss any of the action. The Sointula Visitor Centre offers visitors free bicycles for mountain biking.

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05 Port Hardy: Uncharted Wilderness

Welcome to Port Hardy Sign RickDeacon / Shutterstock.com

Ever feel like you just want to pull a Christopher McCandless, leave your modern life behind, and head Into the Wild? Your desire to get back to basics and feel free is totally understandable. Northern Vancouver Island's remote wilderness gives visitors the sense of standing at the end of the world. Places like Port Hardy are ready to welcome experienced adventurers seeking solitude and a reset. Camp on a secluded beach, take photos of wildlife in their natural habitat, and gaze up at diamond-specked night skies.

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06 Cape Scott Provincial Park: Nature's Majesty

Beautiful view on the Pacific Ocean Coast during a sunny summer day. Taken in San Josef Beach, Cape Scott, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.

Cape Scott Provincial Park is fantastic for an overnight hiking trip—the popular Cape Scott trail offers West Coast camping at its finest. Break up the 15-mile one-way journey from the trailhead to the iconic Cape Scott Lighthouse by camping at Nel's Bight. Summer and early fall are the best times to go, and you should expect rain. Keep an eye out for the shoe tree near Nahwitti Lake. If you're looking for an easier day hike, hit the short 45-minute trail to San Josef Bay. At low tide, you can see the fascinating sea stacks.

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07 The North Coast Trail: A Wilderness Journey

West Coast trail fans should look into doing the North Coast trail, a tough 5-day backpacking trip suitable for confident backpackers. The trail begins at Shushartie Bay after a water taxi drops hikers off, hugs the coast, and ends at Nissan Bight. If you do your research to stay safe and prepare well by taking the essentials, there's a whole lot of muddy fun in store for you. Ensure you interact with the environment mindfully and follow Leave No Trace principles to keep the wilderness as wild as you found it.

08 Marine Wildlife: A Closer Look

A closeup shot of a Transient Orca Whales swimming in Johnstone Strait, Vancouver Island, Canada

Stay long enough, and you'll become familiar with the nuances of the marine life around Vancouver Island. In the northern parts of the island, you'll come to encounter the fish-eating orcas known as the "Northern Residents" and the marine mammal-eating "Transients." Other whales that frequent these waters include humpbacks and Minke whales; you might also come across exuberant Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall's porpoises, and the world's largest sea lions. The best time for whale watching is in spring and fall, between May and September.

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09 Indigenous Culture and Art

A First Nations totem pole welcomes travellers at the summit of the Malahat section of the Trans Canada highway near Victoria BC Andrea C. Miller / Shutterstock.com

The Port Hardy Heritage Museum's permanent exhibits include astonishing artifacts from 8,000 years, so if it's not already on your North Vancouver itinerary, pencil it in. Check out the region's art galleries and studios, too, for Indigenous arts and crafts such as masks, rattles, animal carvings, and other intricate handmade items. The self-guided North Vancouver Art Tour is an awesome way to discover First Nation artisans and their works.

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10 Adventure Sports: Beyond the Ordinary

Stellar sea-lions in the sun on a rock in Johnstone strait, Vancouver Island

Johnstone Strait is killer whale central, so if you're enamored with these intelligent creatures, kayaking in close proximity could be bucket list stuff. A guided wilderness kayak quest from Telegraph Cove can last between three days and two weeks. Newbies and intermediate kayakers are advised not to DIY the experience. Check out Spirit of the West Adventures for glamping options (hot tub, anyone?). Advanced kayakers can take on the tidal currents in the Discovery Islands.

If you're into cycling, visit North Island Bike Shed in Port McNeill and get gear and the lowdown on the best trails. Bikepacking's Tree to Sea Loop is an epic 15-day odyssey and covers Port Alice and Cape Scott Provincial Park, among other coastal communities.

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11 Culinary Delights of the North Island

When you're done with the Cape Scott trail, pop into The Scarlet Ibis, a local landmark. At the four-star First Nations Kwa'lilas Hotel in Port Hardy, you'll find Ha'Me, which serves indigenous-inspired food using high-quality West Coast ingredients. Think halibut burgers and roasted elk loin. Try the clam chowder and hot wings. Port Hardy also has a bustling summer farmers' and artisans' market at Carrot Park waterfront, and Port McNeill's market is growing.

12 Exploring the Coastal Waters: Scuba Diving and Snorkeling

Scuba diving in British Columbia, Canada

Colorful coral reefs, shipwrecks, and cold waters teeming with wildlife—what more could you want from a snorkeling or scuba diving adventure? Divers from around the globe flock to the north of Vancouver Island to see sea otters, Giant Pacific octopuses, wolf eels, and a multitude of fish species. Beloved diving sites include but are not limited to the Broughton and Blackfish Archipelagos, the Gardens of Zeballos, and the Quatsino Narrows.

Remember to engage in eco-friendly diving practices to preserve the underwater beauty for future generations. This includes using reef-safe sunblock, choosing responsible diving operators, and refraining from touching marine life.

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13 Navigating the Remote Wilderness

sunny day in forest and shoes

Treat every wilderness adventure with the respect it deserves. To this end, you shouldn't show up to a nature preserve all gung-ho without the requisite safety planning. Have you checked the weather forecasts? Have you alerted your nearest and dearest about your planned route? Once you've researched the trail you're tackling, use an essentials checklist to fill a compact backpack. Carry a first aid kit, food, and water, extra clothing for insulation, a trash bag for shelter, a physical map, sun protection, vaselined cotton balls to make a fire, a whistle to call for help in case of emergency, and a communication device that works via satellite. You'll also need a flashlight and a knife. A waterproof bag will protect your items. Stay abreast of all relevant regulations and best practices for visiting protected areas, and you won't fall foul of the law.

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14 Conservation Efforts and Eco-Tourism

Sea otters in the ocean in Tofino, Vancouver island, British Columbia, Canada

Northern Vancouver Island is as pristine as the modern world gets. To preserve this natural heritage and ensure sustainable tourism, all stakeholders have to do their part. The region's Wild Pledge is a promise by both businesses and travelers to act responsibly towards the planet and its people. Indigenous folks have lived here for countless generations and have wisdom to share about interacting with nature. Support local, green companies, reduce your carbon footprint wherever possible, and be courteous.

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15 The Hidden Gems of North Vancouver Island

Aerial view of a small town, Port Alice, during a sunny summer sunset. Located in Northern Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.

If you visit Port Hardy, try and do a day trip to Port Alice to find an off-the-beaten-track waterfall. Eternal Fountain on the Alice Lake Loop is rather unique and descends into a cave below. You can also buy a roundtrip fare and try riding along on a cruiser flight to points of interest in the region. For some locals, seaplanes are the only way to get from one place to another, and it's a novel experience for out-of-towners.

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