Vancouver Island - Abbey Travel, Ireland

Vancouver Island


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Welcome to Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island

Dubbed Canada's 'Paradise on the Pacific', Vancouver Island is an exquisite combination of dense rainforest, pristine coastline, rugged mountains, glittering glaciers and crystalline lakes and rivers, all within an easy distance from the Mainland of British Columbia.

The Island is 285 miles (460km) long and 50 miles (80km) wide, and the Vancouver Island Ranges, running down most of the island's length, divide it into a drier, undulant east coast and a wetter, rockier west coast. The rugged west coast (known as the Pacific Rim) is littered with bays, inlets and fjords and boasts beautiful landscapes and a diversity of wildlife, making it a popular spot for tourists, who come to indulge in hiking, fishing, kayaking with Orcas, whale watching and more. This area does, however, receive some of the heaviest precipitation in the world and visitors should plan activities around the possibility of heavy storms in winter and plenty of rain.

Inland, one finds dozens of lakes (the largest of which is Kennedy Lake), and dominating the central part of the Island is the popular Strathcona Provincial Park, home to the Island's glaciers, including the largest, the Comox Glacier, as well an abundance of birds and wildlife that includes Roosevelt Elk, bears, cougars and wolves.

There are two ski resorts on Vancouver Island: Mount Washington in the central part of the island, and the smaller Mount Cain to the north. Mount Washington offers a range of downhill, cross-country, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and winter camping opportunities, while Mount Cain community-owned and offers a less commercial experience away from the crowds.

Victoria, on the southern tip of the Island, is the capital of British Columbia, and home to just less than 50 percent of the island's population. The city is a major tourist destination and visitors flock to enjoy its many sights and sounds, including the Legislative Buildings, The Empress Hotel, Craigdarroch Castle, and the famous Butchart Gardens. Vancouver Island is well worth a visit and with so much to see and do, one could never claim to be bored.

Information & Facts


Vancouver Island has a temperate climate, and is in fact the mildest place in the country, with temperatures modified by the currents and winds of the Pacific Ocean. Summers are warm and sunny, and winters are temperate, though the Pacific Rim (the west coast of the island) receives the most precipitation in North America and can be battered by strong winds. The average temperature on Vancouver Island in summer is about 70°F to 80°F (21°C to 27°C), with temperatures cooling in the evenings, while the average temperature in winter is just below 32°F (0°C). Snowfall occurs in winter, though more so in the higher altitudes and the west coast seldom sees significant snowfall. November, December and January are the wettest months, which is worth taking into consideration when travelling to Vancouver Island.

Getting Around

Vancouver Island is easy to negotiate and there are several transportation options. Ferry services operate from both Vancouver (run by BC Ferries) and neighbouring Washington State in the USA, as well as between points on the Island and neighbouring Gulf Islands. Scheduled flights by major airlines, as well as helicopter and floatplane services are also available. There is a rail service between several island communities along the east coast, from Victoria to Courtenay, and the island's highway connects all major points and has loops to scenic marine-side highways.

The official languages are English and French (predominantly in Quebec).

The currency used is the Canadian Dollar (CAD), which is divided into 100 cents. One-dollar coins are also known as loonies (due to the picture of a loon, a type of bird, on the coin), and two-dollar coins as toonies. Banks and bureaux de change will change money and travellers cheques, as will some hotels, but the rate will not be as good. Major credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are plentiful. US Dollars are largely accepted, though due to fraud, larger notes might not be and change is usually given in Canadian dollars.

Canada covers six time zones, from GMT 8 in the west to GMT -3.5 in the east.

Built in 1893, the British Columbia Government Parliament Buildings were initially criticised as an unnecessary expense, but now form a major tourist attraction in Victoria, as well as serving as the legislative centre for the province. Designed by 25-year old architect Francis Rattenbury (who also designed The Fairmont Empress Hotel), these beautiful buildings and exquisite grounds are situated at Victoria's Inner Harbour, close to many of Victoria's other main attractions. Various performances routinely take place in the grounds and visitors can enjoy the spectacular sight of the Buildings at night, when over 3,000 lights outlining the buildings create a fairy-tale like picture. Tours of the Buildings are available and visitors can observe the House in session from the public galleries.

With well over a million visitors a year, the hundred-year-old Butchart Gardens remain a favourite, and one of Vancouver Island's principal attractions. Situated about 14 miles (21km) north of Victoria, the Gardens were begun in the early 1900s by Jennie Butchart (wife of industrialist Robert Pim Butchart) in an abandoned limestone quarry owned by the family and their fame soon spread, attracting thousands. Now, 55 acres are open to be explored, and visitors can wander the paths through exquisitely laid out gardens, including the Sunken Garden (the original garden started in the quarry), a Japanese Garden, Rose Garden and Italian Garden. Spring and autumn are perhaps the best times to visit, when the Gardens become a riot of colour, though winter and summer hold their own delights. Every Saturday, from the beginning of July to the end of September, the Gardens are transformed by a dazzling fireworks show, as well as a recital on the self-playing, rare Aeolian Pipe Organ and the Night Illuminations light display. Other attractions and events in the park include an ice-skating rink and Twelve Days of Christmas display in December, and afternoon and evening shows and concerts in summer.

One of the iconic images of Victoria is the much loved and well-visited Fairmont Empress Hotel, a fully restored Edwardian treasure that has seen visits from royalty, celebrities and travellers from around the world. Set on the banks of Victoria's Inner Harbour, the Empress is a grand and majestic building full of stories, retaining its British heritage through its traditional Afternoon Tea - a popular 'event' with tourists and locals alike that begun when the hotel opened in 1908. Reservations are essential up to a week or two in advance and the dress code is smart casual. The Empress is centrally located, close to the Parliament Buildings, Royal BC Museum, the Victoria Convention Centre and various shops and attractions, and now boasts a spa centre and golf course. This 'Jewel of the Pacific' is a definite highlight of any visit to Victoria, and for those who can afford it, it is well worth a stay - you may even receive a visit from one of the hotel ghosts.

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