ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VANCOUVER ISLAND

Vancouver Island with it’s mild climate and range of diverse ecosystems is a popular vacation and retirement location. The population totals over 766,000 inhabitants with 22.2% of the population over the age of 65 and 57.7% over the age of 40. There is prominent indigenous culture with intrinsic artwork.

It has an an area of 32,000sq km (19,884 sq mi) with an approximate length of 460km (286mi) and at its widest point 100km (62mi). It is the largest island off the west coast of North America and is comparable in size to that of the Netherlands and Taiwan.

WEATHER

Spring at Beacon Hill Park

During our time in Victoria in November 2016 the average temperature started at about 6C but quickly dropped to about 2C. It rained all the time and if it wasn’t overcast. The few bright sunshine days were a luxury.

Canadian Highway after an overnight snow storm

At the beginning of November, the sun rose at 8am and started to set at 4:30pm. By the end of December, it was ‘daylight’ around 9am, getting dark at 3:30pm and complete darkness by 4:30pm.

Our backstairs after the first snowfall of Winter

The first snowfall came down at the end of November and overnight it snowed hard. In the morning our stairs proudly showed 8cm of snow in Mill Bay. The highways are kept ploughed and sprinkled with salt? But the roads are still very slippery and it is important to have snow tires and drive much slower than usual.

Sloshed side road

[That day I had work and so we had to try and get the car to the highway which was about 1km away. After a little effort, we were able to get out of the driveway and down the street where we stopped at a stop sign. Mistake. The wheels were stuck but after 20 mins of shovelling snow out from under the wheels with our hands and feet and revving the car and willing the wheels to grip we got out. After work we couldn’t get back up the street so we parked elsewhere and walked. Finally, after 10 months in Canada I had the chance to make a snow angel!]

TRANSPORT

Driving through suburbs of Vancouver Island

There is a very limited public transport options on the island. There are buses in the main cities which are fairly affordable but the only way to travel around the island is by car. Fortunately, since there is not a huge population on the island the traffic along most of the highway was usually pretty good. Petrol (Gas) was at 120 c/l for 85octane.

Our 2015 Ford Mustang

There is one main highway running down the west side of the island to connect Nanaimo and Victoria and all the places in between. Most of the highway it 2 lanes, splitting to 3-4lanes from Victoria to Langford, but from Langford to Mill Bay, along the Malahat, the road becomes very windy with lots of up and downs and merges from 1 lane back to 2 a few times.

The highway to Tofino in the Mustang

The speed limit varies from 80km/h to 110km/h between Victoria and Nanaimo. The northern section of the highway, especially between Mill Bay and Nanaimo, there are a lot of small towns so many slower areas (especially Duncan where it drops to 50km/h) with lots of traffic lights. It is normal to speed and most cars are driving at least 10 m/h over the speed limit.

Separate part of highway back from Tofino in Mustang

There are live highway cameras to check road conditions and some roads have winter road restrictions that require winter tyres and/or chains. Before a traffic light there are big signs that start flashing yellow to indicate that the traffic light ahead will change before you get to it and to slow down. 

Mustang after snowfall

We had Todd’s 2015 Ford Mustang with us which was really nice to drive, though without winter tyres we didn’t pick the greatest time of year, or year for that matter for the poor thing. To Victoria for my jobs it took me about 40 minutes to drive from Cowichan Valley and 1hr 40min from Nanaimo. Most mornings were fine as I had to be at work at 9:30am and there was traffic but it flowed well. However, one morning there was a busted pipe and the usual 3 lane highway was cut to 1 lane in a section where lots of people are merging onto the highway. So it was more like 5 lanes merging into 1, it took me over 3 hours to get to work this day. In the evenings when I finished at 4pm I would always expect to be stuck in traffic for at least 30 minutes.

FOOD & DRINKS

Vancouver Island is great at a lot of things – the weather, the landscape and the serenity. But they are also really great when it comes to our taste buds. There are so many craft beer breweries, cider farms and wineries on Vancouver Island despite its small size. Oh and the coffee scene is amazing too.

Here is a list of places we have been or tried and think you should too. What’s your favourite from Vancouver Island?

FOOD

Umai Sushi bento box
  • Umai Sushi – Chicken Teriyaki Bento Box (Tempura, salad, spring rolls, cali rolls, rice, noodles, chicken teriyaki & miso soup)
  • Barbs Fish and Chips, Fisherwans Wharf
  • Barthelows Pub
  • Bridgemans Bistro
  • The Crow and Gate Pub, Nanaimo – Sausage mix plateĀ 
  • Sabhai Thai Restaurant, Victoria – Gaeng Gai (Chicken Curry) Combo w/ soup & spring rolls
  • Baan Thai Wok & Bar, Victoria – Lunch Special
  • La Taquisa – El Gordo (supersized) burritos with chicken mole and chorizo pork.
  • Noodebox, Thai – Coconut Jungle Curry Noodles & Lamb Curry with rice (special)

ALCOHOL

Wines bottles in the liquor store; 750ml and over litre bottles

Cider

  • Sea Cider Rumrunner (mix between wine and cider)
  • Growers (so many flavours to choose from)

Beer

  • Tofino Kelp

COFFEE

Coffee at Cafe TRE Frantistico
Takaway coffee and carrot cake from Rusticana Cafe

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