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Helijet landing

Find Your Recharge on Eastern Vancouver Island

Located off the coast of British Columbia, Vancouver Island offers 12,079 square miles of natural elements, coastal beauty, and diverse ecosystems, perfect for relaxing, rejuvenating, and recharging. The eastern island’s fresh air, ocean views, and abundant greenery are natural mood lifters. 

I was lucky to visit the island’s eastern part to recharge. The trip was not only relaxing but also eye-opening. I got out of my comfort zone and did things I never thought I’d be able to, and the serene nature of the island and the friendly, easy-going people made me feel empowered and capable of anything.   

Editor’s Note: Destination BC hosted the writer of this story on a trip to Vancouver Island 

Getting to Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island does have airports, with Victoria having the largest. Flights to and from the island depart/arrive from nine airports in Canada, five in the US, and Mexico. There are smaller regional airports as well, which serve local communities. For the most availability and variety of flight times, your best bet may be to fly in and out of Vancouver Airport and then take a ferry or helicopter to Vancouver Island. I flew into Vancouver and out of Nanaimo. Nanaimo is a tiny airport with one big room and two “gates.” I got to my flight an hour before my departure time, and that was more than enough time. The actual time in the air to Vancouver was about ten minutes. 

Ferries to Vancouver Island

If you drive or fly to Vancouver and rent a car, a ferry is your best option for getting to Vancouver Island. The main ferry company is BC Ferries, which offers several routes connecting mainland British Columbia to the island. Horseshoe Bay terminal is the closest ferry terminal to downtown Vancouver and the airport, this ferry takes you to Nanaimo on the eastern side of Vancouver Island. Departure from Tsawwassen terminal in Vancouver will take you to Victoria, on the southern coast, or Nanaimo. Crossings to Nanaimo take about an hour and forty-five minutes to two hours, and crossings to Victoria are about an hour and thirty-five minutes. 

Helicopters to Vancouver Island

If you are not taking a car to the island, a helicopter is a thrilling way to travel to Vancouver Island. For less than $100 one-way, Helijet will fly you from Vancouver Harbor to Nanaimo and Victoria for less than $150 one-way. The helicopters allow passengers to take one checked bag weighing less than 50 lbs, and there are complimentary beverages, snacks, and treats while you wait to depart. Flights are just twenty minutes to Nanaimo and thirty-five minutes to Victoria. This was how I arrived on Vancouver Island. I must say, you feel like a celebrity arriving in a helicopter- half expecting the paparazzi to be waiting for your arrival. (It may be of note that celebrities have been spotted in the area, as popular shows like HBO’s The Last of Us and Netflix’s The Night Agent film in and around Vancouver and Vancouver Island).

Where to Stay on Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is a vacation destination, so there are many accommodations, all at varying price points.


Beach Club Resort

I stayed at the Beach Club Resort in Parksville, which is on the waterfront and a perfect location for families. Part of the Bellstar Resort family, it features an indoor pool and hot tub, on-site restaurant, on-site spa, access to a boardwalk for rejuvenating coastal walks, kayaks, metal detectors, and other outdoor amenities. Rooms are spacious, and suites are equipped with washers and dryers- perfect after a day spent at the beach when you want dry towels and bathing suits for the next day. I was in a one-bedroom suite, there are also studios, two-bedroom suites, and penthouses available. Suites have kitchens, sitting areas, fireplaces, and balconies.

The Tide’s Inn

This budget hotel is a great option for anyone looking to save money, especially when traveling with family. Unlimited complimentary mini golf is included in your stay, as are bumper boats, direct beach access, a beach patio, free popcorn, and pet friendly. Choose from two queen beds with a kitchenette, a king and sofa bed, or one queen bed. Rooms are cozy and have flat-screen TVs, in-room coffee machines, and free WiFi.

Fairwinds Residencies

Prefer a larger condo stay? Fairwinds Residencies has eleven spacious condos with waterfront and garden views. Their two-bedroom suites with dens can accommodate up to six guests and have an oversized deck with a fire pit and a full kitchen. It’s perfect for families who like to stay in, eat, and not go out every night during vacation. The Nanoose Bay Cafe is just next door if you like dining out. Conveniently located to many attractions, including golf, boating, fitness, beaches, lakes, and forests. 


Tigh-Na-Mara is perfect for any family looking for a relaxing escape; many families go back year after year for their annual vacation. Choose from oceanside rooms, rustic cottages, and spa bungalows, all with private balconies or patios and many with kitchens and fireplaces. The resort is pet-friendly and steps away from the beach. An on-site spa has a mineral pool, whirlpool, and saunas. They have committed themselves to implementing new initiatives for greener living, making this resort the perfect choice for anyone wanting a more sustainable lifestyle.

Things to Do on Eastern Vancouver Island 

While there are plenty of things to do on the east coast of Vancouver Island, my trip focused on recharging. From art to the darkness of caves and hydro, there are several ways to connect to your inner artist, connecting with nature and finding peace from water.

Eat Cheese at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks

Little Qualicum Cheeseworks is located on a working dairy farm. They offer self-guided tours where you can “meet” the cows (and if you are lucky, you can see a calf; I was able to meet a calf less than a day old!) You can learn about how cheese is made, and if you’re lucky enough to be there while the cheesemakers are at work, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at what they do. There is a scavenger hunt for kids. The shop features cheeses and gifts and has a cafe for a latte or tea to sip while exploring. During my visit, the most popular spot was the milk dispenser. Bring your bottles or purchase one in-store, insert change or tokens (available to purchase), and fill up your bottle! The milk is fresh, pasteurized, whole, and non-homogenized, with cream on top!  

Take an Art Class at Old School House Arts Centre

Providing low-cost studio space to artists, the Old School House Arts Centre provides low-cost studio space to artists, as well as gallery space, and offers classes. Perusing art exhibits is a great way to boost your mental health, and taking an art class to tap into your creative side- art therapy has been proven to help mental health. The Old School Arts Centre classes include painting, drawing, textile, and printmaking. I took an indigo workshop with Bonnie Lefebre, who, through her expertise and guidance, taught a group of journalists who had never dyed with indigo how to do it without losing her cool once- as long as you don’t call it tie dyeing- because that is not what the class is! I was skeptical that my linens would have any pattern on it, but I was pleasantly surprised- I now have two tea towels I can proudly say I made myself. I left with respect for Bonnie and with a bit of confidence in my step- a great way to connect with my creative side. 

Cave Tour at Horne Lake Caves

People in Horne Lake Caves in dark with headlamps on
Horne Lake Caves

You may think a cave tour is not the most relaxing activity. I was right there with you. In fact, when I saw it on the itinerary, my first thought was, “I’ll be skipping that.” I don’t know if it was the gorgeous spring day, the wonderful people of British Columbia, or our guide, Myles (also owner and operator). Still, I had a sudden wave of confidence and after a short hike up to the cave entrance, I felt confident enough to head into the cave depths. The Riverbend Cave Explorer Tour is the easiest Hidden Realm Adventures offers, starting with just over a half-mile hike, and using boulders and ropes to guide you over the rocks in the cave. As someone who had never been in a cave and is not an adventurer or outdoor person in any way, I was wary. However, I kept telling myself I could go a little further and a little further, and we were able to get deep enough into the cave to experience total darkness. There are no stairs or ladders to help you in the caves, so you need to be sure-footed. Some tours require belly crawling and rappelling. The feeling of total darkness, the quiet of the dripping water, and the coolness of the caves allow you to connect with nature in a way impossible in the real world.  

North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre

Connecting with wildlife is another way to reset yourself, and the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre is the perfect spot to see wildlife safely. You can pet a rescued bird of prey (being properly held by a trained professional or volunteer) and laugh at the rescued black bears playing together. The sanctuary was started in 1985 by a husband and wife who sold it but continue to live in their house on the center grounds. There is a museum of nature, a wildlife garden, a magical field of stones, and a nature trail for a peaceful walk. Animals and birds you will see include eagles, owls, black bears, hawks, turtles, ravens, turkey vultures, and more. 

Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara 

The Grotto Spa brings your body detoxification and your mind happiness. The spa has a mineral pool, a whirlpool, waterfalls, a cold rinse, and outdoor cedar saunas that clear out your pores the second you sit down. You can enjoy a drink in one of the fire pits by the sauna, which is warm even on a cold spring day.  Head to the Treetop Tapas and Grill in your robe for lunch, or enjoy a spa treatment to end the day in total bliss. Phones are not allowed in the Grotto, so it’s your chance to completely unplug and relax.

Where to Eat in Eastern Vancouver Island

Bayside Resort and Lounge

Enjoy beautiful water views as you sip and eat at the Bayside Resort and Lounge. Featuring local ingredients, a rotating cocktail list, wine and beer, a kid’s menu, and happy hour, there is something for everyone at any time of the day. I had the traditional breakfast with fried eggs, toast, breakfast potatoes, and fruit and was set for a busy day ahead. The lunch and dinner menus have a wide range of salads, appetizers, main dishes, and pastas- all featuring fresh, local ingredients. 

Rusted Rake Brewing

Rusted Rake Brewing Sign
Megan Johnson

Rusted Rake Brewing is family-friendly and often has live music- the perfect casual lunch or dinner atmosphere. The food is delicious, and, of course, the beers are a must-try. They use the barley they grow on their farm to create “full flavored and highly drinkable beer.” Not a beer drinker? Don’t worry- they also have wine, ciders, cocktails, and non-alcoholic beverages. The menu is typical of a pub- with hearty appetizers including their  mushroom kalamari – a must-try for anyone who doesn’t typically go for calamari (like me – but I loved the vegetarian one!) There are burgers, bowls, and plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options. 

Nanoose Bay Cafe

Enjoy locally sourced dishes at Nanoose Bay Cafe, which serves an eclectic array of food for any palate. Many dishes have an Asian flare, like the butternut squash bisque I tried, which was topped with wonton crisps. They also have dumplings, seafood, salads, sandwiches, and more. Your meal won’t be complete without dessert—especially the delectable sticky toffee pudding. 

French Press Coffee Roasters

French Press Coffee Roasters is perfect for delicious coffee, baked goods, breakfast food, and sandwiches. Sip freshly brewed coffee in a fun atmosphere, or order ahead to grab it for a day out and about. 

Qualicum Beach Cafe

For a finer dining experience, try Qualicum Beach Cafe. Their menu boasts a “delicious showcase of the West Coast with local ingredients and a dash of Italian influence.” It includes pizza, pasta, steaks, seafood, and more. Seafood lovers can try the seafood tower, which includes 12 oysters, baby shrimp, smoked salmon, dill cream cheese, candied salmon, confit albacore tuna, 1/2 bairdi snow crab, and taro chips.

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