Stretching along the sheltered east coast of Vancouver Island, Central Island offers visitors glorious parks, sandy beaches, warm ocean temperatures, tranquil lakes, exceptional golf courses, and fabulous fresh and salt water fishing.
Central Island features Vancouver Island's second largest city, Nanaimo, a fun -filled, energetic city with a lovely harbour. The word "Nanaimo" is derived from the Coast Salish word "Sney-Ny-Mous" meaning "meeting place." Famous for its varied landscapes and more than two dozen parks, Nanaimo boasts one of the most beautiful waterfronts in Canada.
Nanaimo is the mid-island transportation hub to and from the British Columbia mainland with BC Ferries daily sailings from Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver on the Mainland) and Duke Point to Tsawwassen on the lower BC mainland. This makes Nanaimo easy to get to, and a great central location to set up base for tours of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
The new Island Highway (Highway 19) hugs the coast from Nanaimo up to Fanny Bay, the northern most point of Central Island and it's always a treat to look across the Strait of Georgia at landmarks on the mainland or enjoy the miles and miles of safe, sandy beaches.
North of Nanaimo, just off Highway 19, is the protected harbour of Nanoose Bay. The local marinas, one as large as 400 berths, are a destination for visitors from throughout the Pacific Northwest and around the world. The Nanoose Bay area is a vacationer's paradise, offering a wealth of activities, including sailing, windsurfing, fishing, tennis, diving, hiking, canoeing, and more.
Exiting off Highway 19 onto the Oceanside Route Highway 19A takes you through seaside communities with home grown hospitality and an abundance of activities and accommodation to choose from. Parksville marks the beginning of Oceanside country with the focus on the outstanding waterfront. When the tide is low, vast stretches of sand beckon to sandcastle builders and beachcombers. As the tide comes in, the water is warmed by the hot sand and is perfect for swimming. Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park just south of Parksville features a fine 2 km sandy beach, wooded stands with great nature trails and bird watching. Arts and crafts in the Parksville area are world-renowned and feature a diverse selection of paintings, pottery, and jewellery. Relax in the sun, play in the water, stroll along the shoreline, play a round of golf - Parksville has something to please everyone.
From Parksville you can head west along Highways 4 and 4A through the pastoral Coombs area toward Port Alberni (Pacific Rim). Coombs old-fashioned country stores are scattered around Coombs Emporium and Frontier Town. The small stores sell crafts and knicknacks as well as antiques. Don't miss the grass-covered roof of the old market that is home to several goats!
Ten minutes north of Parksville on the Oceanside Route (Hwy 19A) is the friendly community of Qualicum Beach. Known for spectacular gardens and passionate gardeners, Qualicum Beach was the proud winner of a Five Blooms Award in the 2001 Communities in Bloom national competition. Wide open skies, distant mountains, gorgeous beaches, lush forests, and an endless list of activities will bring you back to Qualicum Beach time and time again.
Just north of Qualicum Beach, along the Oceanside Route (Hwy 19A), is charming Lighthouse Country that includes the communities of Bowser, Deep Bay and Fanny Bay. Here you'll find plenty of opportunities to boat, fish, hike, trail ride, cave, beach comb and golf. Explore the caves at Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park. Four Caves are open to the public and anyone planning to enter should be in good physical condition, well equipped and familiar with cave exploration. Nearby Spider Lake is known for its warm water, kayaking, and canoeing. Clam and shellfish digging are popular activities in Lighthouse Country. The marina in protected Deep Bay Harbour offers boat charters and rentals.
Island hoppers can enjoy Gabriola Island accessed from Nanaimo by BC Ferries. The island is partly residential but also holds large expanses of forest with abundant wildlife. Long stretches of unspoiled coastline can be explored. From Descanso Bay, the ferry terminal, take Taylor Bay road north to the best beaches such as those at Gabriola Sands Provincial Park. Drumbeg Provincial Park in the south east of Gabriola Island offers a short trail through forest to a secluded bay.
Communities to explore: Bowser, Cassidy, Coombs, Deep Bay, Errington, Fanny Bay, Gabriola Island, Lantzville, Nanaimo, Nanoose Bay, Parksville, Qualicum Beach.
Need a place to stay or camp while exploring Central Vancouver Island?
Explore the Communities of Central Vancouver Island
Discover Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands Sub Regions
Tourism Region Contact
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia