Rich in First Nations tradition and culture, the North Vancouver Island sub region is sparsely populated with less than 5% of Vancouver Islands' people. Most of the communities are coastal and offer opportunities for whale-watching tours, fishing and sightseeing charters as well as beach walks. Visitors will see bald eagles, blue herons, bears, seals and otters and there is a good chance of catching halibut and salmon.
Kayaking and canoeing the innumerable inlets and straits of this area are also extremely popular and there is world-class scuba diving (the Pacific Northwest was rated second only to the Red Sea by Jacques Cousteau). Many lakes in the area offer excellent freshwater fishing as well as swimming and camping.
Along the 200 km stretch of Highway 19 from Campbell River to Port McNeill there is plenty to see. Sayward is the first community and Gateway to the North Island. Sayward is a small logging town on Johnstone Strait and features a log sort where cut logs are brought to be sorted before transporting south. Further on Highway 19 is Woss, the newest community in the region, situated in the heart of the beautiful Nimpkish Valley. The valley is both flanked by steep snow capped mountains and desolate logged areas. Wilderness hiking and camping abound in the densely forested and sparsely populated Nimpkish Valley.
Gravel logging roads off Highway 19 beckon adventurers. Zeballos, a peaceful logging community, was once the site of a gold mine that produced more than $13 million worth of gold between 1938 and 1943. Zeballos is accessible via 42 km (26 mi) of gravel road through lush forest. Freedom-bound vacationers will find plenty of great ways to unwind here.
Before reaching Port McNeill take the trip to Telegraph Cove. This tiny community began as a one-room telegraph station in 1912. Today, Telegraph Cove is a mecca for visitors coming to experience superb fishing, kayaking, diving, and wildlife watching. Overlooking a tranquil inlet and granting some of the best ocean views on the Island, Telegraph Cove is an attraction in itself. Most people come to Telegraph Cove to go whale watching on Johnstone Strait in the late spring and summer.
Port McNeill, the Gateway Community to the Broughton Archipelago, is the heart of Tree Country, where trees are planted, thinned, fertilized, protected from disease, and harvested in a cycle that provides the economic base for the entire region. Dense forest, tranquil lakes, exquisite views of Broughton Strait, and plenty of wildlife make this a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Activities include fresh and saltwater fishing, whale and wildlife watching excursions, cultural tours, air charters, boat charters, hiking, scuba diving, kayaking, and windsurfing.
Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, and Sointula, on Malcolm Island, are just offshore from Port McNeill and have great fishing and fascinating histories. First impressions of Alert Bay on Cormorant Island are powerful: the village has an abundance of First Nation paintings and totem poles. Spend a few days fishing, exploring, and watching whales in this peaceful environment. Alert Bay is accessible via BC Ferries from Port McNeill. The busy harbour offers complete marina facilities as well as other activities and attractions.
Located on Malcolm Island, Sointula (which means "place of harmony") was founded by Finnish settlers in an idealistic attempt to create a utopian colony almost a century ago. The community has a fascinating and dramatic history, which embodies the Finnish characteristic of "sisu" or tenacity. Today, Sointula is a commercial fishing centre with a distinctive Finnish flavour. Many of the present-day residents live in settlers' homes, with wooden saunas and boatsheds still lining the waterfront.
Further north on the stretch of Highway 19 from Port McNeill to Port Hardy one can detour west to the town of Port Alice. Originally built in 1917 around a pulp mill, Port Alice received immediate recognition as B.C.‘s first "instant" municipality in 1965 when it was completely rebuilt at Rumble Beach, 7 km (4 mi) away.
Port Hardy at the northern end of Highway 19 is the terminus of the Prince Rupert ferry and the Discovery Coast Passage ferry to Bella Coola. During the summer season the demand for accommodation is high with hotels and motels filled to capacity. Stroll along the waterfront and you will see a bustling harbour, where fishing boats, cruise ships and seaplanes come and go year-round. Across Hardy Bay, you can see a bulk oil plant and the BC Ferries terminal. Tugboats also make their rounds, pulling log booms from the dry land sort at the head of the Bay. Local attractions of interest include the Port Hardy Museum and Archives, Seven Hills Golf Course, logging and forestry tours and salmon hatchery tours.
West of Port Hardy, a well maintained gravel road leads past brilliant blue lakes and emerald forests to Holberg on the shores of the Holberg Inlet and Winter Harbour at the mouth of Quatsino Sound. Holberg is known for the Shoe Tree, an old cedar snag covered with hundreds of shoes, and the Ronning Gardens (named after Bernt Ronning, the Norwegian fellow who settled and planted here), which feature exotic trees, shrubs, and plants from all over the world. The tiny fishing and logging settlement of Winter Harbour is located 40 minutes from Holberg. A quaint community with a boardwalk along its waterfront, Winter Harbour offers fishing and boating charters, kayak rentals, and accommodation.
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Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia