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Boardwalk in Parksville. Photo Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism

Take a Circle Tour & Discover BC’s Sunshine Coast & Oceanside Route

By Patricia Cashin

The Covid pandemic may be keeping us at home right now but we all need to start making plans for summer travel in British Columbia. Consider exploring the Sunshine Coast and Oceanside Route that surrounds the Salish Sea.

There’s a good reason why the Sunshine Coast bears its name: it receives approximately 2,400 hours of sunlight annually, making it drier and sunnier than other destinations in the region. Sun-warmed beaches, marine adventures, and picturesque coastal scenery are all part of this circle tour. Drive and ferry your way up the 180 kilometre (110 miles) Sunshine Coast, over to Vancouver Island, and down to the provincial capital of Victoria. This 359 kilometre (222 mile) circle tour stays close to the water and explores the island’s cozy seaside villages, beaches, and marinas.

Sunshine Coast Hiking Harmony Islands, Photo Destination BC Albert Normandin
Sunshine Coast Hiking Harmony Islands | Photo Destination BC, Albert Normandin

The tour starts by boarding the Langdale Ferry at Horseshoe Bay for a 45-minute trip. Heading north on Highway 101 you reach the historic town of Sechelt, a community rich in arts, culture and old-fashioned pubs and marinas. All along the coast, rocky beaches and gentle surf make kayaking and wildlife-viewing enjoyable activities.

Davis Bay Seawall, Sechelt Photo Province of BC
Davis Bay Seawall, Sechelt | Photo Province of BC

Earl’s Cove is the furthest you can drive on Highway 101 before ferrying across Jervis Inlet. The 16 kilometre (10 miles), 50-minute ferry trip sails up Agamemnon Channel and around Nelson Island into Jervis Inlet. Along the way, you will see spectacular coastal scenery against the backdrop of the Coast Mountain range and beautiful fjords that adorn British Columbia’s coast.

From Saltery Bay on the other side of the inlet, take some time to explore Saltery Bay Provincial Park. From its shores you can see killer whales, seals and sea lions, and it is also a popular destination for scuba divers.

Next stop is Powell River. Situated along the magnificent Malaspina Strait, Powell River is surrounded by some of the most spectacular natural beauty in the world. Powell River‘s rich First Nations heritage, and the creativity of its residents, are clearly visible in many of the local shops. The original homes and businesses are Victorian-styled and have become western Canada’s only National Historic Townsite.

Comox Sunrise at Goose Spit, Photo Destination BCBoomer Jerritt
Comox Sunrise at Goose Spit | Photo Destination BC, Boomer Jerritt

BC Ferries will then take you from Powell River across the Strait of Georgia to Comox, an incredible urban centre surrounded by recreational getaways. The snow-capped mountains, plunging valleys, and salty sea embody limitless recreational opportunities for adventurers. Hiking and fishing are the most popular activities, but visitors can also relax and take in the unique shops, art shows, and theatrical performances.

Parksville’s Sandy Beach | Photo Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism

As you travel down the island on Highway 19A, you’ll come upon the communities of Qualicum Beach and Parksville, collectively known as Oceanside. This major tourist destination has a world-renowned beach that stretches an incredible 70 kilometres (43 miles). Visitors are quick to try sea kayaking or sailing in these pristine waters, but locals will tell you that the real attractions are salmon fishing and scuba diving – Jacques Cousteau has called Oceanside the second best cold-water-diving destination in the world. At low tide the ocean retreats, leaving behind hundreds of tidal pools and smooth sand. Armed with pails and shovels, children and parents alike can spend hours digging and exploring the seafloor.

Paradise Mini Golf Fun Park | Photo Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism

If you’re looking for freshwater activities, then head a few kilometers southwest to Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. The park features two breathtaking waterfalls that empty into narrow rock canyons. At the base of the lower falls is a deep pool perfect for swimming. With large day-use areas, families and nature lovers are in pure paradise amongst the park’s river-skirting trails and old-growth forests.

Nanaimo's spectacular waterfront walkway Photo Credit - Mike Anderson header
Nanaimo’s Spectacular Waterfront Walkway | Photo Mike Anderson

Continue south along the awe-inspiring coast of Vancouver Island to Nanaimo. With more than 200 parks, exceptional shopping, cultural scenery, fine dining, and of course, a mild climate, there’s no questioning why Nanaimo is a travelers’ hot-spot. Surprisingly, this active city has the atmosphere of a relaxing seaside getaway. An entire afternoon can be spent on the harbour-front watching the flurry of tugs, ferries, floatplanes, and freighters go about their business.

Chemainus Murals, Province of BC
Chemainus Murals | Photo Province of BC

The small communities of Ladysmith and Chemainus are a short distance down the coast. Ladysmith is often referred to as one of the prettiest small towns in Canada with its restored Edwardian buildings that house art galleries, antiques shops, and other collectibles. Chemainus is known for its world-famous murals. Stroll through the charming downtown and find over two dozen murals that changed not only the face, but also the livelihood of the little community. Sculptors, potters, and painters continually congregate in this seaside town.

Legislature and Museum Victoria Harbour
Provincial Legislature and Museum Victoria Harbour

This trip ends in Victoria before returning to the mainland via the Swartz Bay ferry. Victoria is British Columbia’s provincial capital and steeped in Victorian decadence. Double-decker buses, formal gardens, and the tradition of afternoon tea, visitors get to experience a little bit of Britain on BC’s West Coast. Museums, heritage buildings, and Chinatown offer lots for the visitor to do and Victoria’s Inner Harbour bustles with kayaks, whale watching boats, ferries, and float planes.

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Returning to the Vancouver area, board BC Ferries at Swartz Bay just north of Victoria and enjoy the 1.5-hour sailing to Tsawwassen as the ferry passes through the pastoral southern Gulf Islands on its way to the mainland.

Read more for the complete Sunshine Coast Tour.

For accommodations in British Columbia go to Travel-british-columbia.com

Share your BC travel photos using hashtag #travelinbc

Published: March 25, 2021

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