Burdwood Group Islands Broughton Archipelago Photo: Kim Walker
Rich in First Nations tradition and culture, North Vancouver Island is sparsely populated. 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. Many lakes in the area offer excellent freshwater fishing as well as swimming and camping.
Along the 200 km (124 mi) stretch of Highway 19 from Campbell River to Port McNeill there is plenty to see. Heading north on this scenic highway, Sayward is the Gateway to North Vancouver Island. Take a walk into White River Park and see the amazing giant Douglas firs and the nearby Salmon River Wildlife Reserve is popular with birdwatchers. Heading north on Highway 19 you will drive through the beautiful Nimpkish Valley. The valley is flanked by steep snow-capped mountains. 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 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 from Campbell River although the last part of the journey is on gravel road. Freedom-bound vacationers will find plenty of great ways to explore the area which is popular for hiking, rock climbing, caving and diving. Zeballos is also a departure point for charter fishing and kayaking trips.
Before reaching Port McNeill take the side 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 offering 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 North Vancouver Island’s forestry industry and a busy harbour town with a lovely seawall where you can stroll and watch the boating activity. The area is one of dense forest, tranquil lakes, exquisite views of Broughton Strait, and plenty of wildlife that makes 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 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.
Port Hardy is North Vancouver Island’s largest community and resides at the northern end of Highway 19 – the terminus of the Prince Rupert ferry and the Discovery Coast Passage ferry to Bella Coola. Stroll along the waterfront and you will see a bustling harbour, where fishing boats, cruise ships and seaplanes come and go year-round. Book a fishing charter or take a day trip. Explore the town with its arts and crafts. Buy some local smoked salmon. Visit the Quatse Salmon Stewardship Centre and historic Fort Rupert and its world-renowned First Nations artists.
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 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.