Making the Most of Your Time

If you're driving (and a car really is essential for exploring the island), pick a circular route to avoid retracing your steps: drive the Pacific Marine Circle Route through Sooke, Port Renfrew and the Cowichan Valley, link the Saanich Peninsula and Cowichan Valley with a ride on BC Ferries' Mill Bay Ferry, or combine a trip to the Saanich Peninsula or Cowichan Valley with a visit to Salt Spring Island. For the Gulf Islands, it's best to pick one or two islands to explore; the ferry schedules are not conducive to island-hopping. In a hurry? Floatplanes serve the Gulf Islands and the Cowichan Valley from Vancouver, and the experience is unforgettable. Another option? Pick a resort or seaside inn, fly in, stay there, and relax.

Tofino, a five-hour drive across the island from Victoria, is a separate trip altogether; but flying in and renting a car in Tofino is always an option. Three full days are about the minimum: once you've made the trek from Vancouver, it takes a day to unwind and adapt to the slower pace here. A quick conversation with your host will help you hit the highlights—the best spots to view wildlife, the top trails (some get washed out in stormy weather), when to browse the galleries (some close Monday), and what musicians are playing (if nightlife is on your list).

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