Within an hour drive south are the rolling hills of the Cowichan Valley and thrilling marine adventures in Cowichan Bay. Spend the day exploring the valley, sipping on wines, and getting to know Nanaimo’s neighbours to the south.
1. Cowichan Valley Wineries. Hire a Nanaimo tour operator to navigate you through Cowichan Valley’s serene countryside, where there are 11 wineries and one cidery. Guides lead you into the vineyard then pair cheeses and smoked salmon with a selection of wines for tasting. (May- October)
2. Cowichan Bay Whale Watching. Climb aboard a boat tour with a naturalist and see the island’s resident orcas April through October. Humpback whales, grey whales, Minke whales, Dalls porpoises, harbour seals, sea lions and bald eagles are also abundant in the area.
3. Kinsol Trestle. Hike through the forest and across one of the world’s tallest freestanding timber trestles. At 614 feet long and 145 feet tall, the 1920s structure stretches above the salmon-bearing Koksilah River near Shawnigan Lake.
4. Chemainus Murals. In the town of Chemainus, take a self-guided walking tour of 41 historic murals painted on downtown businesses. Emily Carr is among the artists that depict the towns mining, fishing, forestry and First Nations history.
Within an hour drive north the landscape opens up to towering old-growth forests and underground adventures in some of the islands 1,000 caves.
1. Coombs. This little town is home to the Old Country Market where goats graze on the roof in summer. Wander the little shops, pick up fresh produce, and break for an ice cream cone. Tucked behind the market in the trees, Cuckoo Trattoria and Pizzeria combines West Coast ingredients and Italian fare in its wood-fired brick oven.
2. Cathedral Grove. In MacMillan Provincial Park you can stand beneath giant Douglas fir trees that are more than 800 years old. The forest is on the highway between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni, and short easy trails lead directly from the roadside.
3. North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre. Near Coombs in a natural outdoor setting you can visit eagles, owls, falcons, hawks, and black bears in various stages of recovery. Raptor presentations run throughout summer.
4. Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park. Strap on your helmet and light and follow a guide past crystal formations, waterfalls, and ancient fossils in this parks protected caves. Tours range from family-friendly to extreme rappelling adventures. There are two caves for experienced spelunkers to explore without a guide.