Vancouver Island is a great destination for wildlife enthusiasts because of its black bear population and whale-watching opportunities. It is one of the best places in the world to see orcas.
Here you can walk along wild beaches and through dense forests where black bears are common. Boat trips provide excellent opportunities to see impressive numbers of grey whales that spend the summer in the plankton-rich channels offshore.
Named after the Royal Navy officer who explored the Pacific Northwest between 1791 and 1794, British Columbia’s largest island is home to the historic city of Victoria, the provincial capital, which warrants a couple of nights stay. At 460kms long and up to 80kms wide, it is the largest Pacific island east of New Zealand, and the largest on the west coast of North America. Separated from the mainland by a long strait, the island’s west coast looks directly onto the Pacific Ocean, while mountains that reach a maximum height of 2,195ms run most of its length, dividing the drier, more rolling east coast from the wet and rugged western shore, much of which is mountainous with fjords, bays and inlets.
With many lakes and rivers, the interior is heavily forested – particularly the northern, western and central regions – with the big conifers associated with the BC coast: western hemlock, red cedar, Pacific silver fir, Douglas fir, and Sitka spruce. Near the centre, Strathcona Provincial Park has a group of peaks with the island’s only glaciers. The fauna is similar to the mainland, with notable exceptions: grizzly bears, mountain goats, porcupines, moose, skunks, coyotes and numerous small mammals are all absent. However the island is home to most of Canada’s Roosevelt elk population, and has two endemic species — the Vancouver Island marmot and the Vancouver Island wolf – along with North America’s most concentrated cougar population. Sea otters, which were hunted almost to extinction by fur traders in the 1800s and finally died out in the early twentieth century, were successfully reintroduced to the west coast from Alaska.
Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park are the main places to visit on the island.
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