Take the Ferry
Taking the Ferry is an incredible way to get to and from the Island - especially on a nice day when you can get up on deck and really enjoy all of the beautiful days. We are most familiar with the routes from Vancouver - Victoria (Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay) and Vancouver to Nanaimo (Horseshoe Bay - Departure Bay). There are a variety of routes you can take to different areas, so make sure to research where you are going on the island before booking.
I would only recommend booking advance if you are going during a particularly high travel time (weekends during the summer, especially long weekends can be very busy). If you are driving and do not book ahead you may wait hours for a few sailings before you finally get on a ship. It is possible to walk onto ships, but I've never done it so I'm not too sure about public transit and it's frequency once you are on the island.
The ferry is definitely a wonderful option during the summer or early fall months when you can really enjoy the experience. If you want to save time though, a float plane is also a wonderful option.
- Family Travel
IslandLink Bus Nanaimo to Victoria
Had reservation from Nanaimo to Victoria. Ferry was few minutes late and bust had left.
Reservation confusing as it looks like to match BC Ferry arrival but not so.
Other bus companies better service and %20 cheaper. If travelling by ferry do not trust Islanlink bus connections.
- Business Travel
Getting to Victoria by bus
(work in progress)
Given the choice and budget, the most convenient way to explore Vancouver Island is by car, which allows you to access the many scenic spots for which the island is justifiably famous and stop at will en route. However, car hire isn't within everyone's means, so it's good to know that there are options available for the budget traveller or those who can't/won't drive.
The most affordable way to get around is by bus - both Greyhound and Pacific coach offer regular services between Vancouver (both downtown and the airport) and Victoria using the ferry (otherwise it would be a long way to hold your breath!). Once on the island, there are bus services between Victoria and Nanaimo (including the BC ferry terminals), as well as less frequent services to Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino.
The bus station in Victoria is located right in the centre of town, adjacent to the Empress Hotel.
By far the coolest way to arrive!
(work in progress)
Of all the cool ways to travel, float plane has to be up there close to the top of the list!
Far from just being tourist activities, float planes are well integrated into Vancouver Island's transport network and service a number of commercial routes between the mainland and the island (including services from Seattle in the US). I did look into the possibility, and was surprised to find that they weren't as expensive as I had feared - at the time of writing (October 2012), special one way fares between Vancouver and Nanaimo started at C$47 plus port taxes for those travelling with 35lb or less luggage (about 15kg), although the usual range is from about C$80.
Compared to the cost of a float plane 'pleasure' flight, that's very reasonable indeed, especially if it saves you the cost of the ferry fare (which is the other transport option). However, before you make your decision, you should consider that the advertised fares (which are almost always cheaper if you book online) don't include port taxes and your baggage allocation is limited: thus, if you're travelling with heavy suitcases, you may incur excess baggage charges. You'll also need to bear in mind that you'll then need to arrange transport to get around the Island.
It almost goes without saying that float planes are only able to operate under favourable weather considerations, so if you're planning to travel over periods when the weather is likely to be bad, the ferry might be a more reliable option.
All that being said, it's hard to imagine a cooler way to arrive in a town than to swoop down from the skies and nonchalantly glide into the harbour - the epitome of elegant and stylish travel!
The BC ferries are an absolute delight!
(work in progress)
Although they were a staple of our childhood trips back to Ireland, it's a long time since I took a car ferry, so I was looking forward to the ferry rides between the mainland to Vancouver Island. And so I should have been - they were terrific, and a real highlight of our visit!
Car ferries have come a long way in recent years, and it's clear that they place much more priority on making the trip an enjoyable experience, rather than just transporting passengers from A to B. In particular, the ferry between Tsawwamen (south of Vancouver) and Swartz Bay (north of Victoria) was extremely well equipped, with Internet connectivity, kiddies' play areas and good canteen-style restaurants.
The ferries have a 'roll on, roll off design' and port arrangements work like clockwork. The signage is excellent, the staff are professional, and the facilities in port cater for all reasonable requirements. The ferries take pedestrian as well as car passengers, but if you're considering this option, you should bear in mind that the ferry terminals are located at some distance out of Vancouver and Victoria, so you'll have to make a plan to get to and from the ports: the most practical option seems to be to take a bus (carriers such as Greyhound and Pacific Coach service this route).
However, the real attraction has to be the trip itself, which spans what must is an incredibly attractive waterway. In particular, the trip between Tsawwamen and Swartz Bay is gorgeous, as the ferry weaves between little islands and I'd go so far as to say that it would be worth considering as a 'low cost cruise' option, particularly if your budget is tight. Not only is the scenery spectacular, but marine life (including orca, dolphins, whales and seabirds) is often spotted en route - just unfortunately not in our case!
For queasy sailors, the ferry routes traverse the protected sound on the eastern side of Vancouver Island, which are largely sheltered from the open ocean. As a result, conditions are nowhere near as rough as they would be on the western side of Vancouver Island, although if you're prone to sea sickness, you may want to take appropriate medication, particularly in stormy conditions.
Ferry signage on Vancouver Island is terrific
(work in progress)
I cannot overstate how good the signage to the BC Ferries terminals at Departure Bay 3.2km north of Nanaimo) and Swartz Bay (32km and about half an hours drive north of Victoria) is: if you get manage to get lost despite this, then you must really have made an effort!
The signage not only clearly indicates the direction to the ports, but also gives the times of the next ferry and its percentage occupancy. A real effort has also been made to ensure that travellers are directed to the right port: it sounds obvious, but, for instance, there are two ports operated by BC Ferries in Nanaimo (Departure Bay and Duke Point) and it's easy to get confused.
I have to say that I was less impressed by the signage on the mainland, which was patchy and never seemed to be there when you needed it. We caught the ferry from Tsawwassen (38km south of Vancouver) and approached from the Fraser Valley/Chilliwack side. It was a long, slow haul across country from Highway 1, through an area that was built up for the most part, and beset by innumerable traffic lights. Although the route indicated was to follow Highway 10 westwards, this is not always a straight line, and we got lost a couple of times. I have no idea if the signage is better from the Vancouver side, or whether the Horseshoe Bay terminal is better signposted.
BC Ferries has a excellent series of instructions on finding the ferry terminals on its website: to access this, follow this link.
The BC Ferries are a relaxing way to come over to the island from Main land Canada,
The are ferries on these major routes:
Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay
Tsawwassen to Nanaimo (Duke Point)
Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo (Departure Bay)
Powell River (Little River-Westview) to Comox
Cortes Island to Quadra Island and Campbell River
Furthermore there are ferries from Vancouver Island to the smaller islands:
Tsawwassen to Southern Gulf Islands
Swartz Bay to Southern Gulf Islands
Swartz Bay to Fulford Harbour (Saltspring Island)
Horseshoe Bay to Snug Cove (Bowen Island)
Denman Island to Hornby Island
Port McNeill to Alert Bay and Sointula
At the terminals and on-board the ferries there are toilet and restaurant facilities.
- Road Trip
- Sailing and Boating
- Business Travel
Train from Victoria to Courtenay
One of the least known, and least used, VIA Rail Canada routes is the daily train that operates from Victoria north to Courtenay, with stops in several cities of significance along the way (Duncan, Nanaimo, etc.). The route runs through a few sections of rugged mountain scenery in places, and through really unattractive suburban sprawl in other places.
The trip is currently operated with Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs - though called "Dayliners" by locals) build in the 1950s. These are beyond their end of life, and new equipment continues to be discussed for use on the line.
Unfortunately, the rather poor condition of the track (83 pound rail and lots of light weight bridges) make the line very slow - but not so slow as to make it easy to photograph scenery out the window. I found that I was frequently fighting with the passing trees and the gaps between them.
The route is 225 km (135 miles), and the posts beside the line give the distance in miles rather than km. Intermediate stops were fairly infrequent when I rode, but all of the station stops except Courtenay, Duncan, Parksville, Victoria and Nanaimo are by request only - leaving some 24 stations as possible stops that may or may not happen. With more passengers on the train than on the day I happened to ride, it is likely that more stops will be made.
The current timetable is for the "train" (made up of either a single RDC or two cars, depending on what advance ticket sales look like) to depart Victoria at 8 in the morning all days except Sunday, when it departs at 10 in the morning. The train then does one complete round trip all the way up island to Courtenay, and after a brief layover returns back down the line to Victoria. The entire round trip (if you choose to do the entire round trip as a rainy day recreational travel activity as I did) takes about 10 hours. Unlike just about any other passenger railroad operation out there, this service does not have much interference from freight traffic, as there is little freight traffic remaining on the island - though there is a little.
The round trip ticket price was C$64.00, with C$7.68 in harmonized sales tax added, for a total price of C$71.68.
Seating is currently unassigned - first come, first choice of seats. Both sides of the train are somewhat scenic, but the eastern side of the train has the better views. This is the side of the train that is opposite the station in Victoria and on the same side of the station in Courtenay. The western side of the train does feature views of the port facility as the train is leaving Victoria and of some mountain ridges as the line climbs the pass at the summit between Victoria and Nanaimo. There are a number of places on the eastern side of the train that offer brief views of one of the many bays on Vancouver Island and a view out over the mountain valley as the train climbs the hill between Victoria and Nanaimo.
Some of the stations are staffed, but only during limited hours. For example, the Victoria station is only staffed from 7 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon. After that, the station is closed. I purchased my tickets by using the VIA web site, and printing the bar code, and expected to have to use the bar code to print my tickets upon arrival at the station. This is not how this line works. Instead, the station agent had already printed all the tickets they knew about, and when I simply showed her my reservation number and she grabbed my ticket out of the pile that was arranged and sorted.
At stations that are not staffed, it is necessary to purchase your ticket from the conductor on the train. As they do not have much in the way of resources for ticket selling, it is probably a good idea to bring cash to pay for the ticket.
The current seat design has the seats rotated to face the direction of travel, except for several areas that are reserved for groups of three or more. They recline very nicely to allow a nice restful journey. I highly suggest making sure that you select a seat that is positioned between window posts so that you get the best view.
In the winter time, the view is not blocked by tree foliage, but it is obvious from my trip on December 8, 2010 that there are a lot of views that might not be possible in the warmer months due to increased leaf cover. Also in the winter months, it is possible to see a number of wintering birds in the areas where the train runs along the water.
There is no food or beverage service on the train - not even a vending machine. There is talk of new equipment, but currently you must bring your own food and drink, and if you are making a long journey on the train it is pretty much a necessity to do so.
While there is no meal service or snack bar available, passengers are invited to purchase snacks from station-side businesses during the layover stop in Nanaimo, which is scheduled to be about 15 minutes. I highly suggest bringing your own snacks anyway, to assure that you aren't stuck in line and waiting to buy when the train departs.
For more photos and information, please see:
Victoria Train Station
Victoria to Courtenay, Part 1
Victoria to Courtenay, Part 2
Get yourself some wheels
The best parts of VC Island are the bits in bewteen the towns. You really need a car, otherwise a boat would be the next best thing. Relying on public transport will restrict what you can do and see, it will also most likley work out to be more expensive.
Island Link Bus
Driver and service to ferry terminal is great WHEN it is running... schedules change with no notice to regular customers or notice on website. Almost impossible to book except on internet- the person who answers the telephone is grumpy and RUDE.
- Business Travel
- Budget Travel
- Study Abroad
Hire a car
The best way to get around Vancouver Island is by car. We'd rented in Vancouver itself and came over with it on the car ferry, but altrnatively you could hire one here. We found the driving and the navigating very easy - the roads are fairly quiet and woth notmany of them it's hard to get lost.
My favourite drive was when we crossed the island from Qualicum Beach to Tofino on Highway 4. I'd expected Vancouver Island to have great beaches but hadn't realised how mountainous the centre of the island was. I would advise you to allow plenty of time for this drive, partly because the road is slow and winding, and partly because the scenery is fantastic and you’re sure to want to stop to take photos or just admire the views. I loved these dark green forested mountains with the low cloud swirling around them.
- Road Trip
To get to Vancouver Island you’ll probably want to catch a ferry. You could choose to fly, but if you want to take a car across that isn’t an option. There are four possible routes:
~ Tsawwassen (south of Vancouver) – Swartz Bay, near Victoria
~ Tsawwassen – Duke Point, for Nanaimo
~ Horseshoe Bay (north of Vancouver) - Departure Bay, also near Nanaimo
~ Powell River – Comox, a more northerly option
We used the Horseshoe Bay – Departure Bay route in both directions, and were impressed by the service. The ferries were clean and had all the services you need (shops, café etc), with plenty of room even in the summer season. They were punctual, and the organisation at the docks was good, with orderly queuing systems for cars. Also, although we’d pre-booked we had no problem switching to an earlier departure when we arrived sooner than expected. The crossing time on this route is 1 hour 35 minutes, and there are 8 departures a day (more on holiday weekends). The one-way fare for a car currently ranges from $33.00 mid-week in the winter, to $39.00 on a summer weekend. An adult foot passenger would pay $11.15 for a one way ticket on a summer weekend. All prices are in Canadian dollars, and there are lots of options and concessions, so check out the website for the fare that fits your journey.
We also used the ferry between Campbell River and Quadra Island, and again found the service very good. There are frequent (more or less hourly) departures. The return fare for a car with driver and passengers is currently $14.75 in peak season (late June to early September) and $13.15 off peak. Again, check the website for costs for larger vehicles and for foot passengers.
The website also has useful info about current conditions at sea, the busyness of the ports and more. Plus there are webcams and a fun vessel position tracker that lets you see which ships are at sea and track their progress.
Tsawassen Ferry - Vancouver(Delta) to Vancouver Is
I snapped this photo at 6:30 am, while we were waiting at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal for our ferry to Duke Point. (Nanaimo)
It was interesting to see a method of transportation which is so foreign to me. Growing up in the prairies, everything is transported by truck or rail.
- Family Travel
By Car: How far/how long...?
Some road distances within Vancouver Island:
- Victoria to Sidney: 21 kms. (30 minutes).
- Victoria to Nanaimo: 95 kms. (2h 9m).
- Victoria to Port Hardy (north of the island): 482 kms. (6h 29 m).
For other distances, visit: www.hellobc.com
There are two main ports that link Vancouver Island and Vancouver.
- Depature Bay, in Nanaimo (Vancouver Island), is about 95 kms. north of Victoria and links to Horseshoe Bay (about 22 kms. north of Vancouver).
- Swartz Bay, very close to Sidney (Vancouver Island) is about 30 kms. north of Victoria and lnks to Tsawwassen (south of Vancouver).
Both routes take about 95 minutes.
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