Study Abroad Semester in Canada

An Unforgettable Road Trip on Vancouver Island

By the end of February, the semester was suddenly already in the middle, and the much-awaited Study Week was approaching – interpreted by most international students as a "Reading Break." While many Germans took this opportunity to explore more distant parts of Canada, two other German students and I opted for a week-long road trip across Vancouver Island. We were rewarded with exceptional sunshine and did not regret this decision at all. Our experiences during this trip will be divided into two blog posts. Our route took us from Nanaimo to Ucluelet, Tofino, Port Alberni, Sooke, Victoria, and back to Nanaimo.

Day 1: Starting in Nanaimo and Driving to Ucluelet

We started the first day of our road trip in a relaxed manner. After picking up our rental car at the airport in Nanaimo and stowing our belongings, we set off in Canadian style to Tim Hortons to enjoy some donuts and stock up on supplies for the upcoming journey. Then we headed to Ucluelet. During the drive, we passed through parts of Pacific Rim National Park, including the famous Cathedral Grove. Although we only made a stop there on the way back, we recommend doing this on the outward journey to save time.

To reach the west coast, we had to drive through a construction zone that is closed at certain times of the day to ensure progress. Since we hadn't checked this in advance, we were fortunate to be able to drive through without waiting. Upon arrival in Ucluelet, we first checked into our accommodation. Since there was a kitchen available, we quickly went to buy groceries for our dinner and breakfast. If we had known that our accommodation was a small vacation rental, we would have been better prepared and bought groceries in Nanaimo, as prices on the west coast are even higher. In retrospect, the vacation rental with a kitchen proved to be worthwhile and saved us money. On the first evening, we cooked together and went to bed relatively early.

Day 2 in Tofino – Beach Hopping and Downtown Exploration

On our second day, we drove to Tofino with our rental car. Our first stop was the famous Long Beach, a popular spot for surfing and long walks. Although the sun was shining, it was too cold to stay as long as we would have liked due to the strong wind and cold temperatures. After a few hours at Long Beach, we drove a few minutes further to Tofino.

In Tofino, we parked our car and explored the charming downtown area on foot, with its many small shops. We could have spent hours leisurely strolling through them. Since we were in Tofino on a Sunday, it was unfortunately difficult to find a restaurant to eat at. So we decided to buy a snack at a local grocery store and return to the car, as it was too cold outside.

As the sunset was approaching, we made a stop on the way back at Cox Beach to experience a breathtaking sunset. A wonderful end to this beautiful day!

Day 3 in Ucluelet – Exploring the Wild Pacific Trails

After two nights in our accommodation in Ucluelet, it was time to pack our things again, as our journey continued towards Port Alberni. However, before we set off, we made a stop in the picturesque Ucluelet and explored the Wild Pacific Trail, starting at the 'Ancient Cedars' entrance. This trail impressed us with breathtaking views and left us speechless at times. Although we only spent just under two hours on the Wild Pacific Trail (including numerous photo stops) due to time constraints, we would have liked to spend much more time there. The Wild Pacific Trail is also not demanding in terms of difficulty. Afterwards, we continued our drive by car towards Port Alberni and were lucky again that the construction site was open and we could pass through without any problems.

Looking back on Ucluelet: The two nights in Ucluelet were extremely worthwhile for us, as the value for money was significantly better than, for example, in Tofino. With the car, we were very flexible and never took longer than 30-40 minutes to get to various places. Furthermore, Ucluelet, although small, was extremely charming and provided the perfect base for exploring various sections of the Wild Pacific Trail.

Day 4 in Port Alberni

After our late arrival at the hotel in Port Alberni the day before and having dinner at the hotel restaurant, we spent the morning at the hotel working on some of our study projects. After checking out of the hotel, we had breakfast at Tim Hortons and then drove around Port Alberni by car. Since the city didn't particularly appeal to us, we decided not to get out and explore it further.

Before we continued our journey, we followed the recommendation of our waiter from the previous evening and visited the arguably most famous donut shop ('The Donut Shop') with the best homemade donuts on all of Vancouver Island. We were even recommended the best variety of donut from the donut shop – Lemon Coconut. Naturally, we tried several varieties and found them all delicious. Surprisingly, the Lemon Coconut variety turned out to be our favorite! Afterwards, we made a brief stop in Nanaimo to buy groceries before continuing our drive towards Sooke.

Looking back on Port Alberni: Although Port Alberni was quite pretty, we wouldn't make this stop again due to the limited time frame and wouldn't necessarily recommend it either. A brief stop at the donut shop on the way from Ucluelet would suffice.

Day 5 in Sooke – Sooke Potholes, Sheringham Point Lighthouse & Sombrio Beach

Our fifth day started with a visit to Sooke Provincial Park to see the Sooke Potholes. To save time, we drove to the various viewpoints and parking lots in the park by car and then explored them on foot. The provincial park is truly beautiful and offers great hiking opportunities. However, since we had other destinations on our list, we headed to Sheringham Point Lighthouse. We were lucky and mostly had the lighthouse to ourselves. For us, the short visit to the lighthouse was definitely worthwhile.

We had originally planned to stop at Mystic Beach next, but were unlucky as there was no space for our rental car in the small parking lot. So we drove straight to the next beach, Sombrio Beach, where we watched the surfers and enjoyed the sunset.

Day 6 in Victoria

On the last day, we headed to Victoria and spent a few hours there before making our way back to Nanaimo. Since we either had experiences in Victoria already or planned future visits, we didn't spend much time together in the city. However, in general, at least two days (one night) in Victoria would be recommended to fully enjoy the beauty of this city.

General Tips for a Road Trip Across the Island:

For a road trip, a slightly larger and compact rental car is recommended, as road conditions, especially in the west of the island, can be very poor and adventurous. Fortunately, we had rented an SUV that allowed us to go anywhere without any problems. When booking accommodations, we opted for a mix of motels, hotels, and Airbnbs, which turned out to be a good decision. Since, except for one night in the hotel, we always had access to a kitchen, we were able to save money by providing our own breakfast and dinner. In hindsight, we would have liked to bring some additional cooking utensils such as spices or oil. Although we thought we would spend a lot of money on the road trip, in the end we paid no more than about €500 per person, including rental car (+ fuel), accommodations, and meals, which is quite acceptable for a week in expensive Canada.

All in all, we had an unforgettable week with great experiences and wonderful weather that will always be remembered! So, if you're unsure where to travel during Study Week, a road trip across the island is highly recommended!

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