Port McNeil and Aler Bay
Gas up in Campbell River-it's 140 miles north on Highway 19 to Port McNeill and there aren't any services in between. Blanketed by virgin timber, isolated farms, and magnificent vistas, Port McNeill is the jumping-off point to Alert Bay, an island in the strait that separates Vancouver Island from mainland British Columbia.
A 30-minute ferry ride will take you to Alert Bay and excellent campgrounds. Parking along the harbor in Port McNeill and walking on board, you'll go through a small fishing village with shops and restaurants and out to U'mista Cultural Centre.
Today, U'mista Cultural Centre houses a collection of carved masks, silkscreen prints, totem poles, jewelry, and artifacts that depict the history of the potlatch. Here you can watch the local carvers create totem poles, masks, and carvings.
A Village of Murals
Drive an hour north of Victoria on Highway 1 and turn right on Henry Road (Highway 1A), and you'll be swept down into the center of town where old brick buildings are dressed with murals depicting the native, pioneer, fishing, lumber, and shipping history of the area. There are 37 murals and 13 sculptures that tell the story of Vancouver Island's past.
Scattered among the murals that line the streets of Old Town Chemainus are eateries, shops, espresso bars, and galleries that feature native and local artwork. Take the time to tour Cascadia Sawmill, a state-of-the-art lumber mill that shows how modern technology and responsible forestry is guaranteeing the future of tomorrow's timber industry. A pleasant surprise is that there's plenty of parking in town, even for our Ram and Airstream.
Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, is a classy, charming city. It's compact, foot friendly, visually pleasing, and full of sights that'll make anyone want to come back. We found it was easiest to unhitch the Airstream at the RV campground where we were staying and drive the truck downtown.
Nestled around the Inner Harbour, Victoria's link with the sea is underscored by dozens of slips occupied by sailing ships and private yachts. Immediately across from the Inner Harbor is the Fairmont Empress Hotel where high tea is served (reservations required). This tradition began during the reign of Queen Victoria who suffered from what is now known as low blood sugar. She remedied the condition by enjoying tea, scones, berries and cream, and sandwiches every afternoon, and today no one does afternoon tea better than the Empress Hotel.
The Royal BC Museum across the street is well worth a stroll through its multistory exhibits. Fishing and whale-watching excursions depart regularly from the Inner Harbor. Victoria has a wide variety of casual and fine dining eateries, espresso bars, bakeries, and microbreweries. Hugo's, a block north of the Empress Hotel, is a microbrewery that makes one of the best hefeweizens (wheat beer) you'll ever taste. In front of the Empress you can catch a double-decker bus and in minutes be at Butchart Gardens and Butterfly Gardens just north of the town on Highway 17. Both sites have ample RV parking as well, making it easy to drive there in your rig.
Much of the island is quite accommodating to RVers but it's always a good idea to scout out your route to make sure all your destinations are accessible. Happy exploring.