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PARKSVILLE and QUALICUM BEACH W
ake a splalsh at in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region – Canada’s beach playground. Stretching along Highway 19A, the diverse communities of Parksville, Qualicum Beach, French Creek, Nanoose Bay, Arrowsmith Coombs Country and Lighthouse Country feature miles of sandy beaches, spectacular mountain and ocean views and numerous attractions. It’s little surprise this vacation playground is home to many special events, fine dining, quaint shops, marinas and of course, great golf. Gallery and studio browsing is a favourite pastime, while for outdoor enthusiasts, activities include fishing, diving, kayaking, mountain biking, boating, caving, horseback riding and windsurfing. Bird-watching is also big in Parksville Qualicum Beach, where more than 250 bird species live year-round or visit during spring migration. Parksville, with a population of more than 11,000, is the region’s largest community. Boasting Canada’s mildest year-round climate, the beachfront resort town’s incredible beaches, top spa destinations, golf courses and beautiful parks have established the region as an ideal spot for romantic getaways and family vacations. The month-long Parksville Beach Festival and Canadian Open Sand Sculpting Competition is a summer-must for many. Nearby, Englishman River Falls Provincial Park draws hikers, anglers and
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The Island’s Beach Playground
picnickers, while Top Bridge Regional Park is a haven for mountain bikers. About 10 minutes north of Parksville the charming town of Qualicum Beach is a pedestrian-friendly gardener’s paradise, home to the beautiful Milner Gardens and Woodland, Qualicum Beach Museum, quaint boutiques, galleries, antique stores and cozy cafés. Arrowsmith Coombs Country offers more sightseeing and activity options. The Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve is a unique micro-climate and ecosystem that has received UNESCO designation. Not-to-miss attractions include the Orchid Garden at Butterfly World and Gardens, with more than 800 living orchids for your enjoyment, the World Parrot Refuge, North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, Tiger Lily Farms and Little Qualicum Cheeseworks & MooBerry Winery (complete with farm tours). At the Old Country Market in Coombs, watch the antics of the goats grazing on the market’s grass roof before you explore the eclectic market and neighbouring shops. Pick up a picnic lunch and stroll the paths of Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. Just beyond, don’t miss the majestic Cathedral Grove with centuries-old trees, and the peaceful splendour of Cameron Lake. Lighthouse Country is a picturesque coastal area with marinas, restaurants, art studios, shops, amazing scallops from Qualicum Bay Scallops and caving at Horne Lake Caves. Also check out the Deep Bay Field Station Centre for Shellfish Research, sitting like a giant open clam on the shores of Deep Bay.
Dive into coastal waters Beneath the water, Vancouver Island has been blessed with what Jacques Cousteau called some of the best cold water diving waters in the world, thanks to their clarity and abundant sea life. In addition to the natural underwater features, a variety of artificial reefs have created an additional attraction in communities such as Sidney and Nanaimo. And good news for diving enthusiasts is that no matter when you visit Vancouver Island, it’s a great time to see the scenery below the surface, whether you prefer a shore dive or boat trip. Specialists like the Nanaimo Dive Outfitters in the central Island can get divers set up with everything from suit rentals to dive trips. And for those looking for an experience closer to the surface, snorkelling is also a popular pastime. The centre also offers lessons for all levels, from newcomers to more experienced divers. The region is unique in that it draws divers from all over the Island and in fact, word is spreading farther afield as the region welcomes divers year-round from across Canada, the US and Europe, note the pros at the Dive Outfitters. Artificial reefs just outside Nanaimo’s harbour offer a weath of sea life to observe and a vast array of halls and chambers to explore. Nearby parks and beaches offer entry to waters that reveal walls and reefs sheltering rock fish, wolf eel, giant Pacific octopus and many other fascinating creatures. Outside of Nanaimo, many Island regions offer diving opportunities – check in with your local visitor centre for details.
What to do. What to see. How you get there.