Getting to the West Coast
Though the goal of our family trip was Vancouver Island's west coast, the car trip across Vancouver Island was a fun experience in itself.
We began with a scenic 1-1/2 hour ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay (near the city of Vancouver-- which is not on Vancouver Island!) to Nanaimo, a good-sized town about half-way up the east side of Vancouver Island.
(Ferry traffic can be heavy during holidays: check the BC Ferries site, and make a reservation if possible.)
Vancouver Island is "Size L": the largest island off the west coast of North America, about as big as Holland, and 320 miles (500 km) long.
From Nanaimo, driving west, our first stop was Coombs. "Quaint" is a weak word for Coomb's Old Country Market,, which was literally packed to the rafters with gourmet foods and handicrafts-- but best known for the goats that frequently graze on its grassy sloped roof.
Allow at least three hours for the 128-mile (206-km) trip across the island to Tofino, and more, if you want to make interesting stops. For instance, just outside Port Alberni, we made a stop where pale green river rapids rushed through a beautiful area of wide smooth rocks: a great place for young explorers.
You'll also find, as you cross the island: terrific scenery, as you pass through a modest range of mountains (still snow-capped in April); and various gift shops, candy stores, and local cafe's. Be warned, though: when we made our trip across Vancouver Island, the last 100 km (60 miles) had few or no cafes or stores; so you might want to stock up on gas and drinks and snacks.
It's also possible to arrive at Ucluelet-Tofino area by a completely different route: driving northwest from the city of Victoria, which is at the southern end of Vancouver Island.
Victoria is a fun place to visit, with its historical buildings, English flavour, popular seawall, famed Empress Hotel, Royal Wax Museum-- and the first-rate Royal B.C. Museum. This wonderful place has sections on Natural History (with life-size animals), a First Peoples Gallery that includes a full-size Long House, and rambling displays of Modern History complete with a life-size train station and Chinatown, and lots more.* Plan a long visit with a break for lunch. There's an IMAX theatre too*.
Victoria can be reached by ferry from Tsawwassen on the BC mainland; Tsawwassen is about 45 minutes from Vancouver. You can also take a ferry from Seattle to Victoria.
-- continue to Tofino BC for Whale-watching
* Always check destination web sites for updates!