Tea at the Empress has its place, but Vancouver Island really ain’t the stodgy backwater place that some folks take it to be. In fact, it’s just the opposite – an extreme sports athlete would be hard-pressed to find a better location to do some pretty epic stuff that you definitely could NOT do in Vancouver or on the mainland. We’re talking about surfing, shark diving, some of the most impressive caves you’ll see anywhere and other things you didn’t know about this mecca for extreme sports. Stuff like:
#1 – Spelunking (Caving)
Simply put, Vancouver Island is a caver’s wet dream thanks to an ideal combination of rainfall, vegetation, soil conditions and mountainous topography. There are over 1,000 recorded limestone caves on the Island – that’s more than you’ll find in all the Canadian provinces combined. In fact, it’s got the largest concentration of caves anywhere in North America.
Where to Do It: Most of the caves on Vancouver Island are at the north end, with one notable exception. Horne Lake Caves is a massive system of two caves open to both curious folks and/or as part of a tour. It’s about 60 km north of Nanaimo and 26 km west of Qualicum. Follow Highway 19, take the Horne Lake Caves exit. It’s another 12 km from there.
Next Steps: Decide if you want to take a tour or explore the caves on your own. You’re probably better off taking a tour, both for your safety and the integrity of the caves in general. Check out there Wet and Wild Adventure for $69 per adult. It comes highly rated on TripAdvisor and looks like a lot of fun.
#2 – Six Gill Shark Diving
It’s true, you really can go shark diving off Vancouver Island. You’re not going to see any great whites here, or tropical species of sharks, but you’ve got a fairly good chance to spot six gill sharks in Flora Inlet, just off Hornby Island and an easy trip from Vancouver Island. They’re large, docile prehistoric monsters of the waters here in the Pacific Northwest – and a lot of fun to see while diving!
Note that you need to be scuba-certified to dive with six gill sharks. This isn’t snorkelling.
Where to Do it: Hornby Island is the traditional six gill shark-spotting hot spot off Vancouver Island, but you might also see them in Barkley Sound, near Port Alberni.
Next Steps: Most dive shops on Vancouver Island can hook arrange a six gill shark dive for you, or go through Hornby Island Diving. Remember to practice safe diving with this experience. That’s all the more reason to do it with an operator.
#3 – Kiteboarding
Some people say Vancouver Island is the best place on Earth to go kiteboarding. There’s a reason for that – on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Nitinat Lake has some of the most consistent winds anywhere, between 18-20 knots, which makes it perfect both for beginners and experts. The lake is warm too, and a relatively short drive from Victoria.
Where to Do It: Nitinat Lake is world-famous for kiteboarding, but there are plenty of spots around Vancouver Island that have favourable conditions, including Tofino, Jordan River, and even Dallas Road/Clover Point off Victoria.
Next Steps: You really can’t go wrong at any of those spots, but Nitinat Lake is the holy grail. Go during Windfest in August and bring your camping gear for maximum good times. Strong Kiteboarding offers lessons here if you’re down with this option.
#4 – Surfing
If you don’t mind wearing a wetsuit, Vancouver Island has some of the best surfing on the west coast of North America. No, it’s not Cali, but that’s good – Chesterman Beach and the area around Tofino rarely gets crowded because it’s so big. Those waves are fairly consistent too, and the waters here are even warmer than off San Francisco!
Where to Do it: Beginning surfers should take a class at Chesterman. It’s pretty chill here, and you can take the Beach Bus in summer months if you’re staying in Tofino without a car. I took my lessons at Raph Bruhweiler and was pretty happy with them. Ask for Mark if he’s still there.
Next Steps: More advanced surfers can head to Jordan River and Port Renfrew along Highway 14 if you’re leaving from Victoria. The surf at both spots is quite good, but localism can be an issue here. Take care and show good surf etiquette when surfing these areas.
#5 – Bungy Jumping
I’ve never done this, but the Nanaimo bungy jumping bridge was among the first in the world to offer this Kiwi-created adventure sport in a commercial setting.
Where to Do it: WildPlay element parks currently operates this 150 foot leap over the Nanaimo river. Over 260,000 folks have done the jump, and it’s available at different heights. The park offers zipline and other activities that look like a lot of fun.
Next Steps: Go to their website to learn how to get to the bridge and for pricing. You’ll need to sign a waiver form and jumpers under 19 have to go with a parent.