Twenty reasons to love Vancouver Island

1. EXPLORE: THE ISLAND

It is no surprise that Vancouver Island is such a popular destination for visitors to Canada, with the isle's main city and capital of the province of British Columbia, Victoria, just a 15-minute scenic flight from Vancouver (do book a window seat). But while Victoria welcomes a large number of visitors, the rest of this beautiful island of rugged mountains, dense forests and wild coastlines lying close to Canada's west coast remains relatively less explored despite having an enormous amount to offer the overseas visitor. See www.hellobc.com.au

2. VISIT: VICTORIA

The starting point for most visits to Vancouver Island is Victoria, its main city. Framed by an attractive inner harbour ringed by grand and historic buildings such as the Provincial Legislative Museum and the Fairmont Empress Hotel (see below), Victoria, with a population of just under 400,000 (roughly the same as Canberra), is a living testament to Canada's historic ties to Britain. See www.hellobc.com.au

3. STAY: FAIRMONT EMPRESS HOTEL, VICTORIA

Few hotels dominate a city in such a way as The Empress. One of Canada's most legendary hotels, it dates to the early 20th century and was the subject of a much more recent and controversial, but ultimately successful, refurbishment. The 464-room hotel, commanding Victoria's captivating inner harbour waterfront, is renowned for its ever-so-English-style afternoon teas, which are especially popular with the neighbours across the not-too-distant border south of here. See www.fairmont.com/empress-victoria

* 4. TAKE: A BICYCLE TOUR OF VICTORIA

Aside from the proverbial shank's pony, the best way to discover the compact city of Victoria is on two wheels, preferably with Pedaler Cycling Tours. Departing from the grounds of harbourside Huntingdon Manor, this well-run outfit's "Castles, Hoods & Legends" two-hour bike tour explores Victoria's historic and picturesque neighbourhoods beyond the more built-up downtown. Along the way you will visit the tiny Chinatown, Craigdarroch Castle, Beacon Hill Park and the world's second-tallest totem pole. It is also a good way to shake off any jet-lag cobwebs. See www.pedaler.ca

5. VISIT: BUTCHART GARDENS

There are some places in the world to which even the finest photographs cannot do justice. Butchart Gardens, a 20-kilometre drive north of Victoria, is unquestionably one such place. And even if your thumb is resistant to turning green, you will not leave here without being wholly impressed by this 22-hectare, meticulously maintained horticultural showpiece, crafted in the early 20th century in and around the site of a former quarry. Top it off with afternoon tea in one of the garden's old houses (see below). See www.butchartgardens.com

6. EXPLORE: PACIFIC RIM NATIONAL PARK RESERVE

Consisting of more than 500 square kilometres of rugged coastlines and temperate rainforests, the spectacular Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, near the town of Tofino (see below), a five-hour or so drive from Victoria, is a popular haunt of Vancouver Islands' surfing community (yes, they really do catch a wave or two here in this temperate corner of Canada), as well as nature-lovers from around the world. See www.pc.gc.ca; www.hellobc.com.au

7. VISIT: TOFINO

Tofino is Vancouver Island's signature tourist town and it is not hard to understand its attraction. Dominated by high-rise exposed timber wharves to which fishing trawlers, pleasure boats and float planes are tethered, lively and a tad alternative Tofino is the perfect base from which to discover the natural attractions that surround it. Its main street is full of good restaurants, cafes and bars, with wildlife and marine-line tours of Clayoquot Sound and beyond departing from here. See www.hellobc.com.au

8. EXPLORE: CLAYOQUOT SOUND

This watery wonderland is British Columbia's first UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, encompassing nearly 300,000 hectares of old-growth rainforest. It consists of a network of islands densely covered in temperate forests and is home to dozens of species of wildlife, including black bears. This part of Canada became a major environmental flashpoint in the 1990s due to controversial forest logging practices. See www.hellobc.com.au

* 9. STAY: WICKANINNISH INN

Along with the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, Wickaninnish Inn, with its 76 lavishly appointed rooms, is an iconic accommodation choice on Vancouver Island. A luxury lodge almost of the New Zealand ilk, it has a spectacular ocean and beach setting overlooking the Pacific. The in-house Pointe Restaurant, with wraparound windows, delivers stunning sea views best enjoyed around sunset. See www.wickinn.com

10. VISIT: CARVING STUDIO

Here is an unexpected feature of the aforementioned Wickaninnish Inn, Tofino's signature seaside luxury lodge that helped put the town on the tourism map. It is an authentic beachcomber shack, dating to the 1970s and with some of the best views in town, which the resort maintains for local woodcarvers. The inn's guests are welcome to visit the studio and meet its friendly and chatty artists, and, of course, buy their skillful and kitsch-free creations. See www.wickinn.com

11. DINE: WOLF IN THE FOG

The chef at this restaurant, considered the best in Tofino and located right on the main street running along its waterfront, used to cook at Wickaninnish Inn. Then he opened Wolf in the Fog, with an inventive, modern Canadian menu focussed on fresh local fish and foraged produce. The restaurant, with its lively, almost raucous atmosphere, is also a fine place to commune with the laidback locals as well as fellow visitors from around Canada and the world. See www.wolfinthefog.com

12. DO: CHASE A STORM

In order to stimulate tourism in the quieter winter months, Tofino's canny tourism burghers, led by the enterprising founder of the Wickaninnish Inn, created an industry around the spectacular and wild storms that tend to strike this exposed corner of Vancouver Island. Now storm watching is an established fixture of the ever-expanding local tourism scene and the perfect justification for a winter visit. See www.hellobc.com.au; www.wickinn.com

*13. SEE: CRAB-EATING BLACK BEARS

Remote Passages, a company based on the wharves of Tofino, operates fascinating coastal black bear-watching tours aboard high-speed Zodiac inflatable boats. The tours depart in the late afternoon in order to coincide with low tide when the bears emerge from the forests of Clayoquot Sound to feed on the shellfish, including crabs, that lie under rocks on the narrow shorelines. See www.remotepassages.com

13. DO: WHALE WATCHING

Remote Passages, along with its bear-watching and sea-kayaking tours, also offers half-day tours to locations near Tofino where Vancouver Island's population of grey whales regularly feed. On the tours, sightings of sea birds, including tufted puffins and bald eagles, sea-lions, seals and porpoise are also common. See www.remotepassages.com

14. WALK: PORT RENFREW

Although it is little off the beaten track, a side-trip to Port Renfrew, a tiny fishing village outpost just over 100 kilometres from Victoria, is worthwhile if only to take the circuit walk to Botanical Beach, distinguished by its remote intertidal pool located at the base of rugged sandstone cliffs. Part of the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, the nearly three-kilometre trail to the beach and back passes through stunning rainforests. See www.pc.gc.ca; www.hellobc.com.au

15. DINE: Q AT THE EMPRESS

The "Q" in the name of this restaurant and bar at the Fairmont Empress Hotel is a nod to Queen Victoria and the hotel's British-influenced heritage. Not only is the best of Pacific Northwest cuisine, based on fresh, regionally sourced ingredients, including the seafood for which Vancouver Island is renowned, on offer, but Q at the Empress is also an excellent place for a drink, with unbeatable harbour views. The wine list showcases the best Canadian wines as well as drops from around the world. See www.qattheempress.com

16. DRIVE: THE ISLAND

Unless you are on an escorted tour or elect to travel around by public transport in the form of coach services, you will need to hire a vehicle to properly explore Vancouver Island and its natural and man-made wonders. Australians can use their own licences in Canada to rent vehicles but do remember that Canadians drive on the "other" side of road and that distances can be deceptively long. Allow for plenty of time to reach your destinations and factor in regular breaks. See www.hellobc.com.au

17. EAT: POUR CAFE, VICTORIA

Obtaining a decent coffee, in the accustomed style, can be an issue for fastidious holidaying Australians these days and it is no less an issue in Canada. To avoid coffee shock, head to this excellent cafe near the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria. The espresso-based coffee is top notch, as are made-to-order waffles and baked goods sourced locally.See www.pourvictoria.com

18. DO: SURF

Although Canada is better known for ski slopes than sandy beaches, Vancouver Island, particularly the area around Tofino, has become the country's surfing capital, with beach-bums omnipresent through much, if not all, of the year. That said, visitors unfamiliar with Canada's chilly waters may care to hire readily available wet-suits (and boards, for that matter). See www.hellobc.com

19. EAT: HIGH TEA AT BUTCHART GARDENS

Combine a visit to these spectacular gardens with an English-style afternoon tea at the Dining Room restaurant located in the former residence of the Butcharts, the eponymous founders of this true Vancouver Island institution. High tea here is an even more pleasurable experience in the cooler months when the cosy open fires roar into life and savoury options (even sausage rolls) are on the menus. See www.butchartgardens.com

20. DINE: BRASSERIE L'ECOLE

If you are tiring of the unapologetic Britishness of Victoria and fancy a taste of the Gallic side of Canada, then this French bistro is the place for dinner. The almost exclusively French wine list is a marvel, as is the classic Parisian-style decor. Bookings are not accepted and you will likely need to line up with the locals in order to secure a table, so best arrive early. See www.lecole.ca

Anthony Dennis travelled to Canada as a guest of Destination British Columbia.