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Cruising by a pod of whales near Port Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island - Cruising

Pierced by snowcapped peaks and fringed by the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver Island—roughly the size of Holland—weighs in as the largest island on the west coast of North America.

This long, otter-shaped landmass notches down into Washington State’s “mitten,” and experiences the mildest climate in Canada, encouraging dense tangles of rare, temperate rain forest, including some very ancient groves. One particular western red cedar on Meares Island may be over 1,500 years old and has an 18-meter (60-foot) circumference, as well as at least 11 full-grown hemlocks sprouting from its flanks. This lush, leafy environment also shelters one of the world’s densest concentrations of cougars and black bears.

A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Clayoquot Sound (pronounced “Klak-wot”) sprawls over 8 percent of the island. It wraps around Tofino, the funky, end-of-the-road town that doubles as the nation’s surfing capital. Legend has it that Vietnam War draft dodgers taught locals to carve longboards. Now the famous Bruhwiler brothers each anchor a school—Raph (Bruhwiler Surf School) and Sepp (Westside Surf)—alongside Surf Sister, Canada’s first female-focused wave-riding academy (which welcomes students of any gender).