Strait to Port Hardy
Vancouver Island and British Columbia's Gulf Islands
When divers in the Pacific Northwest tell friends that they're headed to the islands to do some diving, chances are that they're not going on an airplane. They're going in their cars.
A car-carrying ferry boat departs from Bellingham, Wash., and takes two and a half hours to make the trip to Victoria, on the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island, a beautifully natural island, much of it covered in old-growth forest.
The ferry arrives in Victoria practically in the center of some of Vancouver Island's best diving. West Wall, for instance, features wolf eels, giant Pacific octopi and just about every animal you might hope to see in these waters, which are comparable to those of Northern California in terms of year-round warmth. And nearby, off Ten Mile Point, you'll see free-swimming scallops - like a collection of chattering wind-up teeth, scattering before you on the bottom.
Drive up along the strait to the central part of the island (there's great diving off both Nanaimo and Campbell River), and you'll come to one of several wrecks that await just off the east coast; the HMCS Columbia, an artificial-reef project in Discovery Passage. Dive there in late summer and you can spend your surface interval snorkeling in the nearby Campbell River and watching salmon school.
On the island's north end, you'll come to Port Hardy, a departure point for dive boats running to Bull Island, Hurst Island and Browning Pass, made famous for its underwater diversity by Jacques Cousteau. Several sites here are wall dives (one is just called "The Wall"), while nearby Stubbs Island is the setting for the area's most
famous drift dive. Sea lions and sharks may appear, but wolf eels and octopi will almost certainly abound. And when you get back to Port Hardy, you can drive to Kains Lake and donate your rattiest pair of footwear to the Shoe Tree, a cypress draped in hundreds of discarded shoes. It's significant because it's about the only place you'll see discarded anything on this natural and wild island.
Must Do: There's The Rub - After you've put away the drysuits for the day, head to the pacific side and the ancient cedars spa at the Wickaninnish Inn. Choose from a hot stone massage, Sacred Sea Thalassotherapy or a massage for two.
Must Dive: West Wall, Ten Mile Point, HMCS Columbia, the Wall, Stubbs Island Drift Dive