In the summer, tourists enjoy relaxing on the beach in Parksville and Qualicum Beach. But in the off-season, these two refreshingly timeless British Columbia communities on the east coast of Vancouver Island have more to offer than sand castles, golf courses, and B&B’s.
Here are five ways to live it up with off-season activities in Canada’s picturesque Oceanside region.
1) Wet and Wild Caving
Want to indulge your inner Indiana Jones? Head to the Horne Lake Caves and take the thrilling, three-hour “Wet and Wild Adventure.” At this time of year, a creek flows through these limestone caverns laden with crystals. You’ll climb an underground waterfall, squeeze through tight spaces, and slide down ramps and ladders. Temperature inside the caves is 8 degrees Celsius. Rubber boots and rain gear are highly recommended. It’s pure adrenaline.
2) Fine Food and Wine
A paradise for gourmets, the Parksville Uncorked Wine & Food Festival runs Feb. 18-21, 2016. It’s the eighth annual edition, co-hosted by the Beach Club Resort and Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort. At the Mission Hill Winemakers’ dinner, savor pulled bison brisket paired with a 2013 Martin’s Lane Riesling. Or quaff local beers like Driftwood Pale Ale paired with regional cuisine at the Parksville Untapped event.
If you’re into sustainable gastronomic experiences, head to the recently re-branded Realm Food Co. (formerly Radius Food Co.) in Parksville and guzzle such healthy and tasty offerings as The Qualicum Bowl (braised pork belly, marinated kale, spiced slaw, steamed rice, cucumber, sprouts, carrot, cabbage, salsa verdé, turmeric aioli).
At Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and the adjoining MooBerry Winery, you can tantalize your taste buds with artisan cheeses like Island Bries or Monterey Jill, or sip delicious fruit wines.
True cheese connoisseurs will also want to look out for BoMé, a brand-new specialty cheese shop in Coombs with its grand opening on Mar. 5. Featuring a strong German influence, BoMé’s signature products include Hemp Cheese, Bomarti, and Spiced Shepherd. The cheeses are traditionally aged and made with fresh, local, grass-fed cow’s milk.
3) Multi-Faceted Museums
In a change of pace, this year key local museums are open during the off-season. Visit the Parksville Museum (Tues-Sat., 11 am-3 pm) and the Qualicum Beach Museum (Tues., Thurs., 1 pm-4 pm), showcasing the quirky history of these neighbouring communities. Surrounded by buildings more than a century old, from the Knox Heritage Church to the McMillan Log House, the Parksville Museum displays artifacts, paintings, and photos that chronicle the lives of pioneer families. Check out everything from a walrus skull to vintage toys at the Qualicum Beach Museum.
4) Wonderful Wildlife
The 2016 Brant Wildlife Festival (March 19-April 17) is an exciting celebration of wildlife on Vancouver Island and ongoing conservation efforts.
Here’s how the Vancouver Sun described the last edition of the festival: “Party at the opening-night gala, enjoy bird-watching with Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours, attend concerts ranging from indie-folk to chamber singers, and visit the recently built Deep Bay Marine Field Station to learn about the surreal sight of birds feeding on herring spawn in aquamarine waters.”
The VIU Deep Bay Marine Field Station, an ultra-modern, environmentally friendly building with a curved, clam-shaped roof, is the main venue.
5) Quirky Shopping
Head to Qualicum Beach to shop for some quirky, one-of-a-kind finds. Bibliophiles flock to The Bookcase, with teddy bears nestled on the shelves next to a huge selection of used books. You can get everything from native jewelry to handmade pottery at cozy Smithfords. And the 4,000-square-foot Yesterday’s Child Antiques brims with vintage tea sets, carriage clocks, and silver spoons. Most shops are within easy walking distance downtown.
Alternatively, make your way to Coombs and buy anything from garlic herb cheddar bread to a suit of medieval armor at the eclectic Old Country Market (re-opening in late February). Take a look at the giant stone statues outside the neighbouring Coombs Emporium.