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Port McNeill: 198km (123 miles) N of Campbell River

It's a winding 198km (123-mile) drive through forested mountains along the Island Highway (Hwy. 19) from Campbell River to Port McNeill, on northern Vancouver Island. But the majestic scenery, crystal-clear lakes, and unique wilderness along the way make it worthwhile.

The highway rejoins the coast along Johnstone Strait, home to a number of orca (killer whale) pods, which migrate annually from the Queen Charlotte Strait south to these salmon-rich waters. Whale-watching trips out of Port McNeill and Telegraph Cove are the principal recreational activities; this is one of the most noted whale-watching areas in British Columbia.

Also worth a visit is the island community of Alert Bay, a traditional First Nations townsite festooned with totem poles and carvings. The museum houses a famous collection of ceremonial masks and other artifacts.

The Island Highway's terminus, Port Hardy, is 52km (32 miles) north of Port McNeill. Although it's a remote community of only 5,470, Port Hardy is the starting point for two adventures along the rugged Pacific coast: the Inside Passage ferry cruise to Prince Rupert and the Discovery Coast ferry cruise to Bella Bella, with road access to the B.C. interior.