For general information on Vancouver Island, contact Tourism Vancouver Island, Ste. 501, 65 Front St., Nanaimo, BC V9R 5H9 (tel. 250/754-3500; fax 250/754-3599; www.vancouverisland.travel). Also check out www.vancouverisland.com.
While Vancouver Island has an admirable system of public transport, getting to remote sights and destinations is difficult without your own vehicle.
By Ferry -- BC Ferries (tel. 888/BCFERRY [223-3779] or 250/386-3431; www.bcferries.com) routes link Vancouver Island ports to many offshore islands, including the southern Gulf Islands of Denman, Gabriola, Galiano, Hornby, Kuper, Mayne, the Penders, Salt Spring, Saturna, and Thetis. None of these islands has public transport, so once there, you'll need to hoof it, hitch it, hire a taxi, or arrange for bike rentals. Most innkeepers will pick you up from the ferry if you've reserved in advance.
By Train -- Another charming way to get around Vancouver Island is on VIA Rail's E&N Railiner, also known as the Malahat (tel. 888/VIA-RAIL [842-7245] or 250/383-4324; www.viarail.ca), which makes a daily round-trip run from Victoria to Courtenay in period passenger cars. The Malahat passes through some of the most beautiful landscapes on the east coast of Vancouver Island, taking about 4 1/2 hours each way. Your ticket allows you to get on and off as many times as you'd like: You can stop at Duncan, Chemainus, Nanaimo, Parksville, or Qualicum Beach and catch the return train back, or take the next day's train north. Prices are very reasonable, especially with 7-day advance purchase. A round-trip between Victoria and Courtenay can cost as little as C$59. Note: The Malahat has no baggage car, and checked-baggage service is not available.
By Bus -- Island Coach Lines (tel. 250/388-5248, or book through Greyhound tel. 800/661-8747; www.greyhound.ca) runs buses between Victoria and Nanaimo with stops at smaller centers along Hwy. 1.
By Car -- The southern half of Vancouver Island is well served by paved highways. The trunk road between Victoria and Nanaimo is Hwy. 1, the Trans-Canada. This busy route alternates between four-lane expressway and congested two-lane highway, and requires some patience and vigilance, especially during the summer months. North of Nanaimo, the major road is Hwy. 19, which is now almost all four-lane expressway, a particular improvement being the new 128km (80-mile) Inland Highway section between Parksville and Campbell River. The older sections of 19, all closer to the island's east coast, are now labeled 19A. North of Campbell River, a long, unimproved section of Hwy. 19 continues all the way to Port Hardy. The other major paved road system on the island, Hwy. 4, connects Parksville with Port Alberni and on to Ucluelet and Tofino, on the rugged west coast. This road is mostly two-lane, and portions of it are extremely winding and hilly. Access to gasoline and car services is no problem, even in more remote north Vancouver Island.
Rental cars are readily available. Agencies include Avis (tel. 800/879-2847 in Canada, 800/331-1212 in the U.S.; www.avis.com), Budget (tel. 800/268-8900 in Canada, 800/527-0700 in the U.S.; www.budget.com), and National (tel. 877/222-9058 in Canada and the U.S.; www.nationalcar.com).