This blog post was written before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when physical distancing and other COVID health and safety protocols were not in effect. The businesses and communities featured in this article may be once again welcoming visitors but please double check as some are only open with limited operations and others have not yet reopened.
Travelling nowadays is not only about all the beautiful things that you see, but more about the beautiful people you share your experiences with. Indigenous tourism certainly offers multiple opportunities to share moments with guides and elders that not only show experience but give you a glimpse into their way of life.
I’ve been fortunate enough this summer while attending marketing meetings with ITAC, to meet and spend time with great Indigenous people in the North of Vancouver Island. People for which expressing their culture through tourism brings them great pride.
The quickest option to visit the Northern part of Vancouver Island is certainly to fly into Port Hardy from Vancouver, but as we had meetings in Nanaimo, I decided to rent a car from the airport and visit some of our active members along the way.
The road up North is stunning. The scenery is gorgeous. Sun was out, so were my shades, the music was blasting through the rental car stereo and I was enjoying the moment!
My first stop was the great I-Hos Gallery, located in K’OMOKS First Nation near Courtenay. The boutique offers a wide variety of Indigenous crafts from all around. Easily accessible, this stop is a must for anyone looking to find the best home decoration, or simply to please someone!
3310 Comox Rd,
Courtenay, BC V9N 3P8
Just about 10 minutes from there, you’ll find the Puntledge RV campground and Nin Nim Interpretive Centre. The name of the campground honours the Pentlatch people by naming the Interpretive Centre after the late Chief Joe Nim Nim. There, you will see beautifully beaded headpieces and carved canes on display. If you’re coming up with your RV, you’re in good hands.
Puntledge RV Park
4624 Condensory Road
After a couple of hours of driving, I ended up in Port Hardy. I had a reservation for two days at this beautiful 85-room Indigenous hotel called Kwa’lilas Hotel located in downtown Port Hardy. This place is stunning: delicious food, awesome service, spectacular local artwork. Kwa’Lilas means in the Kwak’wala language, a place to sleep; pretty suitable no?! The hotel was built by their local company using local cedar. Many expressions of their culture can be found throughout the hotel including masks and Indigenous artist designs.
9040 Granville Street,
Port Hardy, BC, V0N2P0
In the morning, I was picked up by K’awat’si Tours. Eddie and Thomas were the two amazing guides showing me their ancestral territory which included a visit to the world’s record highest navigable rapids; The Nakwakto Rapids. On this 4 hour tour, we got to see orcas, humpback whales, sea lions, otters and several birds.
9040 Granville St,
Port Hardy, BC V0N 2P0
The following day, I drove 40 minutes down south to Port McNeill and went out with the one and only; Mike Willie from Sea Wolf Adventures. Mike took me whale watching, we got the see loads of Humpback whales, sea lions and beautiful eagles. I missed out on the Grizzly bear package that Sea Wolf Adventures offers, but that will be a must on my next trip!
1514 Broughton Blvd
Port McNeill, BC, V0N 2R0
A key highlight on my Sea Wolf Adventures tour was the visit to U’mista Cultural Society. An amazing Cultural Centre located just across Port McNeill in Alert Bay showcasing one of the largest collections of treasured masks called the ‘Potlatch Collection’.
#1 Front Street,
Alert Bay, BC, V0N1A0
If you’re looking for Indigenous lodging near Port McNeill, I strongly suggest Cluxewe Resort. It’s strategically located oceanfront and has beautiful, fully furnished cabins that you can rent. The restaurant is also a must, with a well-diversified menu and a great view.
#1 Cluxewe Campground Rd,
Port McNeill, BC V0N 2R0
I hope this information will become useful when planning an upcoming trip or for combining Indigenous-owned and controlled experiences with Non-Indigenous experiences in Northern Vancouver Island. Enjoy and have a safe trip!
P.S. If you’re arriving in Victoria, BC, instead of Nanaimo, make sure to visit the lovely town of Sidney about 20 minutes north. I highly suggest that you go on an Indigenous whale watching cruise with our friends at Sidney Whale Watching. Their 3 hour tour is certainly one to add to your travel bucket list. In just a couple hours, I saw Orcas, seals, cormorants and eagles. Stop in their office to say hi!
2537 Beacon Ave,
Sidney, BC V8L 1Y2