It’s a moot point where the north of Vancouver Island starts, but if you’re travelling on Hwy-19 the landscape’s sudden lurch into more unspoilt wilderness after Qualicum Beach makes as good a watershed as any. From the road, the scenery is uneventful but restful on the eye, and graced with ever-improving views of the mainland. Along Hwy-19 lies the hamlet of Buckley Bay (43km north of Qualicum Beach), which consists of little more than a ferry terminal to Denman and Hornby Islands.
Few of the towns along Hwy-19 require major sightseeing, and you could bus or drive the length of Vancouver Island to Port Hardy and take the Inside Passage or Discovery Coast Passage ferry, which are among the top experiences of any visit to BC. Both journeys are a great – and cheap – way of getting what people on the big cruise ships get: views of some of the grandest coastal scenery on the continent, including mountains, islands, waterfalls, glaciers, sea lions, whales and eagles. Alternatively, you could follow the main highway only as far as Courtenay, and from there catch a ferry across to the mainland. Yet if you have the means, try to get into the wild, central interior, much of it contained within Strathcona Provincial Park.