Island Essentials: Everything You Need to Know to Make the Most of Your Vancouver Island Vacation

From nice to know, to need to know, our handy island essentials guide will help you make the most out of your vacation to Vancouver Island. 

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Island Essentials – The Place

Vancouver Island is a long, skinny island off the west coast of Canada. It is approximately 460 km long, 100 kms wide (at its widest point) and about 32,000 square kilometres. 

The Island is home to British Columbia’s capital city of Victoria and in addition to the municipalities that make up Greater Victoria, the main cities and towns, and popular destinations on the island are:

The Island is located on the Cascadia Subduction Zone which is a 1,000 km fault running from the northern tip of the island all the way down the west coast to California. This means that we are in an area where earthquakes may occur. Many British Columbians annually take part in the Great Shakeout to ensure we are familiar with the most up-to-date protocols. This helps to ensure the safety of residents and visitors. We recommend you take a few minutes to ensure you are aware of what to do to prepare for an emergency and the types of items to include in an emergency kit

Island Essentials – The People

The island has been home to many indigenous people for thousands of years and remains the homeland of 50 First Nations. They are located in three distinct tribal regions–Coast Salish, Nuu chah nulth, and Kwakiutl–the first peoples of Vancouver Island. Be sure to visit the Royal BC Museum First People Gallery and Our Living Languages exhibition to learn more about the people and the culture. 

In the 18th century, both British and Spanish explorers set foot on the island and by the mid 1800’s, settlement of a fur trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company began. 

Today, Vancouver Island has a population of approximately 900,000 – half of whom live in the southern part of the island in the Greater Victoria region. 

Island Essentials – Driving Tips

To drive from one end to the other, it would take you approximately 8 hours and you would be treated to scenic ocean drives, towering trees, majestic mountains and abundant wildlife. The speed limits are posted in kilometres per hour. Approximate driving speed conversions are:

  • 30 km/hr =20 mph
  • 40 km/hr = 25 mph
  • 50 km/hr = 30 mph
  • 60 km/hr = 40 mph
  • 80 km/h = 50 mph
  • 100 km/h = 60 mph

Most communities enforce a 30 km/h school zone which is in effect on school days between 8 am and 5 pm. Some areas post playground zones which are also 30 km/h however they are in effect 7 days per week, from dusk until dawn.

Other useful information:

  • The use of seat belts is mandatory in the Province of British Columbia
  • Cyclists of all ages and motorcyclists must wear a helmet
  • You must yield the right of way to transit buses who are signaling their intent to re-enter traffic from a bus stop
  • There is a difference between bus-only lanes (self-explanatory) and high-occupancy lanes that can be used by any vehicle who carry 2 or more people
  • The use of hand-held electronic devices (e.g. cell phones) is illegal while driving. You may however use your phone hands-free if the device is mounted to the vehicle or via blue-tooth

Island Essentials – The Weather

The island boasts the mildest climate in Canada, in particular the southern portion of the island. It is so mild in fact that some years we don’t even get a flake of snow and several gardeners grow tropical fruit such as lemons and limes. Read more about the weather in Greater Victoria here.   

Island Essentials – Telecommunications

  • The two main area codes of the island are the original (250) and now (778)
  • In case of emergency, call 9-1-1
  • For local directory assistance, call 4-1-1
  • For public health information and advice, call 8-1-1
  • To report a wildfire, call 1-800-663-5555 or (*5555 from a cell phone) as soon as possible.
  • To report an environmental violation or conflict with wildlife that threatens public safety, call 1-877-952-7277
  • Because of our proximity to the United States, it is not uncommon to incur roaming charges, particularly in the French Beach/Jordan River/Port Renfrew areas. Stay alert to the roaming notifications or turn your data off to avoid extra charges. Update: As of April 2021, the Provincial Government has promised to improve cell phone reception on this part of the island so roaming charges and dead zones will hopefully soon be a thing of the past.

Island Essentials – Taxes

Almost all purchases are subject to taxes in BC and as of 2021, they are 7% Provincial Sales Tax plus 5% Goods and Services Tax (federal). Notable exceptions that are not taxable include food for human consumption, books and magazines, and children’s clothing. Some items are taxed at higher provincial rate and include liquor (10%), vapour products (20%) and accommodations (8% plus up to 3% municipal and regional district tax). 

Got more questions about money in Canada? Read more here.

Other information you need to know:

In British Columbia, 19 is the legal age for:

  • gambling including purchasing lottery tickets
  • consuming alcohol
  • consuming marijuana

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