Highway 28 runs the width of central Vancouver Island, linking Campbell River on the east coast with Gold River and Nootka Sound on the west, including access to Strathcona Provincial Park in the middle.
The mountains and islands of central Vancouver Island have a mysterious sense about them, as if they’re always trying to hide some secret. It’s true: you do have to travel farther afield here in order to penetrate its cloud-laced valleys, coastal rain forest, and the open ocean waters of its two sounds, Nootka and Kyuquot.
Some of this landscape’s mysteries lie tucked away inside the vaulted domes of underground caverns. Afloat in a sea kayak on an open sound, or deep inside the Quatsino cave system, be prepared to experience a blend of connectedness and jubilation, isolation and terror, when adventuring here. One thing is guaranteed: at the end of the day, you’ll sleep well.
Highway 28 continues past the community of Gold River to the head of the Muchalat Inlet. The sheltered waters of Muchalat Inlet run like a long corridor through steep-sided fjords, where landing places are scarce. Once in Nootka Sound, however, a much more weather-beaten landscape begins to reveal itself. Bligh Island Marine Provincial Park (part of the Spanish Pilot Group) sits at the mouth of Muchalat Inlet.
The MV Uchuck III stops nearby at Friendly Cove (Kyuquot) or will drop off kayakers beside Bligh Island by prior arrangement. There’s much to explore in this group of six islands, scattered where Muchalat Inlet converges with two adjacent inlets and their channels. The waters in this region can get choppy, so small craft must cross with care. Large Bligh Island is named for a much-maligned British Navy captain who sailed here with the equally well-known Captain Cook in 1788. A cairn at Resolute Cove on the southeast coast of the island commemorates the landing.
Many visitors to the west side of Vancouver Island may never have had the chance to boat in the wind, the rain, and the ever-rolling seas that characterize the world of the outside waters, as the open ocean here is often called. One of three freighters (or ‘coasters’) that ply the waters of Vancouver Island’s Barkley, Nootka, and Kyuquot Sound is based in Gold River. Exploring the outside waters aboard the Uchuck III as the former World War II minesweeper makes a weekly two-day round-trip voyage to the fishing hamlet of Kyuquot can be an adventure.
For many passengers, particularly in storm season, the high (or low) point of the journey is the two-hour stretch each way spent tossing about on the open ocean waters between Port Eliza and Kyuquot. From the moment the 136-foot-long freighter leaves the dock in Gold River and begins its 10-hour journey the big question is whether your constitution can handle the rise-and-fall motion of the ship in high seas. (At such times it helps to remember that the word uchuck translates as healing waters).
The following communities, parks and regions are accessible via Highway 28:
The young and vibrant community of Campbell River on the east coast of central Vancouver Island is beautifully set between Strathcona Park to the west and the Discovery Islands to the east, a metropolitan town located on the frontier of a BC wilderness, inhabited by few people but many animals. Long known as the Salmon Capital of the World, Campbell River is a natural destination, in more ways than one.
Carved from wilderness in the 1960s, the resource-based community of Gold River is located in central Vancouver Island, in the heart of historic British Columbia. This area is the traditional territory of the Mowachaht and Muchalaht people of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation. The name Gold River appears on maps dating back to 1871, after the Chinese took gold out of the area in the 1860s.
The unspoiled coastal village of Tahsis is situated at the head of Tahsis Inlet, a deep fjord on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island that cuts northwards off Nootka Sound. With road access via Highway 28 and Gold River, Tahsis provides access to numerous wilderness hiking trails, some of the best ocean kayaking on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and world-class sportfishing, as massive runs of salmon migrate down the west of British Columbia.
Steeped in history and surrounded by the natural beauty of the west coast of Vancouver Island, Nootka Sound is a paradise for sport anglers and outdoor adventurers seeking to explore and enjoy the magnificent wilderness. The mountains and islands of north and central Vancouver Island seem mysterious, as if they’re always trying to hide some secret.
Nootka Sound is reached via Tahsis on Tahsis Inlet, or from Muchalat Inlet at the western terminal of Highway 28. One mode of travel to ports in Nootka Sound and neighbouring Kyuquot Sound to the north is via the vessel MV Uchuck III, a working freighter based in Muchalat Inlet that provides year-round passenger and freight service.
Strathcona Provincial Park
Strathcona Provincial Park is the oldest provincial park in British Columbia, established in 1911. Located almost in the centre of Vancouver Island, Strathcona Park is a rugged mountain wilderness comprising more than 250,000 hectares. Mountain peaks dominate the park, and lakes and alpine tarns dot a landscape laced with rivers, creeks and streams.
The Buttle Lake and Forbidden Plateau areas offer a variety of outdoor activities, while the rest of the park is largely undeveloped and appeals primarily to those seeking wilderness surroundings. Highway 28 passes right through Strathcona, providing excellent access to the hiking trails and campgrounds in the Buttle Lake area (Buttle Lake Campground and Ralph River Campground). A day-trip to Strathcona gets you into a natural wonderland of vast forests, great lakes, alpine meadows and challenging peaks.