Vancouver Island: Why this entrancing bolthole has captured Meghan's heart

Vancouver Island stretches for nearly 300 miles
Why it's great, how to get there, and what to do Credit: getty

Anyone with a passing knowledge of Vancouver Island might have thought the location an odd choice for a couple of Harry and Meghan’s standing. 

The vast landmass - 290 miles in length and 62 across - to have emerged as the frontrunning destination for the couple’s relocation is ostensibly Vancouver’s back garden; the wilderness to its metropolis. 

It may be home to British Columbia’s capital city, Victoria, but Vancouver Island more often that not draws visitors away from the mainland - a simple car ferry or seaplane away - in search of peace, quiet and wildlife.

“Watching a grizzly bear snack on salmon is a classic David Attenborough moment,” said Telegraph Travel’s expert Paul Wade, of his latest trip to the Canadian west coast. “So is watching grey whales, orcas, sea otters, bald eagles and the marbled murrelet, a cousin of the puffin. All these are just some of the delights of Vancouver Island and its waters.”

Perhaps then it is clear from their apparent choice of the south-eastern end of the island - they spent much of their festive break in North Saanich - the kind of existence the Duke and Duchess of Sussex intend to pursue. Victoria, a short drive from Saanich, is charming and intimate with an almost British quality, and has a population of just 85,000 (to Vancouver’s 675,000; the island as a whole has just 775,000 residents).

Victoria, BC's quaint capital Credit: istock

Karen Halkett, who lives around North Saanich, told the National Post that the neighbourhood was a good choice if the royals wanted to remove themselves from constant scrutiny among rural beauty. 

“Everybody who comes here usually comes for the same reason,” she said. “They just want a quiet life, you know?”

The couple were last week spotted rifling through local produce at Deep Cove Market, “a little out in the country but a long way from ordinary,” it describes itself. 

That is not to say there is not star appeal. A cursory glance at some of the hotels and Airbnbs available gives an insight into the sprawling estates hidden among the firs on the island's southern tip. Indeed, the couple were said to be staying in a secluded beachfront mansion worth CAD$14million (£8.2m). There are many more extensive - but low-key - properties besides. 

There is wildlife aplenty for Harry and Meghan's downtime Credit: istock

Top of the list of Telegraph Travel’s recommendations on the island is the Wickaninnish Inn in the Canadian surfing capital, Tofino (Harry has been known to shred some waves), on Vancouver Island’s west coast. The year-round destination is the heart of a Unesco biosphere and at the edge of the Pacific Rim National Park, while the hotel is perched among the Western Red Cedars and Sitka Spruce trees of Chesterman Beach. 

Similarly, this Airbnb on Chesterman Beach is steps away from the lapping waves and offers an elegant seclusion. There are yet wilder and more isolated beaches along the coast, too. You get the idea.

Vancouver Island also boasts a history of indigenous people and foreign exploration. It was here in 1778 that Captain Cook landed on his final voyage; charged with finding a Northwest Passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic, he and his crew found shelter and a chance to replenish supplies in the natural harbour of Bligh Island

Telegraph Travel’s Nick Trend visited in 2018. “Now called Nootka Sound, this is still a remote corner of Vancouver Island. Certainly, swathes of the indigenous forest, the towering red cedars and Douglas Firs, were plundered for timber. But the trees had apparently grown back, and the landscape left pretty much unchanged.

The coast is striped with wild beaches Credit: istock

“To get to Nootka, you have to take a seaplane (or ferry) from Vancouver to Nanaimo and then the highway north, before crossing the island’s mountainous spine and dipping down to the tiny settlement of Gold River. It’s not a hardship. The road – especially the last east to west section – weaves spectacularly through a series of national parks, unfurling around classic vistas of forest-fringed lakes. But it’s a good four to five-hour drive.”

Vancouver Island is as close an escape from the worries of the world Harry and Meghan might find still within a hop, skip and jump of one of the planet’s most highly regarded cities, in the form of Vancouver. From there, the couple is connected to Canada, the US and the UK, with British Airways and Air Canada offering direct flights to London. 

Given the motivations behind the couple’s desire to step back from their Royal duties, it is easy to see why Vancouver Island might become their new home. 

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