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Vancouver Island wildlife holidays

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Vancouver Island Wildlife Holidays

Vancouver Island is one of the best places in Canada to see brown bears, black bears, sea otters, Orcas, Humpback Whales and Gray Whales. So where to go for the best bear viewing on Vancouver Island; or some of the best Orca and Humpback Whale watching? We lived on the east coast of the island for many years, so here is our list of favourite wildlife locations.

Campbell River Bear Tours

Since many people arriving onto Vancouver Island from the mainland arrive by boat in their own car – via the port of Nanaimo - Campbell River is the closest ‘genuine’ wildlife location for bear viewing and whale watching. Several different wildlife operators have boats in the Campbell River Marina and offer a variety of wildlife tours. Our favourite Campbell River wildlife tours are the grizzly bear tours to Bute Inlet and the Orca or Killer Whale tours to Johnstone Strait. However, there are other shorter zodiac wildlife tours, which are less expensive and give you the chance to see black bears, sea otters, transient Orcas, Humpbacks and Bald Eagles.

Campbell River Whale Watching

If you check out google maps, you will see that Campbell River seems a little too far south to be the best location for orca watching in Johnstone  Strait, but with a high powered boat, providing a thrilling journey north, to the best area for the resident pods of Orcas; the option from Campbell river has its attractions – we recommend the full day tour, as they will stay out longer to give you a chance to see the northern resident Orca Killer Whales. You will have the privilege to see and hear the Orcas as they pass by your boat and listen to the sounds of their calls through specialist   underwater microphones.

Grizzly bear tours Telegraph Cove

This is one of our favourite locations in the whole of Vancouver Island; although recent development at Telegraph Cove has removed a little of the small community charm it had when we first visited in 2003. We actually now book a charming wilderness lodge in an adjacent code, which is much more peaceful for wildlife watching. It is not uncommon to see black bears, racoons and otters close to the lodge.

 It is still one of the best locations for bear viewing on Vancouver Island. Although you don’t actually see the brown bears near the island – Vancouver Island only has black bears – but rather in the stunning surrounding of world famous Knight Inlet. Some of the spring bear viewing in Knight Inlet (May and June) is comparable with autumn bear viewing; when clients arrive to see grizzly bears catching salmon. The full day bear tour including lunch is incredibly scenic and also provides the chance to see marine wildlife, such as Orcas, Humpback Whales, Pacific-Whiteside Dolphins and Harbour porpoises.

Telegraph Cove whale watching

The Vancouver island Orca whale watching season is from July to September and there is not better place than Telegraph Cove to get to see the northern resident orca population. Simply because Telegraph Cove is pretty much opposite to the world famous Johnstone Strait and therefore the whale watching boats departing from here can get to where the Orca resident pods are faster. In a nutshell, that means you spend more time watching the Orcas and listening to them using a hydrophone; as apposed to simply travelling to the location. On a good day, expect to encounter multiple Orca families and enjoy some of the more curious individual whales approach you for a closer look! For many years we had the option to use a beautiful wooden sail boat for the Orca watching in Johnstone Strait, but sadly the couple who owned it, recently retired.

Sea Otter watching Vancouver Island

Of course, with a bit of luck, you may be able to view sea otters from your wilderness lodge on Vancouver Island, or even in Vancouver itself by English Bay; as some clients of ours recently did. However, for serous sea otter watching on Vancouver Island, we have a superb set up in Zeballos on the west coast of Vancouver Island. This has become a hotspot for sea otter photography and going out with a guide on a short boat safari will give you some stunning images of these adorable animals.

Best time to see bears in Tofino

Black bear watching in Tofino from a small zodiac boat taking only 8-12 passengers is one of the best ways to observe and photography the most common bear species in North America. The contrast of the bears, shiny black coat, with the multi-coloured lichens on the grey rocks and the backdrop of the densely forested west coast produces amazing images. Just observing their ‘concentrated’ behaviour, as they repeatedly turn over rocks – some quite large – looking for crustaceans is fascinating. Free from the threat of the larger and more dominant brown bears, they are not so shy and with a decent zoom lens (ideally stabilised) you can get some wonderful shots.

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