Student, Abroad: Vancouver Island (Winter Edition)

A guide to Vancouver Island in the snowy months

Gwen Pemberton (she/her) // Arts & Culture Editor

So, the title might be a little bit of a lie this month. I won’t be abroad until the end of January, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going anywhere. My next travel destination is: home. 

I’m from Lantzville, a super small town right next to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. For a lot of people Vancouver Island might be old news, but I’m always surprised at how many people I meet on the mainland who have never been. Granted, without a vehicle it can be a challenge. My advice if you’ve been wanting to visit is to see if you have any friends going home to the island during winter break. Realistically, you’ve got to know at least one, purely based on the number of people I see on campus from my old high school.

To get there, you can either take BC Ferries from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, or the new walk-on-only Hullo ferry, which sails from the terminal next to Canada Place. There’s a seaplane too, but let’s be realistic. Hullo is roughly twice as expensive as walking on a BC Ferries sailing, even at the economy price. While it’s not the most comfortable, it is only a 40-minute trip — a full hour faster than the alternative. The downtown terminal also means that you won’t have to bus all the way out to West Van, which is extra helpful in the winter when transit isn’t the most reliable. If you do choose Hullo, make sure to book your ticket in advance, as it can fill up quickly. I learned that the hard way.

As much as I love living in Vancouver it is always nice to go home and take a break. It can be pretty quiet in Lantzville, especially in the winter. I grew up in the center of town, walking distance from the town hall, the elementary school, the village pub, the post office … you get it. Maybe you won’t be spending all your time out on the town, but there are some things on Vancouver Island that you just can’t get on the mainland. 

The big ones for me are the ocean and the stars. I know. All the stereotypes are true. But seriously, when was the last time you saw a sky full of stars (other than the Coldplay concert)? I never really appreciated just how breathtaking it is until I moved to the city. Sure, the skyline is pretty cool, but it’s nothing like seeing Orion’s Belt. The air quality is also so much better. Seriously. I didn’t think I would notice, but every time I visit it’s like I’m taking a real breath for the first time in months. 

As for the ocean, the best part about it on the Island, specifically in Nanaimo and Lantzville, is the solitude. Beaches in Vancouver are always crowded. Even in the winter there’s at least one runner nearby. Head down to the water on the Island and you can stroll and chat, skip rocks, or just sit with your thoughts and watch the water. It’s a sense of peace that I’ve found hard to replicate in a big city. This time of year you might even catch some snow on the beach, which is pretty fucking magical in my opinion. 

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