The best way to get around British Columbia is via your own vehicle—be it a car, RV, motorbike, or bicycle. It’s easy to get around by bus, but you can’t get off the beaten track and, let’s face it, that’s exactly where most of British Columbia is. It’s also easy to get around by air—all the larger airports are served by scheduled intraprovincial flights, and charter services fly out of many of the smaller ones.
For travel connections throughout British Columbia, Air Canada Jazz (www.flyjazz.ca), a connector airline for Air Canada (604/688-5515 or 888/247-2262, www.aircanada.ca), serves most major BC cities from both Vancouver and Victoria international airports.
Harbour Air (604/274-1277 or 800/665-0212, www.harbour-air.com) and West Coast Air (604/606-6888 or 800/347-2222, www.westcoastair.com) have scheduled floatplane flights between downtown Vancouver (the terminal is beside Canada Place) and Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Expect to pay around $120 per person each way for any of these flights.
Pacific Coastal (604/273-8666 or 800/663-2872, www.pacific-coastal.com) has flights from Vancouver’s South Terminal (connected to the main terminals by shuttle) and Victoria International Airport to Campbell River, Comox, Cranbrook, Port Hardy, Powell River, Williams Lake, and many remote coastal towns further north. KD Air (604/688-9957 or 800/665-4244, www.kdair.com) flies daily to Qualicum (Vancouver Island), with a connecting ground shuttle to Port Alberni. Orca Airways (604/270-6722 or 888/359-6722, www.fly orcaair.com) flies from the South Terminal to Tofino/Ucluelet. Hawk Air (250/635-4295 or 800/487-1216, www.hawkair.ca) offers scheduled flights throughout northern British Columbia and from as far south as Vancouver.
British Columbia by bus is a snap. Just about all the cities have local bus companies providing transportation in town and, in many cases, throughout their local region—check the transportation sections of each individual chapter for more details. Greyhound operates daily bus service to just about anywhere in the province. You don’t need to make reservations— just buy your ticket and go. All scheduled services are nonsmoking. The bus depot in Vancouver is Pacific Central Station (1150 Station St., 604/482-8747 or 800/661-8747).
Chances are, at some stage of your British Columbia adventure, you’ll use the services of BC Ferries (250/386-3431 or 888/223-3779, www.bcferries.com), which serves 46 ports with a fleet of 40 vessels. All fares listed for “vehicles” in this book cover cars and trucks up to 6.1 meters (20 feet) long and under 2.1 meters (seven feet) high (or under two meters/six feet eight inches high on a few routes). Larger vehicles such as RVs pay more. Also note that prices listed for all types of vehicles are in addition to the passenger price; the vehicle’s driver/rider/porter is not included in the vehicle fare.
Vancouver has two major ferry terminals. From Tsawwassen, south of downtown, ferries run regularly across the Strait of Georgia to the Vancouver Island centers of Swartz Bay (32 kilometers/20 miles north of Victoria) and Nanaimo. From Horseshoe Bay, west of downtown Vancouver, ferries ply the strait to Nanaimo. Also from Horseshoe Bay, ferries run across Howe Sound to Langdale, gateway to the Sunshine Coast. From Powell River, at the north end of the Sunshine Coast, ferries depart for Comox (Vancouver Island), making it possible to visit both the island and the Sunshine Coast without returning to Vancouver.
BC Ferries also provides regular services from Vancouver Island and the mainland to the Southern Gulf Islands. Other islands in the Strait of Georgia linked to Vancouver Island by ferry include: Thetis and Kuper (from Chemainus), Gabriola (from Nanaimo), Lasqueti (from Parksville), Denman and Hornby (from Buckley Bay), Quadra and Cortes (from Campbell River), Malcolm and Cormorant (from Port McNeil), and Texada (from Powell River).
From Port Hardy at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, a ferry runs north up the coast to Prince Rupert. From the end of May through September the ferry goes every other day, from October through April once a week, and during May twice a week. The trip takes 15 hours and links up with the Alaska Marine Highway. Also from Prince Rupert, ferries run out to the Queen Charlotte Islands; these longer sailings require reservations, which should be made as far in advance as possible.
Many interior lakes and rivers are crossed by ferries owned and operated by the government. Of course, no service is available between freeze-up and breakup, but the rest of the year, expect daily service from 6 a.m. until at least 10 p.m. Some of the ferries are small, capable of carrying just 2 vehicles, while others can transport up to 50. Passage is free on all these ferries, including the 45-minute sailing across Kootenay Lake between Balfour and Kootenay Bay—the world’s longest free ferry trip.
Driving in Canada
U.S. and International Driver’s Licenses are valid in Canada. All highway signs give distances in kilometers and speeds in kilometers per hour. Unless otherwise posted, the maximum speed limit on the highways is 100 kph (62 mph).
Use of safety belts is mandatory, and motorcyclists must wear helmets. Infants and toddlers weighing up to nine kilograms (20 pounds) must be strapped into an appropriate child’s car seat. Use of a child car seat for larger children weighing 9–18 kilograms (20–40 pounds) is required of British Columbia residents and recommended to nonresidents. Before venturing north of the 49th parallel, U.S. residents should ask their vehicle insurance company for a Canadian Non-resident Inter-provincial Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance Card. You may also be asked to prove vehicle ownership, so carry your vehicle registration form. If you’re involved in an accident with a BC vehicle, contact the nearest Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) office, 800/663-3051.
If you’re a member in good standing of an automobile association, take your membership card—the Canadian Automobile Association provides members of related associations full services, including free maps, itineraries, excellent tour books, road and weather condition information, accommodations reservations, travel agency services, and emergency road services. For more information, contact the British Columbia Automobile Association (604/268-5600 or 877/325-8888, www.bcaa.com).
Note: Drinking and driving (with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher) in British Columbia can get you imprisoned for up to five years on a first offense and will cost you your license for at least 12 months.
All major car-rental companies have outlets at Vancouver International Airport, in downtown Vancouver, and in Victoria. Many companies also have cars available in towns and cities throughout the province. Try to book in advance, especially in summer. Expect to pay from $50 a day and $250 a week for a small economy car with unlimited kilometers.
Vehicles can be booked for Canadian pickup through parent companies in the United States or elsewhere using the Web or toll-free numbers. Discount (403/299-1202 or 800/263-2355, www.discountcar.com) is a Canadian company with 200 rental outlets across the country. Their vehicles are kept in service a little longer than the other majors, but they provide excellent rates—even through summer—especially if booked in advance. Other companies include Alamo (800/462-5266, www.alamo.com), Avis (800/974-0808, www.avis.ca), Budget (800/268-8900, www.budget.com), Dollar (800/800-4000, www.dollar.com), Enterprise (800/325-8007, www.enterprise.com), Hertz (800/263-0600, www.hertz.ca), National (800/227-7368, www.nationalcar.com), Rent-a-wreck (800/327-0116, www.rentawreck.ca), and Thrifty (800/847-4389, www.thrifty.com).
RV and Camper Rental
You might consider renting a camper-van or other recreational vehicle for your British Columbia vacation. With one of these apartments-on-wheels, you won’t need to worry about finding accommodations each night. Even the smallest units aren’t cheap, but they can be a good deal for longer-term travel or for families or two couples traveling together. The smallest vans, capable of sleeping two people, start at $150 per day with 100 free kilometers (62 miles) per day. Standard extra charges include insurance, a preparation fee (usually around $50 per rental), a linen/cutlery charge (around $60 pp per trip), and taxes. Major agencies with rental outlets in Vancouver include Cruise Canada (480/464-7300 or 800/327-7799, www.cruisecanada.com) and Go West (604/987-5288 or 800/661-8813, www.go-west.com). Remember to figure in higher ferry charges for crossing to Vancouver Island with an RV.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition