VANCOUVER is best known as the gateway to the Canadian Rockies and for cruises along the Inside Passage to Alaska.
Britons taking either a cruise, tour or self-drive into British Columbia and Alberta usually stopover in this cosmopolitan city for several days to explore the northern coastal reaches of the Pacific.
But take a trip to the waterfront and it is the sight of ferryboats and seaplanes traversing the Georgia Strait towards Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, that catches the eye.
The traffic is testimony to the neighbouring destination's popularity as a day-trip option.
For this reason, few visitors stay long enough to discover Vancouver Island is 320 miles long and harbours some of the most natural scenic landscape and wildlife-watching opportunities in Canada's northwest.
Campbell River is a major location for salmon, and during autumn at the Knight Inlet fjord, the native grizzly bears can be seen feeding off the fish.
Grey whales can also be spotted off the island's western shore from March to October. During the spring more than 20,000 whales migrate north from Mexico.
Taking BC Ferries' Inside Passage ferry service is a good way to experience the various contrasts of Vancouver Island.
The 15hr journey begins in the early morning in Victoria, and ends at the northern end of the island in Port Hardy late in the evening.
A number of UK operators have been featuring the trip as part of an escorted tour or self-drive. Various itineraries continue on to Prince Rupert on the British Columbia mainland, then route through Prince George, the provincial parks of Jasper and Banff in Alberta, and then back into British Columbia to Vancouver.
This year, some operators have concentrated on longer stays on Vancouver Island. These include land packages with excursions, and en route accommodation and activities for those taking a self-drive tour.
Travel 4 Canada product manager Allyson Smith said: "We have introduced two packages to the island this year that offer marine excursions as well as a hike through Hot Springs Cove rainforest, where you can soak in natural hot springs at the ocean's edge."
Globespan is another operator featuring more self-drive island itineraries this year. Marketing director Iain Mayer said: "Vancouver Island is a new project for us. It is an untapped destination that has tremendous potential.
"We introduced it into our touring programme this year and the response has been very encouraging. Clients don't just want to drive down the trans-Canada highway from Calgary to Vancouver - they're looking for other things to see and do."
Bluebird Holidays is considering featuring Victoria and some other areas of the island as part of a package combined with Vancouver.
Managing director Stephen Powell said: "We are looking at the island as a possible winter shopping and activities destination. Victoria has some great shopping and a reasonable climate in winter.
"From there you can take up plenty of activities, including whale-watching."
"Many itineraries now include at least two or three days on the island and as it becomes better known we expect to be able to develop more options."
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