There's a lot to love about Vancouver Island

The bear isn't at all surprised to see me. In fact, it hardly spares me a glance as I come around the bend somewhere near the Bonanza Range on Highway 19, which runs nearly the full length of Canada's Vancouver Island, barely pausing from its lusty feasting among roadside bushes heavy with berries. 

Who could blame it? It's a drowsy late summer afternoon, when bears are feasting on all the good things the season brings, but most of all on the spawning salmon that are swimming upstream along the rivers that gallop down from the mountains along the island's coast. There's a rustling in the bushes and a furry head pops out – a bear cub. This alters the carefree dynamic between mother bear and me, and she cuffs her cub back into the undergrowth and disappears.

Bear encounters are not all that remarkable in Canada's wilderness. Neither is the nuggety pine-and-peak scenery that forms the backdrop to this little vignette. But Vancouver Island, anchored off Canada's west coast, now has something that sets it apart from everywhere else in North America – a royal presence. 

Having forsaken the castles, privileges, pomp and ceremony that go with being working members of the UK's royal family, Harry and Meghan have chosen Vancouver Island as the launching pad for their new life.

They're not exactly slumming it. The $US14 million waterfront on Saanich Inlet they now call home sports a 17th-century French fireplace, a wine-tasting room, bedrooms galore, a guest house and a gated driveway. It's opulent but understated, a glass and stone mansion discreetly tucked away in a wooded glade that makes it a tricky proposition for the prying lenses of the paparazzi.

An island off the west coast of Canada might seem a curious choice for a couple who will never have to say the words "Don't you know who I am?" at the airport check-in counter, but consider its credentials.

Measuring 460 kilometres in length and up to 100 across, ridged by glacier-capped granite peaks that soar to more than 2000 metres, Vancouver Island ceases to feel like an island. Its mountains offer summer hiking and winter skiing where Harry might one day teach young Archie the delights of carving S-bends through virgin snow. 

The serrated bays and inlets of its coastline offer superb sea kayaking. Salmon swarm along its east coast rivers and the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is a nuggety, call-of-the-wild land of cedar and fir forests, home to the 75-kilometre West Coast Trail, one of Canada's finest and toughest hikes.

Driving around the island you can almost hear the whispered voice of David Attenborough in the background. As well as black bears and the world's highest concentration of cougars, Vancouver Island comes with high-level eco credentials. 


This is an island reborn – from one dependent on whaling and chainsaw-massacre forestry to one that makes the most of its forests, whales and wildlife. For an outdoorsy chap like Harry, Vancouver Island fits like a glove. And when Meghan hops on a plane at Vancouver Airport, Los Angeles and Hollywood are just a three-hour flight away.

It's not all L.L. Bean flannel shirts and hiking boots, though. Wrapped around a pretty harbour just south of Harry and Meghan's bolthole, the city of Victoria is the island's largest settlement and the provincial capital of British Columbia. Polite, refined and gloriously greened with formal gardens, Victoria is Canada's warmest city, with outdoor palm trees.

Driving to the north of the island takes about five hours, but Harry and Meghan might slash the journey time with a seaplane up to Telegraph Cove, a cockleshell harbour ringed by cute weatherboard houses built when this was a small but bustling town with a sawmill and cannery. When those closed, the houses, factories and old bathhouse were transformed into atmospheric accommodation where the Windsors might spend the night in modest comfort. And surely they couldn't they resist the barbecued salmon at the Old Saltery Pub. 

Telegraph Cove is the base for a backpack full of bracing activities. There are sea kayak tours, fishing expeditions, bear-watching trips and the half-day Stubbs Island whale-watching tour.

Barely 15 minutes after our vessel clears the narrow slot leading from the cove, we spot the telltale spray plumes of an orca pod. Rather than turning away from us, they head straight for our vessel.

Most whales look like giant floating logs when they surface, but orcas are power and purpose in a streamlined capsule, thrusting through the water with powerful tail strokes. 

Within a couple of minutes they're alongside us. The captain deploys a hydrophone over the side and we listen to the whales' otherworldly vocabulary of high-pitched squeaks, whistles and groans. The bull, in the lead, looks like he's about to ram our vessel but at the last second he dives and comes up the other side, spurting a nimbus of spray, dorsal fin cleaving the water like the conning tower of a nuclear submarine. Young Archie would be tickled pink, guaranteed. 

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale March 22.