Sometimes just 2 nights away from home can be surprisingly restorative. In the craziness that is raising children, I enjoy escaping the laundry, dishes, toy-insanity and household responsibilities. Sure the packing for a trip-away is a hideous experience, but once you are out the door life is grand.
Visiting Vancouver Island is a favourite get-away for us. The travel time from Vancouver isn’t too long – definitely manageable for a weekend away. Picking which charming town to visit on the Island, however, is becoming increasingly difficult: Tofino, Ucluelet, Victoria, and our newest favourite, Parksville.
Parksville is a an oceanside community full of retirees and young families. There are a surprising number of family-friendly activities to more than fill a week of adventures.
On a recent visit we stopped by the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre. Questions bubbled out of our two young sons as we visited the many animals. Both kids recently completed owl units at school and were delighted to see so many species up close: great horn, snowy, barred, and barn. The Recovery Centre also takes care of orphaned bears and at the time of our visit the Centre was caring for 11 cubs. While humans can’t get up close to the bears, there are live circuit TVs which provided a glimpse into the antics of the cubs. Wrestling like bear cubs is a real thing!
During the warm months, oodles of family-friendly attractions open. Paradise Fun Centre offers 2 mini-golf courses, arcade games and super fun bumper boats. Warning to those watching, be careful where you stand as the boats can squirt water into the crowd. While lovely in the hot summer it is far from ideal in the cooler months. Another favourite mini-golf venue is Riptide Lagoon. The facility is newer and full of whimsy. The two 18-hole courses feature numerous twists, turns, bridges and tunnels to enthral the little ones. Families can also take a spin on the laser bumper cars. The shortest family member must be at least 44″ to ride.
A famous summertime attraction in Parksville is the Sand Sculpting Competition. Every year nearly two dozen masterpieces are constructed from ONLY sand and water (after the sculptures are completed they are sprayed with a water-glue mixture to help the sculptures survive the wind and rain). In 2015, the theme was Heroes and Villains. In addition to walking around the sculptures the brilliant organizers created a game for the kids. They were given a list of 6 or so items to find; the items were hidden in the sculptures. In 2015, more than 100,000 visitors checked out the competiton. For the summer of 2016, the contest runs July 18 – August 21. Once you have finished staring slack-jawed at the awesome sculptures, take the kids to the massive playground mere steps away. Food trucks hang out beside the park, so plan to make a day of it. Should the weather be insufferably hot, the kids can splash in the water park or take a dip in the ocean.
A few other venues we love to visit when in Parksville are:
Morningstar Farm: home of the Little Qualicum Cheeseworks. While you sample cheese and wine (from Mooberry) the kids will have fun exploring the farm and completing the scavenger hunt.
Coombs Old Country Market: which is affectionately know as Goats on the Roof…because there literally are goats on the roof. Be prepared to be awed by the sheer volume of toys, goods & home decor crammed into the store. This is a great lunch spot too.
Butterfly World & Gardens: hundreds of butterflies flit around while you slowly stroll through the gardens. Having a colourful friend land on your shoulder is a rather common experience. Take time to say hi to the tortoises. If you happen to visit during feeding time hang around to watch as it might be one of the only times you experience enthusiastic salad-eating.
No matter the season you visit, Parksville has a great variety of family-friendly activities geared to kids of all ages. When you are next ready for a break from the everyday chores at home, hop on a BC Ferry and escape to Parksville.