By the numbers:
In the 6 days we were "on the road" we visited 11 communities: Mill Bay, Parksville, Courtenay, Cambell River, Sayward, Port McNeill, Port Alice, Port Hardy, Woss, Quadra Island, and Nanaimo. We stayed in1 campground (in Parksville) and 4 hotels (in Courtenay, Campbell River (2 different hotels) and Port McNeill (2 nights)). We did end up taking 2 ferry rides (round trip to and from Quadra Island) and drove about 1050 kilometres (650 miles) -- though Hubby did the bulk of the driving; I drove about 150 kilometres (95 miles) of the return trip, roughly from Courtenay to Duncan.
Surprises and disappointments:
I was surprised by Sayward. It was a little detour we took to break the distance from Campbell River to Port McNeill and it was lovely. There was a public campground in the centre of town -- only $10 a night! -- and the houses looked well-cared for. We also had a great lunch at the Cable Cookhouse Cafe.
I was disappointed by Port Alice. Yes, the waterfront was beautiful, but getting there was really challenging. The road (Highway 30) was hilly and winding, plus it was being repaired so there were construction delays. But when we got there, something about the town felt odd. I think because a lot of the homes were strata townhouses, the "playgrounds" were run down (a couple of rusted swing-sets was all we could find), and there was graffiti in a town of 800, it just felt like a few square blocks of the Burnside-Gorge area had been transplanted there.
However, I was pleasantly surprised by both Port Hardy and Port McNeill. Port Hardy is home to about 5200 people; Port McNeill, to about 3,000. The only thing that freaked me out a little about Port McNeill were the many signs denoting the Tsunami Evacuation Route. Still, I could probably live there quite happily.
Campbell River felt comfortable to me but Hubby didn't like it. On the other hand, Courtenay felt uncomfortable this time around -- when we visited both places about 8 years ago, my opinions were reversed. The exception to this was the Courtenay Museum and Palaeontology Centre which was a welcome detour.
We also detoured to Quadra Island on a whim -- it's a 10 minute ferry ride from downtown Campbell River -- and I wish we had planned a longer stay. I actually do want to go back; there is a campground adjacent to Rebecca Spit Marine Park where you can camp right along the water, looking out into the bay.
Overall, it was a very nice trip and I was happy to have seen that much more of our island.