In the summer of 2020, you’re not likely to hear anyone proclaim “Life’s a beach!” But given our current circumstances, if you had the opportunity to escape to a beach, you’d probably grab it. Paddling leisurely through the water, or just sitting on the shore and watching the waves, all one’s troubles seem so far away, and life feels almost normal again. Almost.
Vancouver Island has plenty of coastline and many noteworthy beaches. Granted, few will likely be mistaken for those magnificently photogenic stretches of sand in Malibu or Waikiki. Also, taking the plunge here is not for wimps, as the water off most beaches is usually brisk, to put it mildly.
But 45 km north of Nanaimo is a place where the climate is Mediterranean and the water temperature averages a balmly 17ºC (63ºF) in July and August—just a few degrees cooler than the waters off Malibu over 2,000 km to the south! Even better, if you time your visit right, you can enjoy water that approaches warm (sort of).
Welcome to Qualicum Beach!
Even by Vancouver Island standards, Qualicum Beach is a small town, with a population just under 9,000 at last count. The area is popular among retirees, with over half the population age 65 or older. However, in the summer months, Qualicum Beach is popular among people of all ages and becomes a tourist hotspot. Part of a large area known as Oceanside, which comprises 12 small communities—including Parksville to the south and Coombs to the west—Qualicum Beach draws visitors from other parts of the island, the mainland, and all over the world (or at least it did, in “normal” times).
A brief digression: The name “Oceanside” is a bit of a puzzle, as the west coast of Vancouver Island is truly the “ocean side.” To be fair (and accurate), the waters off Qualicum Beach—the Strait of Georgia—are part of the ocean, and the tide rolls in and out. But the view from shore is not of an endless expanse of blue; rather, the distant view is of islands in the strait and the coastal mountains beyond on the mainland (not a shabby substitute). So, oceanside? Let’s go with oceanside-ish.
But back to the beach…
Highs and Lows
We all know how the tides work. The water goes out for low tide. The water comes back in for high tide. No mystery.
In Qualicum Beach (and even more so in Parksville), the water goes out…and out…and out. As a result, the rocks-and-pebbles shoreline becomes a wide sandy beach for several hours, leaving shallow tidepools for exploring and a soft surface for long, leisurely strolls.
But the best part? On a hot, sunny day, that sand soaks up heat, and when the tide rolls back in, the water absorbs that heat and warms up. The result is lovely, almost-warm water—for a while, anyway. You have to time it right to enjoy this crossover. The warming effect doesn’t last too long, and it goes down only a foot or two, as cooler water pushes the warmer water up. Stand up in waist-deep water when the tide’s moving in and your toes will tell you that the cold water is a comin’.
On Your Mark, Get Set…Don’t Go
As enjoyable as the low tide periods are, they aren’t so great for a swimming race, which is why Qualicum Beach’s Annual Ocean Mile Swim is held at high tide. Or was. Sadly, after 61 years of competitions, there will be no race this August.
Racers in goggles madly stroking through the water with faces submerged most of the time present little risk to each other. But those pre- and post-race gatherings on the shore with 60 or more swimmers, supporters, organizers, and interested observers are another story, making the event a nonstarter this summer. As the saying goes, there’s always next year. Let’s hope.
“I must go down to the seas again…”
We all need a place to escape to from time to time, and now more than ever. Qualicum Beach offers sand, sunshine, ocean—or at least an arm of it—and a gorgeous view. Really, who needs Malibu or Waikiki.