If you have never visited the west coast of Vancouver Island, you have really been missing something. The drive from Nanaimo on the east coast is 2 – 2 1/2 hours through gorgeous mountainous terrain past a number of large lakes. Before reaching Port Alberni, you will come upon a magical place along the road. Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park, is one of the most accessible strands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island. Here one can stroll through a network of trails under the shadow of towering Douglas fir trees, some more than 800 years old.The grove was a well known tourist stop on Alberni Road in the 1920’s. In 1944 the area was donated by H.R. MacMillan for the perpetual enjoyment of the public in recognition of he unique stand of trees. The grove became a provincial park in three years later. Natural regeneration is beginning to restore the Grove’s pristine beauty. This provide a unique opportunity to experience the diversity of plant like typical in a very old forest.
Once through the town of Port Alberni, the road takes a route to the west along Sproat Lake and along some impressive peaks. Eventually the road runs down steep, winding hill and then along Kennedy Lake. Past that, the trail ends at the Pacific Run Highway, the principal road along the west coast. To the right, Tofino. To the left, Ucluelet. In between, Long Beach which stretches for 10 miles along the Pacific and offers wind swept sand, big surf and washed up kelp. Our main point of interest was Ucluelet (means safe harbor), a town of 1800 people situated at the edge of Barclay Sound framed on three sides by the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Rim National Park with huge stands of cedar, fir and hemlock is nearby. Visitors come to Ucluelet to surf, hike the Wild Pacific Trail, fish on the big bank, whale and bear watch and relax on the beach. In fall interests turn to storm watching.
We are here to fish, at least principally. This is a well known fishing spot for salmon and for halibut. But when not fishing, the area is unique, and the stormy seas, foggy conditions and black rocks along the shore are a fascinating subject for photography and for viewing. And there are fine places to stay and to dine, some upscale, some more casual. Our favorites included trailer food at Raven Lady – fresh BC oysters on the half shell, tuna poke, salmon burgers, fish tacos and po’boys, all situated with nearby tables right next to a BC liquor store! On the upscale end, dinner at Norwood’s was magnificent. The restaurant is in a smallish house with an open kitchen and maybe 20-25 seats. The halibut was superb, as were the fresh mussels and octopus. And the wine list is filled with impressive BC wines.
There are some lovely places to stay, especially Black Rock Resort, situated right against the roaring surf on the Pacific side. But we found great condos at Whiskey Point – overlooking the harbor, adjacent to the aquarium and a short walk to Zoe’s bakery. There are many choices for fishing guides, and the rush out of the small boat harbor at 6 am was quite exciting. Partial day charters typically run around the peninsula and up a few miles to Wye’s Point; these are normally focused on salmon. Full days can go south to the so-called Big Bank and fish for halibut.
Off days can be spent exploring Long Beach, the lighthouse, and Tofino. This is a more bustling touristy town of maybe 2000 permanent residents, situated at the north end of the peninsula some 20 miles from Ucluelet. Many of the same activities can be enjoyed around Tofino, and there are more choices of condos, resorts and restaurants. If you want busy, go to Tofino. One spectacular place to stay, to dine or to ocean watch is the Wickaninnish Inn, located just a few miles south of Tofino. This is also the center of strom watching in the off season.
Vancouver Island offers many other great places to visit. We have covered Victoria and the West Coast so far. In a future blog we will relate experiences on the east coast from Parksville to Campbell River, and provide some thoughts on a two day sail in the Gulf Islands.