What can I say about the West Pacific Rim? It is as you’d expect: wild and rugged with long sweeping sandy beaches, rolling waves and strong currents, drifting logs and lovely mature rain forests with moss-draped streams, hanging gardens of moss and ferns and twisted, stunted shorepine trees.

If you go outside the main season it is also quite isolated and apparently a lovely place for winter storm-watching.

We spent some time walking along Wickaninnish Beach at the southern end of Long Beach (sadly the Interpretive Centre and restaurant were closed for the season), watching huge cormorants diving for fish and the waves crashing onto the windswept sand. The beach is an explorer’s delight. Its location at the southern end of the 16km stretch of Long Beach allows it to act as a damn – collecting flotsam, jetsam and driftwood unlike any beach in the region. If you walk along the 1km coast trail to the steps descending to South beach you get a lovely vista of the coast. The pebble beach here is famous for the musical sound of the stones rolling in the surf. The longer 3.8-kilometre Nuu Chah Nulth Trail follows a path of raised wooden boardwalks through the dense rainforest towards Florence Beach.

On the wild side

A special day as it was both my birthday and wedding anniversary, so we had reserved a table at another S restaurant – Shelter which is opposite Jamie’s – and supposedly the best of the bunch. Meanwhile we had a day to fill and try to walk off some of this heavenly food we had been indulging in.

We decided to drive down to Ucluelet and walk around the Wild Pacific Trail then work our way back to Tofino stopping off at several of the other trails on the way.

The name Ucluelet  is derived from a Nuu-chah-nulth word meaning a place of safe harbour. The Nuu-chah-nulth are a group of first nations whose traditional home is in the Pacific Northwest on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We first had to stop at Cynamoka Coffee House on Peninsula Road for a coffee as we remembered them as being exceptionally good. On the previous occasion we had obviously parked on the roadside. This time we blindly followed a truck up the hill to the café and found ourselves at the top of a very steep incline only just managing to avoid a very nasty pot-hole. Climbing out of the car I looked around at the other vehicles – all of which were very high rise 4WD trucks – I nervously walked to the top of the exit slope. The driver of the truck next to me leaned out of his window and advised me to go v-e-r-y slowly at the bottom or “you’ll rip the bottom out” and looking at the grooves in the tarmac at the bottom I believed him. Hey ho, not a lot I could do at this point except to wish the car had blades so I could exit vertically, so to avoid a panic attack we went inside for a much needed glug of caffeine.

You’ll be pleased to know that I did manage to keep the car in one piece, but it was not an experience I wish to repeat.

The Wild Pacific trail loops through a mossy rain-forest which leads to the wonderful windswept coastline with dramatic views of Barkley Sound and the Amphitrite Lighthouse. There are great vistas all along the loop which is 2.6 km and we were fortunate to spot a bald eagle perched high in a pine tree observing his surroundings.

Caution: You may encounter bears, cougars or wolves anywhere on the West Coast.

Had I realised just how big these black bears are I would have been more anxious at walking the Nuu-chah-nulth Trail (formerly the Wickaninnish Trail) which had one of theses signs across it back in 2005. Fortunately we didn’t see one on this trip and although I’d like to see a cougar probably not face-to-face.

We’re gonna go on a bear hunt

On Sunday we went into Tofino for a look around the wharf and town (how can you resist a peek into Mermaid Tales bookshop?) and ended up in Sea Shanty at the corner of 1st and Main and close to the Government Dock for a cup of hot chocolate and a shared piece of pecan pie – oh lord I need to stop travelling as I eat far too much when away from home!

Continue reading We’re gonna go on a bear hunt

Crossing the Straits of Georgia

After some deliberation as to when to pick up the rental car (early start vs extortionate parking fees) I collected the car from Hornby Street on the Friday afternoon and parked it at the Devonian park (24hrs) which was at least $10 cheaper than the underground car-park closer to the hotel. Parking in Vancouver I must add, is not cheap which is why I chose to use public transport to get around during the week. (Another point for those interested is that car rentals in Canada are much higher than those in the USA.)

We left the hotel early in plenty of time to catch the 10:30 ferry at Horseshoe Bay over to Nanaimo (Departure Bay) as we had reservations (these cost around £15 and not strictly necessary except in peak times unless you have to be somewhere such as the airport!), but if you don’t make that first ferry then you have to wait in line for the next and this can eat up a good couple of hours). £15 didn’t seem to be too much of a hardship for us to be on our way.

I love BC Ferries – they arrive on time, they depart on time and they are easy to drive on and off (particularly important for me whilst struggling to come to terms with a new car and its associated gadgets) then on board you can wander around during the crossing, have a meal, look at the views and if you’re lucky (as we were) see a pod or two of Orcas en route. On our previous visit to the Island we bought a circle ticket for the ferries which allowed us to drive slowly up the Sunshine Coast crossing the fjords by ferry and then over to Comox on the central coast of the Island from Powell’s River. If you have the time I thoroughly recommend this route for its beauty and peacefulness, (but be careful of the “granny traps” at the side of the road in places – deep gullies or drains at the edge – we saw several cars stuck in these and dread to think of the damage to the underside of the vehicle).

On this occasion we chose to go directly to Nanaimo (home of the famous Nanaimo bar) as we were heading over to the Pacific Rim on the west coast for a few days staying in Tofino, surf capital of the Island. We didn’t bother with a GPS as there really isn’t much need for one on the Island – or so we thought… got a bit lost in Nanaimo as hubby got confused over route signs which meant we went around in a circle and tempers frayed somewhat! Eventually we found the correct route, confusingly there’s a 19 which is the Inland Island Hwy and a 19a the Island Hwy, but since they merge to the north we really had nothing to worry about and could relax and enjoy the scenery.

Following the 19 you by-pass Parksville and turn onto the 4A at Coombs where we would be staying on our return journey. Coombs is famous for the “Goats on the Roof” at the country market, but more about that later. The 4A turns into the 4 which is the Alberni Hwy and basically you follow this all the way to the west coast. Passing Whisky Creek and Little Qualicum Falls you drive alongside Cameron Lake before winding round through MacMillan Provincial Park and past Cathedral Grove to Port Alberni. I have never stopped, but imagine it could be a nice place to break for lunch at the quayside and I believe you can get to Ucluelet by boat from here. We continued onwards (105 km) and around Lake Sproat which is vast!

The road winds up and down and you gasp at the views as you are surrounded by mountains with glimpses of lakes. You then reach Kennedy lake passing over creeks with names such as “Cats Ear Creek”, “Log Dump Bridge” and “Lost Shoe Creek #1” and “Lost Shoe Creek #2” (obviously ran out of imagination there, or perhaps there are lots of lost shoes) and finally reach the T junction where the Pacific Rim Visitor Centre is located and where you can buy a National Park pass – these are not needed to drive through to Tofino, but are required for parking at any of the trails in the park between mid March to mid October. Turn left at the junction to Ucluelet (9 km) and right to Tofino (36 km).

We were staying a little way out of Tofino, close to Chesterman Beach (literally across the road from our B&B) so had to drive into Tofino for restaurants. Maybe next time (and yes there does have to be a next time) we would stay in the town so we could walk.

We ate at SOBO (all the best eating places in Tofino begin with S) which is at the corner of Neil St and 1st and serves beautifully prepared local and seasonal seafood and good BC wine. We had the special chowder which is the best I have ever tasted – it is spicy – followed by a thin-crust pizza. Mine was goat’s cheese and mixed mushrooms and it was delicious, OH had BBQ chicken with whisky sauce which was a little too sweet. Washed down with a respectable B.C. Pinot Noir.

And we caught the sunset on the beach too so a perfect end to the day.