Pacific Rim, Canada’s true West Coast

 

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Parksville BC

You would think that we, on Salt Spring Island, live on Canada’s west coast.

But the true west coast along the open ocean, is one more ferry ride and about a 3 hours drive away.
Cutting across the mountainous heart of Vancouver Island, Highway 4 winds through Port Alberni to the Pacific coast. On this particular trip, we spent one night in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island’s east coast. We roamed the wide sandy beach, picking up a sand dollar here and a polished rock there. We sipped tea on the gorgeous patio of The Beach Club Resort right on the beach in Parksville. And we had a beautiful AirBnB booked in Qualicum Beach. The very private cottage was in the heart of town, allowing us to walk to shops and restaurants.
IMG_0554The next morning we made the mandatory stop in Coombs. This tiny town has only a few services but made a huge tourist attraction out of a former farm stand. Some 30 years ago it was a farm stand with local pumpkins and apples in the fall. Now it is a huge supermarket/deli with lots of shopping options. Stores have sprouted up around it, selling icecream and t-shirts. 
But the reason for all this is likely the goats on the roof. Yes, you read that right. The old farm stand and now the beautiful supermarket, sports a grass sod roof on which various goats roam and graze at will. This is enough of an attraction that hordes of tourists stop and take pictures. It’s a fun and interesting stop. And after gazing at grazing goats, you can pick up a tye-dyed t-shirt or a giant lawn ornament next door.
IMG_5609The next stop is even more popular and also more natural. Cathedral Grove, also named McMillan Provincial Park, is an awe inspiring place. Huge towering trees block out the sun, filter the rain and support an intriguing eco system. Some of the trees are 800 years old and 75 meters tall, making you feel like a tiny dwarf. Fallen trees support new ones. I doubt that there is much wildlife left since every car and motorhome stops here, but it is gorgeous and definitely worth the loop walk through the grove. I just hope that BC Parks will spend the money and effort to provide a safer way to park. The tiny parking area along the road is not nearly enough and cars parked along the shoulders, with people crossing the road at will, is an accident waiting to happen.
Port Alberni is a large town with many services and lots of camping, hiking and fishing nearby.
We continued on, past the picturesque Sprout Lake to the junction where you turn south to reach Ucluelet or north to reach Tofino. 
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Tofino used to be my favourite of the two isolated towns – with a cozy coffeeshop and a relaxed hippy atmosphere. Now Ucluelet feels more like a nice small town while Tofino is overrun with people and sky high prices. We couldn’t find affordable accommodations even when booking two months ahead. So this time we ended up staying in Ucluelet.
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It used to be a bit run down fishermen’s village. Through the inevitable evolution along BC’s gorgeous coastline, Ucluelet has morfed into a friendly town of a few permanent residents and a surging summer population. We found a lovely cabin, complete with fireplace and jetted tub, in the woods and near the coast. Both towns have a nice Coop Supermarket with fresh produce and lots of choices. Since we had a kitchen we made our own meals but had to find a coffeeshop to get wifi.
Unfortunately we had two days of rain, out of our three days on the coast. But a walk in the rain forest does feel more authentic when the trees are dripping…
IMG_0562Pacific Rim National Park stretches between the two towns and beyond (including the Broken Islands group). One of Canada’s most splendid coast lines is protected in this national park. Several long beaches offer a great place for a brisk walk, watching foamy waves and mist, scenic rocks and outcrops dotting the shore.
Equally impressive are the short rain coast walks. Here a sturdy wooden walk way allows visitors a glimpse of a unique ecosystem. Ancient logs serve as nurseries for new growth. Giant skunk cabbage leaves and tiny unfurling ferns live side by side, thriving on the more than 3 meters of rain that falls here annually.
Immense cedars and spruce form a green canopy that filters the sunlight, if there is any. IMG_5651
Another must-stop is the Kw’istis Visitor Centre with an interpretive display of both natural and First Nations histories. We even watched spouting whales from the upstairs room. Be sure to ask the front desk staff for one of the movies listed. This is a great way to learn more about this beautiful area – one of Canada’s most scenic natural places.
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