I’m not sure I’ve seen so many eagles before. Actually, that’s a lie. I am sure I haven’t seen so many eagles before. Four of them right now, terrorizing seagulls and grasping at the unsuspecting fish of Ucluelet Harbour, Vancouver Island, ‘Super Natural’ British Columbia.
One of these colossi of the sky strikes it lucky, and hauls out a not-so-lucky fish from its watery domain for what must have been an extraordinary moment of flight (for the fish) before being unceremoniously pulled apart like a stringy cheese snack. And all on top of the tree right outside my window.
It’s special here. You’re no longer in Kansas Dorothy, and although the weather has taken an unsurprising turn for the wetter, it’s still warm enough to ride, and a better world from the one I had just left on the east coast a few days prior.
My trip is courtesy of Yamaha Canada and all the tax-payers of BC (thank you, BTW) via Destinations B.C. ,the former opting to go west to launch their new FZ-07 to the Canadian media and the latter agreeing to my anxious request to make a one-day launch into a four-day tour of B.C.’s southern coast.
SUMMER IN COMOX
My adventures began in Comox where Yamaha had flown in a whole load of Canadian journalists for a trip to the small town of Gold River and beyond. We couldn’t have begged for better weather as a wet east coast (temperature: 2 C) has magically changed to a sunny 25 C west coast in a 24-hour period.
Gold River is accessed via the lovely Hwy 28 that breaks through the mountainous spine of the island via Campbell Lake and contributory rivers. It reminded me of something out of northern Italy, only without people and espresso stops. Oh, and the Italians.
But alas there is one other very un-Italian feature to BC these days and that is the stunting law that, like Ontario, sees you sans vehicle on the roadside with the immanent prospect of a hefty fine, should you get busted for the heinous crime of doing 40 over the posted limit.
This is surprisingly easy to do in a sublime series of twisties, as you flip-flop through the reduced 60 zone and are suddenly nudging triple digits. The spritely and torquey nature of the FZ-07 doesn’t help matters either.
The only upside of the diminished speed limit is that it gives you more time to take in the scenery.
For those of you who have yet to experience Vancouver Island, its mountainous core is snow-capped, yet its temperate (but wet) climate means there is an abundance of plants growing on top of plants and gargantuan trees.
Hwy 28 ends at a large inlet to the pacific where the water is bobbing with local harvested logs, which are sorted, graded and then mostly shipped off to China. Or so a local foreman tells me, with a hint of sadness.
The ride back was sans-escort and I decided to throw a little caution to the wind (I’m here to really test the FZ after all) and as the day crept up to the mid 20s C, zippers were undone and layers shed as BC gave me a taste of summer that had so far been cruelly kept from us easterners.
If this is what my tour was going to be like, the next five days were going to be amazing.
BACK TO REALITY
The forecast was calling for rain, but the sunny skies begged to differ and I soon found myself on Vancouver Island’s other east-west road, Hwy 4, destination Tofino, on an expedition to see some whales.
Hwy 4 cuts through Cathedral Grove, which, contrary to suggestion, is not a collection of large church-like structures, but massive Douglas Firs that can grow up to 75 meters tall, 9 meters in circumference and can get as old as 800 years, chainsaws allowing of course.
The highway is a bit of a mixed bag with a reasonable amount of traffic clogging things up until you get past Port Alberni, where the traffic drops off and the road picks up in terms of the drama quotient.
Sadly, this is also where the spell of summer broke and as the drizzle moved in, the temperature dropped and I discovered that my electric vest was anything but. It was also about the time that I realized that I was running late and would likely either miss the whales or worse, my FZ-07 if I tried any harder to get there on time.
Alas the whales lost out and I opted to go straight to the Water’s Edge Resort that overlooks Ucluelet Harbour, which is a nature show unto itself – as mentioned in the intro.
The upside was that I now had time to sample the Island’s craft brewers’ IPA offerings, which I decided to ingest every time an eagle caught a fish. Let’s just say that the eagles did not go hungry and I cannot account for the latter part of the evening.
BEARING IT ALL IN TOFINO
I awoke to an early glimpse of the sun — well, that whitish shape behind the clouds kinda glimpse — only to quickly disappear and invite back the rain for a wet, but mercifully short zip up the coast to Tofino.
If time allows, it’s worth stopping to take in some of the very sandy and very long beaches. This area is famous for surfing and although the idea of being in the cold water does not appeal to me, it does to many others, wetsuits compulsory of course.
Coming from a somewhat hippyish youth, Tofino is one of those towns that would have suited me well 20 years ago – a good relaxed vibe, with lots of cafés, funky eateries and surf shops. Ok, it suits me well today, but sadly I’m a generation too late to fit in.
But I wasn’t here to surf. Destination B.C. had kindly arranged a trip to see some bears, which, as long as there were at a distance, suited me just fine. I had figured that this would be a quick visit to the local dump in an SUV to see the bears roaming through some garbage, but it’s actually a well-organized boat trip courtesy of Remote Passages.
Owner Don Travers seemed genuinely pleased to be hosting a rather large, sodden biker and quickly filled me in about his global adventure on an old BMW R80 back in the ’80s. He’s also rather active in the town’s business community and espouses Tofino’s wealth of businesses that would put a Baptist minister to shame. Something that is rather infectious and immediately made me wish that I’d planned for a couple of nights in Tofino.
The boat ride to see some of Tofino’s finest black bears bagged three as they turned over rocks at low tide to ingest hapless crabs, oblivious to the homo sapiens 30 feet away. We also gawped at a wolf that trotted along a beach very obligingly for a good ten minutes.
My Tofino experience was topped off by lunch with Don and his wife Kati at the SOBO restaurant – one of those great new restaurants that gets imaginative with the food but not the prices. Well recommended.
In fact Tofino is very recommended. The road out there has some magnificent stretches to it, there’s excellent beaches, lots to do (whale watching, the hot springs and some of the hikes are three things I really wish I hadn’t missed) and it’s all wrapped up in a friendly and welcoming vibe. What’s not to like?
Oh yes, the rain, but apparently it’s much less common in the summer. Just be sure to book ahead as Tofino gets very busy.
Although the rain did relent for a few of the 208 km from Tofino to my ferry at Nanaimo on the other coast, it was still another wet ride. Interestingly I found the return leg to be more dramatic, as the highway does all the windy, climby stuff at the western end and slowly gets more urbane and trafficked as you approach Port Alberni in the east, with just the Cathedral Grove to look forward to after that.
The ferry over to North Vancouver takes a couple of hours and is followed by a tight, entertaining highway into North Vancouver. Unfortunately my previous nights of Island peace and lavish comfort were disrupted by a Comfort Inn located right next to the highway with a view of … garbage.
Where are the swooping eagles and honking seals? Ah, back to my regular life for a night.
In the next part ‘Arris heads over to the mainland for a night in Vancouver and the hope that the Sunshine Coast lives up to its name.
INFO AND THANK YOUS
And here’s the tourism bit about what ‘Arris did, where he stayed and all the other bits.
Tofino & Ucluelet
Located on the Esowista Peninsula on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the area boasts ancient coastal temperate rain forests, stunning vistas, kilometers of pristine sandy beaches and amazing wildlife. Visitors can spend the day strolling beaches, sampling local cuisine, taking an eco-tour or shopping for original west coast art.
Tofino is situated in part of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Biosphere Reserve. The Reserve includes approximately 350 000 hectares of which nearly 83 000 hectares are marine.
‘Arris wishes he moved here 20 years ago.
Remote Passages Marine Excursions
51 Wharf Street,
Tofino, B.C.V0R 2Z0
Remote Passages is based out of Tofino (pop. 1,600) on the west coast of Vancouver Island, just minutes from Long Beach and Pacific Rim National Park. Tours include whale watching, bear watching, dipping into Hot Springs Cove or sea kayaking to a rainforest trail. And you may get to see an obliging wolf trotting along the shoreline.
Jamie’s Whaling Station
606 Campbell Street
Tofino, B.C. V0R 2Z0
Operating in both Tofino and Ucluelet, these waters boast grey and humpback whales, transient orcas, sea otters, seals, porpoise, and sea lions. They also offer bear watching, tours to Hot Springs Cove, kayaking, scenic flights, hiking, sunset cruises and beach drop-offs. Just don’t be late and miss it.
Tofino Beaches & Trails
Tofino has a number of beaches to explore including: Chesterman Beach, Long Beach, Cox Bay, MacKenzie Beach, Wickaninnish Beach. Schooner Cove Trail (off the Pacific Rim Highway, just north of Long Beach) experiences both the majesty of the forest and the wonder of the beach. Just don’t get your motorcycle stuck in the sand …
MacMillan Provincial Park (Highway 4)
Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park, is one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island. Here visitors can stroll through a network of trails under the shadow of towering ancient Douglas-fir trees, majestic pillars untouched by the modern world – some more than 800 years old. Trails on either side of the highway lead visitors through the mighty stands of this coastal forest. Toilets too!
SOBO – Sophisticated Bohemian
311 Neill Street
Tofino, BC, V0R 2Z0
Short for ‘Sophisticated Bohemian”, SOBO restaurant was created by Lisa and Artie Ahier in a purple catering truck in Tofino, BC in 2002. In addition to winning numerous local culinary awards, SOBO was recognized as one of Canada’s top 10 new restaurants in 2003 by EnRoute Magazine. And Don paid for Editor ‘Arris’s meal.
Water’s Edge Resort
1971 Harbour Crescent
Ucluelet, BC, V0R 3A0
Water’s Edge Resort on the Ucluelet harbour is ideally situated for discovering wild, rugged coastal wilderness. The resort’s suites feature west coast decor and functionality and space. And eagles eating fish.
British Columbia Ferry Services Inc.
BC Ferries is the largest ferry system in the world,with 36 vessels serving 47 ports of call on 25 routes throughout coastal British Columbia. The crossings between Vancouver Island and BC’s Lower Mainland can last from 95 minutes to two hours, depending on which run you take. Oh, and they let motorcycles on and off first. Sweet.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.
Living in Campbell River, I often forget that some of the best riding in BC is right here. I think the ‘Strada and I need to go tread some well worn paths with new eyes today.
Nicely done, Mr. ‘Arris. Accommodation and chaperone services would have been provided had I known you were in the area.
I did try to get ahold of you before I left but no luck. Email with your co-ordinates so I don’t miss the opportunity ever again. 🙁
Too bad you didn’t get a chance to check out the Wild Pacific Trail and the Aquarium, both located in Ucluelet, – not to mention two of my favourite restaurants – “Hanks” and “Norwoods”, Or the fresh ling cod fish and chips at “Jiggers”. God I love Ucluelet.