Sunday, June 17, 2012

Two Days at Pacific Rim Park, or How I Took 20 Pictures of A Whale Only To Discover That It Was Actually Seaweed

Last week, Louise and I travelled to Pacific Rim National Park on the West Coast of Vancouver Island for a couple of days of rest and recreation. We booked a room at a resort in Ucluelet, and on a wet and misty morning left home for the five hour drive up the island.
Our first stop was Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park just outside Port Alberni. The only area of old-growth Douglas Fir in BC that's easily accessible by highway, it draws people from around the world.
It's simply a stunning place, with a palpable sense of awe as we walked among ancient giants.

I wonder how many people have taken this shot over the years.

As rain began to fall, we continued on to Port Alberni.The small city is about 60 kilometres from the ocean as the crow flies, a 90 minute drive through winding mountain roads, but on March 28, 1964 the ocean travelled to Port Alberni. Four hours after a huge earthquake in Alaska, a tsunami washed up the long narrow Alberni Inlet, six waves in all. Nearly four hundred homes were damaged, 55 were washed away entirely. Amazingly, no one was killed.
The area was hit by the tsunami from last year's Japan earthquake, but no damage was reported.

After a brief pit stop, we carried on along the winding and twisting highway towards the west coast. Where the road crosses Wally Creek, you can stop at a small gorge where the cold snow melt water rushes towards nearby Kennedy Lake. Here you can climb over the rocks and take a few pictures.
You can even try getting all artsy-fartsy with your photos.

Soon, we were at Long Beach, in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Everyone should have a place where they can go where the rest of the world doesn't just disappear, but becomes irrelevant. Where simply the act of being there calms you. Where you find yourself again. This is my place.
Mind you, the weather could have been a little nicer. Even the surfers were going home.
Back in the 1970s, you could camp on the beach. Actually, you could drive your car along the beach. You'd pay your fee, drive up and down the beach until you found a patch of sand you liked, park your vehicle, and pitch your tent. My dad and I camped on the beach this way a number of times. The best part was driving along the beach and seeing a car that had been left a little too close to the waterline when the tide rolled in. Every so often you'd see a car sunk to the doorhandles in the wet sand. Or almost to the roof. I bet some of them are still there buried in the beach. (I wonder if Jimmy Hoffa ever came to Long Beach. But I digress.)

A short drive south of the Park is where we found our destination for the evening, the town of Ucluelet. And yes, there's an App for that.
The eagle is fake, but the deer is real.

At the south end of the town the Wild Pacific Trail winds its way around the rugged and rocky shore. We walked the Amphirite Point Lighthouse loop, where you're quite likely to spot an eagle, a real one this time.
Late in the day, it was time to check-in to our room at the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort.
Because the resort had mixed up our reservation dates, they upgraded us to a suite, with a kitchenette, a large bedroom with a king-sized bed, and a huge bathroom.
Louise marvelled at the fancy bathroom, featuring modern fixtures including both a large tub and a separate glass-enclosed shower. She made note of all the freebies, noting all the complimentary soaps packets, and pointing out to me four apparently similar packages and saying, "And here's all the shampoos."
She excused herself and I began to prepare for my shower. One odd thing about the room was that there was a pair of opaque glass doors set into the wall over the bathtub forming a small window which when opened looked into the bedroom. We eventually realized that with this window open as well the curtains in the bedroom, a person in the bath would have a picturesque view towards the ocean.
So anyway, I grabbed a complimentary shampoo and took a shower. Afterwards, Louise took her turn in the bathroom, opting for a bath. But no sooner had she finished, then she joined me on the couch and asked me how I liked the shampoo, while trying not to laugh.
"It was okay, I guess," I replied. "It was very thick."
She was unable to hold it in any longer and burst into howls of laughter. "You didn't use the shampoo! You washed your hair with the body lotion!"
"You didn't say there was body lotion. You said they were all shampoos!"
"I didn't say all the packets were shampoos! Didn't it feel too thick to be shampoo when you put it in your hair?"
"Well, yeah, it was thick. But it seems to have done wonders for my dry scalp."
She sighed the sigh of a person who spends a great deal of time wondering if she's shacked up with the village idiot. I know this because I have heard this sound many times when she seems to be exasperated with me. Whenever I point out that discovering this connection between her sighs and her seemingly continuing state of chagrin with me demonstrates clear evidence that I am in fact not an idiot, she sighs again.

The next morning, we drove north of Long Beach to Tofino. And yes, there's an App for that, too.

We stopped for a yummy breakfast at Breakers.
West coast communities are an interesting combination of tree-huggers and tree-killers. As we munched on our breakfast seated at Breakers' window, across Tofino's main street was a house where the owner certainly seemed to be not as welcoming of the constant flow of tourists through the town.

Our original plan was to do some kayaking out of Ucluelet, but Ocean Outfitters had a deal on their six-hour Hot Springs tour, so we decided to sign up for that instead.
We boarded the small craft that seated 15 and departed from Tofino harbour. Louise, despite all her kayaking experience, does not like being in small boats. She turned to me as the boat pulled from the dock and said, "I didn't realize the boat would be this small."

We bounced around through some open water for a while, but soon we were behind the protection of Vargas and Flores Islands and deep into Clayquot Sound. We checked out an eagle's nest....
...and then he checked us out.
I counted seven eagles on the trip out. And one sea otter.
These otters are different from the otters we see in Victoria, which are actually river otters and divide their time between water and land. This is a true sea otter that spends all its time in the sea and never goes on the land.

After a 90 minute ride through stunning scenery brought us to Maquinna Marine Provincial Park. As our small silver boat pulled out from the dock to make a run back to Tofino...
...we hiked through more rain forest...
...until Louise stopped and asked what the strange smell was. I apologized and said that my shower last night was not nearly as effective as I had hoped. She sighed again and said, "Not that. We must be near the hot spring. I smell sulpher."
The water rises up from a depth of about 5 kilometres, achieving a flow rate at the exit on the surface of about 5 to 8 litres a second at a temperature of around 50 degrees C. The water flows down a short stream, over a small waterfall....
...and into some small pools. And the pools are small and crowded, so Louise only put her toes in, while I relaxed and took pictures of the view.
Louise and I found a couple of rocks to sit on and enjoy our boxed lunches we had bought earlier at Breakers, and we were joined by a Steller's Jay who was clearly hoping for a handout.
Of course, feeding wildlife in provincial parks is prohibited so this little feathered fella received nothing from us, but I have the feeling that he is well fed regardless of the regulations.
After a couple of hours we hiked back to the dock for our ride back to Tofino. This time we took the outside route back in the hopes of spotting some whales. Unfortunately for some of us, the water was extremely rough as we bounced through the waves. You've heard of white-knuckle fliers? It turns out Louise is a white-knuckle boater. No sooner had we reached the open water than she had dug the fingers of one hand deep into my right thigh.
I told her to look at the horizon. Of course, by this time we were dropping into troughs so deep that when she looked out the window, the tops of the waves were up even with the top of the boat. Her fingers dug deeper into my thigh and I lost all feeling below my knee.
Eventually we closed in on three gray whales. We saw them blow a couple of times, but they were hard to keep track of in the heaving seas. Then one of our follow passengers pointed out a shadow in the water near the boat. "There it is!" All of us with cameras scampered out onto the back deck, shutters clicking.
We merrily clicked away until someone finally realized that it wasn't a whale, but a big clump of seaweed. Even our guide was briefly fooled. The real whales made one last blow in the distance, and then our guide said that it was time to move on. Our choices were to travel further out into rougher water and see the sea lions, or stick close to shore and calmer water. Someone shouted, "Sea lions!" and the guide grinned devilishly and slammed the boat into gear, much to the horror of some on the boat who clearly had had enough of bouncing on the waves. Louise turned an even whiter shade of pale, something that I didn't believe was possible, and as her fingers dug even deeper into my leg, I tried to think back to my first aid course and how long blood circulation had to be cut off before permanent tissue damage occurs. We found the sea lions lounging on a small islet.
We probably could have found them with our eyes closed by following the smell of used fish.
Leaving the sea lions behind, we were soon in the calm waters of Tofino's harbour. Louise quickly recovered from her terror on the sea, and the doctor says my new limp won't be permanent.
Hot Springs

Outside of Tofino, we stopped at the Wildside Grill for dinner....
...where we were joined by another Steller's Jay.
Now that we were outside the park, we tried feeding this one. As it turned out, he was not a fan of coleslaw.

Our time up-island drew to a close, and the next morning we began our drive back home. But you can't drive down the island without stopping in Coombs to see the goats on the roof.
There's no app for that, but you can google it.

And my scalp still feels great. Thanks for asking.


  1. What a great blog! We see you have a great resource for finding locations to kayak.
    The KEEN Recess Team is inspired by people like you who are knowledgeable about the outdoors and make getting outside a priority. Our recess page is a place to share your favorite paddling destinations: We'd love to have your input on locations!


    KEEN Recess Team

    1. hi KEEN Recess Team -- great to hear from you. We love posting about our paddle outings and home and travelling.
      I went to your page but couldn't suggest a location as the app only allowed USA locations, alas.

    2. Sorry for the confusion, Paula! Thanks for your support. Have a great summer! We're looking forward to hearing about more of your trips.

  2. Once again, John dominates our blog with righteous photos and puckish writing. Kudos to you, John, for doing so many posts this month while I'm doing a summer class on campus. And kudos to Louise for surviving a trip that needed photos turned vertical to show the height of the trees and waves!