Port Alberni to Tofino



I’ve indicated my final destination as Tofino, to clarify – the Pacific Rim area is referred to as Long Beach or Tofino. Our hotel however, is in Ucluelet – 96 Km. from Port Alberni, 32 Km. south of Tofino.

From Port Alberni, it doesn’t take long to grasp the concept of “formerly a logging road”. My husband at the wheel, myself the gracious host in the back seat so our out of province guests could have the best view, delivered a totally new experience. Vancouver Island is rugged to say the least; forget meadows, sleepy valleys, or straight stretches – this is logging country. Mountains plunge into lakes without any concept of shoreline, the highway clings to hill sides – nothing short of an engineering marvel. The road is crowded; long lines of cars gather behind petrified tourists – one hairpin curve or 15% grade too many; shaking like a new born kitten – incapable of anything more than 30 or 40 Km’s an hour. Just past the half way point the road opens enough to allow vehicles to park along a river. Water levels are low,not much more than a stream, yet smooth tumbled rock is testament to the force of nature during spring run off.

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We reached the Black Rock Resort in Ucluelet around 7 PM – about 6 hours after driving onto the ferry in Tsawwassen. This isn’t our photo, but am putting it up for dramatic effect.

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Photo by my husband – Ucluelet

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Hanks BBQ Shack, Ucluelet – after 9 PM the only place open in the village, and well worth it.

After check in we toured the village which took about 5 minutes. Ucluelet has slightly under 1,500 permanent residents. We settled on The Princess for dinner; a former topographical mapping ship converted into a hotel on the harbour.  By chance, we had stumbled into trivia night at the bar. Calling ourselves “Team Alberta” in honour of our guest – we kicked ass. As in we took every prize – the hat, water bottle stuffed with rain poncho, first aid kit, flash-light, the whale watching, and $30.00 off our tab.

Photo from canadianprincess.com

The next morning we headed up the coast to Tofino. Only slightly larger than Ucluelet, Tofino boasts 1,600 permanent residents. That said, Tofino positively bustled after Ucluelet. Breakfast overlooking the harbour as float planes and whale watching groups danced in the rain. Only fitting it should rain – not a drop in six weeks, but the one full day we are able to get away. Poking about the shops for an hour or so, waiting for the skies to let up was fun. Tofino is hippie/surfer ground zero. With as many surf shops as local artisans selling crafts, an interesting place to people watch. I never saw any sort of public transportation but the “surf bus”, an old army transport vehicle moved surfers from one beach to another for 2 bucks.

Leaving Tofino our first beach was Chesterman. This is a rockier place than long beach, tidal pools full of anemone and urchin. Tiny crabs, barnacles, mussels, clams, waiting for the tide to return.

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Tomorrow I’ll finish my trip and ponder some history of our west coast.

Nanaimo to Port Alberni


A trip to the “the island” always starts the same way; stepping onto the steel deck of the car floors is like that moment when your airplane taxis to the runway. Ship engines complain noisily, forced to patiently wait as passengers park their cars. The deck rumbles beneath your feet, faint whiffs of diesel mix with sea air as travellers make haste for the upper deck. With no turning back, you can sense relief as the dock fades and ocean engulfs the vessel. Airplane passengers uncurl their toes, breath easily, and stop pretending to read a magazine – ferry passengers head for the cafeteria. Hungry or not, eating on the ferry is mandatory. With 38 nautical miles, or 2 hours until “the island”, a trip to the over priced cafeteria gobbles up half an hour. I usually lap the inner decks a few times – the gift shop with it’s local crafts, fridge magnets, and travel books; the wall of attractions and tourist pamphlets – without fail I stuff a handful of whale watching or promotional maps into my bag before heading to the outer deck. Even on a calm, sunny day stepping outside is a blustery proposition.

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Passing the lighthouse is our cue to head for the bathroom one last time –  the island is just a few minutes away.

Despite making this trip too many times to count, I’m struck with the same impression driving away from the ferry.  It’s as if I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole; vegetation is the same but slightly skewed, less rainfall, rockier, the highway lined with oddly twisted, pealing Arbutus trees. Nanaimo comes and goes as the road sways north towards the junction at Parksville. The 50 Km. or so between the ferry and Parksville gives me time to adjust to my surroundings. Every few minutes a logging truck punctuates oncoming traffic. Parksville/Qualicum Beach, a tiny retirement town on the inner coast, is the junction for our turn to the east. Now travelling across the island for 45 Km. to Port Alberni at the tip of Alberni Inlet.

The first few Km’s remarkable only for the industrial nature of businesses; auto wreckers, machine shops, a gravel pit – all without any obvious thought given to placement or planning. At Coombs, all that changes. The road leaves behind chaotic ramblings and climbs out of the valley, forest trades places with corrugated buildings; my heart beats a little faster as I know Cathedral Grove is moments away. Cathedral Grove, a Provincial Park protecting a tiny stand of old growth trees is magical. This place is the elusive elixir needed to restore our souls. Five minutes walking beneath these 800 year old treasures does more good than many 2 week vacations.

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Next stop Port Alberni; a lumber and fishing town struggling to survive. The lumber mill belches smoke as you descend along it’s steep streets to the inlet. Business after business closed, boarded up or for sale.

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Tomorrow I’ll continue the trip from Port Alberni to Tofino.

“Notes” on Tofino


Home again from an all too brief road trip – not so much a ponder, as a travel diary and completed assignment for Mrs. P. Mrs. P is one of my long time wordpress friends; after writing that I was Tofino bound, she sent a message asking me to be her eyes and ears on my trip. Having planned the same trip 30 years ago – circumstance prevented her from leaving the mainland. She made it as far as the ferry terminal; that is where I’ll begin my story.

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I could see “that look” cross my husband’s face; the poor man, we had barely pulled away from the dock when I realized my cell phone was still resting on the counter of the coffee shop back at the terminal. On some level, detecting his centre deflate as he braced for my meltdown; yet predictably staying the course to deliver his worst fears, I lost my mind for a few minutes before gaining the practical sense to locate the Chief Steward’s office. It was only after the Steward’s phone call back to the terminal allowed me to breath again, with news my phone had been turned in, that I explained source of my hysterics. He’s always been the photographer, and me the writer, he had no idea I was on assignment with my phone camera destined to be an integral part of my Mrs. P. project. On the same page, and with my dramatic over reaction in perspective he was on board – from that moment on, I called out “Mrs. P” and he took pictures for me.

I thought I could sit down and write this story but find myself overwhelmed with literally thousands of pictures.  To be a window shouldn’t be taken lightly, with that in mind I’m going to ponder my approach for a day so I can do justice to Mrs. P’s lost trip. For the moment; tired, happy, sandy, and a rather unflattering shot of my ass as I peer into a tidal pool, is all I’ve got.

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Tofino Bound


A short trip is better than no trip; even a day or two away from “life” is often enough to recharge your batteries. My batteries are stone cold dead, so Tofino, here I come.

Tofino is a tiny village on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Situated next to Clayoquot Sound – the location of the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. Over 800 people were arrested in the summer of 1993 for blockading logging roads, and “hugging” old growth trees in an attempt to protect an irreplaceable old growth rain forest. This magnificent valley is now Pacific Rim National Park. I’m sure there will be a post about the power of peaceful protest in Notes future.

Back to my road trip – a relaxing ferry ride to Naniamo, followed by a 3 – 4 hour drive up, then across the island to Long Beach on the western shore of Vancouver Island. This place is crazy beautiful, nestled between Tofino and the village of Ucluelet, I can honestly state there is no place more lovely in all of Canada.

After three weddings in three days, ranging from a politicians daughter to tonight’s boisterous nuptials (for the first time in my 30 plus years in hospitality, heavy metal band Slayer was the head banging music of choice), I’m ready for an “old growth” getaway.