Zoe Thomas, Digital Content Executive at Canadian Affair, tells us about wildlife watching on Vancouver Island.
Who, What, Where?
Me, my boyfriend and our hire car went on an amazing West Canada driving tour from the Rockies all the way to the Pacific, ending with Vancouver Island. We took the ferry from Vancouver’s Tsawwassen Terminal, 40 minutes’ from downtown, to Swartz Bay, 30 minutes’ drive from Victoria. While we spent a fun night in Victoria, my favourite was our three night stay in the beautiful Pacific Rim National Park near Tofino.
The region in a nutshell:
Vancouver Island has real wilderness, with some characterful towns and cities thrown in. There is coastal rainforest dense with towering cedars and hanging moss. Rugged coastlines are a haven for surfers and beachcombers. Surf towns like Tofino are little gems filled with coffee shops, surf shops and some good restaurants. And Victoria, the capital of BC, is as beautiful as it is lively. Best of all, everywhere you go you’ll find wildlife.
Experience of a lifetime:
This is a hard one to pick, as we had two!
From Victoria we went whale watching with Orca Spirit Adventures. Super friendly guides and a relaxed atmosphere made the experience so easy and fun. A tiny group of 7 of us went for a thrilling ride in a Zodiac boat to spot orcas and humpbacks. Almost 90 resident orcas live by Vancouver Island all year round, and I think we saw most of them! It was 360° whale. We watched dozens of majestic humpbacks too, enjoying the rich feeding grounds.
From Tofino, we took a bear watching excursion with West Coast Aquatic Safaris. This slick operation took us out on a large vessel which included three deck areas and a covered, heated indoors. Out on the islands of beautiful Clayoquot Sound, we saw black bears foraging for crabs along the rocky shorelines just metres away. This boat provided a more sedate experience than the Zodiac and would be great for kids, or if the weather isn’t so good.
Gear up vs wind down?
A ride on a Zodiac boat is the ultimate thrill as you get all the bumpy waves and are exposed to the elements! You can choose whale or bear watching on Zodiacs. Or take a longer tour from Tofino up to the remote Hot Springs Cove and shower under a geothermal waterfall!
Tofino is a great place to chill out in surf shops, cafes and restaurants. Some overlook the sea which is great for ocean gazing or storm watching, depending on the weather! The harbour front in Victoria is a lovely place for a stroll.
Culture vultures should:
The British Columbia Parliament Buildings in Victoria are very impressive, from the totem poles and architecture outside to guided tours of the regal interior. It’s also where Will & Kate started their Royal tour of Canada! There are a number of galleries and museums in the city too.
Outdoor lovers should:
Whale watching and bear watching are a must. You can see orcas, humpbacks and black bears easily here in the summer months. There are also friendly harbour seals in Victoria, bald eagles in Clayoquot Sound and the occasional sea lion and porpoise.
The Pacific Rim National park near Tofino and Ucluelet (“Ukee”) is a great place to camp. The pitches nestle within old growth forest and come with a firepit and picnic bench.
Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria is a great place to visit for quirky food stalls alongside colourful floating houses. Find fish tacos and Mexican food, freshly battered fish and chips, and scrummy seafood chowder.
If you do one thing…
Vancouver Island is known for its coastal rainforest, so take a walk through the old growth cedar forests. Boardwalks dot the island, particularly in the Pacific Rim National Park, with many accessible trails. The towering giant cedars will take your breath away and the moss is otherworldly!
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