Wildlife Watching

Sadly we only had one full day in Vancouver before moving on to the next stop in our short visit to the west coast, this time to Tofino on Vancouver Island. This involved a 90 minute ferry crossing and a three hour drive across the island to reach our destination.

Tofino is a small village on the edge of the Pacific Rim National Park and attracts thousands of  visitors each year for surfing, walking and anyone just looking to be close to nature, which is why we are here.  We are booked on a Bear Watching Cruise. Tofino is also home to a number of art and photographic galleries which featured all aspects of local, regional art and landscapes.

Clockwise from top left: Welcome to Tofino; The colourful Bakery shop; Bookshop; Lyn outside the bookshop; The Roy Vickers Art Gallery.

Two paintings from the Roy Vickers exhibition

Our accommodation is at the wonderfully named Tin Wis resort, about 3 miles from Tofino centre.  Tin Wis means Calm Waters and our resort is owned by the people of the Tla-o-qui-aht, First Nation. A leaflet in our room informed us that the traditional territories of the Tla-o-qui-aht was known as Ha-Hoothlee and include Tofino.  Some of the settlements in this area date back over 5000 years. It is surrounded by woodland and has a wide flat sandy beach which, if the weather was good, would be a lovely place to walk.  As it was, the weather had turned nasty, with strong winds and rain lashing across the bay.

Welcome to Tofino – “Enjoying” the beach at Tin Wis resort

More stormy beach shots

Luckily the following morning the wind had calmed as we made our way to the harbour, but we drove through a short torrential downpour which stopped just as we arrived.  We were on an early morning sailing (7am) to meet the receding tide which would expose the beaches on which the bears would likely to be scavenging. We sailed out into the channel to cruise around the islands in the bay looking for sight of black bears coming down to the beaches to feed off crabs and other small crustaceans.  Our guides noted that because the weather is much milder on the west coast, the bears do not fully hibernate in winter, but may sleep only for two or three weeks at a time, coming out to feed occasionally.  In a three hour cruise with other boats around, we saw only three bears, but were limited by how close our boat was allowed to get to the shore, in order not to disturb them.

Top: Waiting in the harbour.  Bottom: Others out watching bears

 

Top Left: Heron; Top Right: Canada Geese in loose formation;  Bottom L&R: Busy round here, other boats watching Bears.

The Bears

Back on shore we headed for a lovely small coffee shop to get breakfast and plan what to do for the rest of the day.  About half an hour’s drive from Tofino is the small village of Ucluelet, which has a number of cliff top walking trails which we took advantage of whilst on this side of the island.  We enjoyed a pleasant coastal walk giving some wonderful views of the rugged coastline en route.

Scenes from our coast path walk from Ucluelet

In the south east corner of Vancouver Island lies the city of Victoria the capital of the state of British Columbia and our last destination on our whistle stop tour of Western Canada. It is an unbelievable four and a half hour drive from Tofino back across the island before turning down the coast towards the provincial capital of British Columbia. In contrast to Vancouver with its busy streets and slightly cramped oppressive feel, Victoria seems a more relaxed, lighter and more spacious place to be.

Named after Queen Victoria,  it is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, with British settlement beginning in 1843.  The region’s Coast Salish First Nations peoples established communities in the area long before European navigators arrived in the late 1700s and a British Trading post was established in 1843.  When news of the discovery of gold on the British Columbia mainland reached San Francisco in 1858, Victoria became the port, supply base, and outfitting centre for miners on their way to the Fraser Canyon gold fields, mushrooming from a population of 300 to over 5000 within a few days. Victoria was incorporated as a city in 1862.  We are here for one reason, whales, and a whale watching cruise.

Other harbour users:  A Seaplane company and a Canoe club out for an early morning paddle

Waiting for the Whales

Top Left:  I thought we we going in this.                                Top Right: But we went in this! Bottom:  Part of Victoria Harbour

Departing at the far more reasonable hour of 10am, our boat headed off into the 17 mile wide channel to find humpback whales.  Other species of whale have been noted in this area but the humpback is the main resident.  It was not long before we noticed the tell tale flume of water as the whale surfaces for air, breaks the water before diving again to feed, in a graceful arc which throws up a huge tail fin a sight so familiar.

Clockwise from top left: Sailing into the channel;  First Whale sighting: A whale surfaces; Spouting as he surfaces; Just swimming around; Diving

More shots of the classic whale pose.  The image bottom right we identified as Gibbious – Humpback whales are not tagged but identified and named bt the patterns and nicks on their tails

In between looking for whales, we also visited a small island of rocks in the channel known as Race Rocks, because of the speed of water racing around the outcrops. On the largest of these rocky islands is an automated lighthouse but it is also a nature reserve, and home to a variety of birdlife, colonies of Harbour Seals and Sea Lions and most surprising, a single Sea Otter that the local naturalists have nicknamed “Ollie”.  Sea Otters are not normally resident in this area of Canada and no-one really knows why Ollie has chosen to make his home around Race Rocks but he seemed happy enough.  It was a fascinating and rewarding three hours, and a wonderful conclusion to our trip.

Race Rocks and the Lighthouse

Basking Sea Lions

Left and centre:  “Ollie”  The Sea Otter.  Right:  Seabirds resting on the heavy kelp

To the south of the city centre, lies Beacon Hill Park, a large green area surrounded by suburbia.  It has lovely formal cultivated areas as well as a wild unkempt part which was home to much wildlife including birds and the odd squirrel.  We spent a happy couple of hours walking around Beacon Hill Park taking in the sights and enjoying the peace and quiet, and the sunshine, amid the busy city centre.

Left:  Thunderbird Park; Centre and right:  Totem Poles

Sights and colours from Beacon Hill Park

Victoria was the last stop on our trip round the Rockies.  The following morning, on a fine and calm day we drove the short distance to the ferry terminal for the 90 minute crossing to the mainland and on to Vancouver Airport for our flight home.  As always we reflect on our trip.  This was our fist visit to Canada and with the wonderful experiences we shared of Lake Louise, The Rocky Mountaineer and Victoria it is somewhere we no doubt will return to in the future.

Leaving Vancouver Island

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