West Coast Weekend

A cousin of mine from Holland came to spend the weekend with me after a conference in Whistler. I decided to give him a solid West Coast experience. What does it look like for a March weekend?

Leave Friday on the ferry to Nanaimo, and drive to Ucluelet. Eat along the way in a small road-side diner near Coombs for a typcial meal of meat, potatoes and salad. Explain the myriad ways to have your steak done, and go through the umpteen choices of salad dressing.

Check into a B&B in Ucluelet. We chose Radfords, which is excellent, but there are many others. Get treated to a delicious breakfast that includes freshly baked muffins.

Book your grey whale watching trip with Jamie’s Whaling Station. Hike the Wild Pacific trail and spot dozens of eagles while waiting for the departure.

Don a survival suit (another Canadian invention!) and head out in a Zodiac. Spot a dozen feeding grey whales at close range, and many seabirds. Make a detour into the Broken Island group and spot large haul-outs of Steller’s and California sealions.

After a short hike on the beach near Ucluelet, wind down in the local pub with view over the harbour. Explain the concept of Hockey Night in Canada while sipping on Vancouver Island microbrews and eating a real burger (rather than one of the fast-food imitations).

The next day, head towards Tofino, stopping at the Pacific Rim National park visitor centre. Walk the rainforest boardwalk, but also take the time for the bog boardwalk. This short hike is just about as impressive as the better known rainforest trail. Watch the surfers at Long Beach.

Migrating grey whalesIn Tofino, convince your guest that watching grey whales from a boat doesn’t do them justice. To really see them, you need to get up in the air. Head down to Atleo River air service, a true family company where the husband flies their Cessna 185 float plane, and his wife tends the tiny office and their young baby. Sign up for a half-hour whale watching flight, and see how large grey whales really are when you see them from 200m up. Watch a large group migrate north. On the way home, fly past a large sealion haul-out. Be amazed at the highlight of the trip: a “raft” of about 50 sea otters looking up at you, floating in a kelp bed.

Drive back to the ferry through the surprisingly high mountain range west of Port Alberni; be lucky and secure the very last spot on the boat. Watch Pacific white-sided dolphins and Dall’s porpoises along the way.

View over Howe SoundThe following day, show that Vancouver is truly a multi-season destination by heading up to Cypress for a morning snowshoe trip on the Howe Sound Crest Trail. Enjoy the spectacular views over Howe Sound, and follow yesterday’s route. Point out that it it weren’t for his flight home, we should have gone kayaking in the afternoon.

Return to the city for a pilgrimage to Vancouver’s outdoor icon: the Mountain Equipment Coop. Load up on great outdoor clothing at a fraction of European prices. Arcteryx is one of Europe’s hottest brands, so impress your guest with a stop at their factory store (few people know that it is a Vancouver brand).

Finish the weekend with a quick trip to Burnaby Lake for a glimpse of Canada’s national animal, the beaver.

The result? A very happy cousin who will be back soon with his wife for a much longer trip (and will hopefully convince his friends to do the same).

Tip: if you go to Tofino for spring whale watching, head toUcluelet instead. There the whales feed in nearby sheltered bays, while in Tofino they merely pass by. Moreover, in Tofino you have to go out into the open sea, which can be very rough at this time of year. In Ucluelet, you stay in calmer waters. Besides, Ucluelet is smaller and more authentic.