Travelling In Wildlife Habitat

The entire west coast region is wildlife habitat. Bears, cougars and wolves all swim, even to small islands surprisingly far from the mainland, and they also wander into all of our towns. When travelling through wildlife habitat, a little knowledge goes a long way in avoiding encounters that can be dangerous for both humans and for wildlife.

Once animals learn to get food from people, that behaviour can never be unlearned. They become habituated and then they are shot. Whether you feed animals intentionally, or whether it is just through messy camping practices, the end result is the same: you are condemning them to be killed. Please help us to take care of our wildlife as well as ourselves, by keeping the following guidelines in mind.

Clean camping

Clean camping

Animals such as bear and wolves have a keen sense of smell, and quickly learn to approach campsites if food, garbage, and other smelly products such as toothpaste or soap are not stored securely.

When car camping, make sure the campground has secure bear-proof storage for both your food and your garbage before you book your site; if they don’t, go elsewhere and explain to management your reason.

When wilderness camping, whether hiking or paddling, bring ropes and appropriate bags with you so that you can cache your food high in a tree. The cache must be significantly higher than human reach in order to be safe. Bears have been known to rip open kayaks to access food stored in hatches. Cook and wash below the high-tide line where possible, so all smells are washed away. Avoid taking smelly and oily foods with you such as tinned fish or oysters.

Human waste attracts animals to campsites, especially wolves. Some of the remote provincial parks have outhouses, and you should find out where they are before you head out. If there are no outhouses, human waste should be packed out where possible, especially by larger groups. Otherwise, when camping on the coast use the intertidal zone for elimination of human waste and brushing teeth. When inland, find a site far away from trails, streams and lakes. All toilet paper must be packed out or burned.

Roadsides

2013 © Christopher Martin

Bears, and occasionally other animals, may be seen along the roads and highways. Sure, slow down a bit to have a look, but please do not stop your car, as tempting as it might be. This only habituates animals to human presence, and encourages future interactions with humans. When cars stop, animals may be frightened out to the road. Every year many bears, especially young cubs, are killed along our roads.

Pets in the wilderness

domestic animals into wilderness

Taking dogs and other domestic animals into wilderness areas is a controversial issue. Dogs have a significant damaging impact on other wildlife, frightening and chasing smaller animals and even deer, and they cause damage to salmon breeding areas, which include most streams and rivers as well as the shallow shorelines of the larger lakes. Wolves have killed several dogs in recent years, even in parks with lots of visitors. If you choose take your pet with you, please make sure that they are always on a leash.

Encounters with large predators

encountering large predators

This is one of the few areas of the world where you do stand a reasonable chance of encountering large predators: bears, wolves or cougars. Bears and cougars, and occasionally wolves, all wander right into our towns. While bears do not normally prey on humans, they may become aggressive if they feel threatened. Wolves and cougars may attack humans, and especially children, and they have killed a number of dogs (including some very large ones).

If you encounter one of these large animals, gather your group together and pick up small children. Do what you can to appear large and noisy. Maintain eye contact, especially with cougars, and if the animal is not retreating try to back away from it. Report sightings to Parks Canada (250-726-7165), even if they took place outside of the park.

Ucluelet Background

The traditional territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth tribe for whom the town of Ucluelet is named for extends from the southern tip of the Ucluth Peninsula, northward to central Long Beach and inland towards Kennedy Lake. The town is located on the southern end of the peninsula, and the small Ucluelet tribal village of Itatsoo lies straight across the harbour from it. The Ucluelet tribe’s name means “the people from the safe harbour.”

Fur traders and other fortune-seekers plied Vancouver Island’s outer coast from the 1790s through the early 1800s. In 1858, Captain Peter Francis set up a trading post at Spring Cove, on the extreme southern tip of the Ucluth Peninsula. By 1861 (the same time that the first settlers were setting up their businesses in Port Alberni and Bamfield) the Sutton brothers had established a saw and shingle mill as well as a general store on the northeast side of the harbour. These and other tiny scattered settlements around the harbour, such as the community of Stapleby, located at the eastern end of the Willoughby Road, formed the roots of the village that came to be known as Ucluelet.

A notable pioneer was George Fraser, an English horticulturalist with a special interest in rhododendrons, who arrived in 1895. Fraser is still remembered today for the various hybrids that he developed and shipped around the world. His old homestead covered much of what is now the centre of town, and he is commemorated in Ucluelet with an annual festival in his honour and by a rhododendron garden beside the schools.

town of Ucluelet

Settlers continued to trickle in to Ucluelet, then a remote outpost accessible only by sea, in the hopes of making their fortunes. The fur trade continued through the late 1800s, and in 1903 a whaling station was established nearby at Sechart. Around the turn of the century, gold was discovered in the black beach sands of Florencia Bay, and a small gold rush was sparked. From the turn of the century through the 1950s, fisherman flooded in, after pilchards, herring and salmon. Canneries opened and then closed as stocks depleted. Fisherman of Japanese descent formed a significant part of the community from the early 1920s until 1942, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, when all Canadians of Japanese descent were sent to internment camps inland.

In 1959, a rough road from Port Alberni to Ucluelet was completed. Finally, Ucluelet had a land connection to the rest of the world. Ucluelet continued to be a town surviving on its natural resources, mainly its logging industry, through to the 1980s and 1990s. In recent years, as logging has slowed, Ucluelet has looked up the road to its neighbour Tofino and turned towards tourism.

Today this village is home to about 2,000 people, and welcomes tourists from all over the world. Accommodation ranging from simple campgrounds to luxury hotels with spas awaits. Its dramatic location, on the tip of a wave-washed peninsula located between the entrance to Barkley Sound and world-famous Long Beach, and its town planning which is winning international awards, are making it an increasingly popular tourist destination

Wild Pacific Trail

This spectacular coastal walking trail is the result of an initiative driven by the residents of Ucluelet. Trail construction has resulted from years of planning and hard work by a crew of volunteers, and has been supported by donations from both individuals and organizations.

Two of the three trail sections have been constructed so far, for a total of 8.5 kilometres of trail. The final section is planned to connect the northern end of the present trail right through to Florencia Bay, within Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, and will add another 14 km to the trail system.

The Wild Pacific Trail is accessible all year around, and the clifftop views of crashing surf make it a prime spot for winter storm-watching. Most of the trail system consists of a smooth gravel walkway, but there are some wooden boardwalk sections and stairs – not difficult walking, but not suitable for strollers or wheelchairs. If it has been raining, the boardwalk sections can be very slippery, so take care and use handrails.

wild pacific trail ucluelet

The southernmost section of the trail (“Phase 1”) is a 2.7 km loop, most of which hugs the shoreline at the southern tip of the Ucluth Peninsula. The two parking lots at each end of the loop are just 200 metres apart; to get to them, continue southward along Peninsula Road through town (that’s the road that you enter Ucluelet along). The first parking lot, at He-Tin-Kis Park, is for walking the loop counter-clockwise, or you can continue to the next lot, which is sign-posted, to hike clockwise. The southern part of this loop passes Amphitrite Lighthouse. At He-Tin-Kis Park the trail splits, and you can either follow the more coastal (western) route or the forest (eastern) route; either way, the two routes will join back together again. Walking this whole southern section can take between 30 to 60 minutes; walking only the He-Tin-Kis sections takes 15 to 20 minutes.

The middle section of the trail is about 4.5 km in length. You can walk to it from He-Tin-Kis Park along roads, about 1.3 km (10-15 minutes), by heading back towards town on Peninsula Road and turning left on Marine Drive to get to Big Beach. Alternatively, you can drive there and park near Big Beach, in the lot at Matterson Drive.

This section of the trail continues northward, skirting the coast and ducking in and out of the forest to yet more stunning clifftop views of waves rushing in from the open Pacific to hit the rocks below. The trail ends at the Rhododendron Garden on the highway at the northern entrance to town. From here you can either walk back along the trail, or take the shorter direct walk straight back into town along the highway (which turns into Peninsula Road). There is one additional parking area and access to the trail about halfway along this middle section, near the west end of Forbes Road.

You can pick up brochures with trail maps at either of the visitors’ centres at the Tofino/Ucluelet highway junction or in Ucluelet, or you can find maps online at www.wildpacifictrail.com.

Surfing

Vancouver Island is the focal point for surfing in Canada. Indeed, many past and present members of our Canadian national surf team have roots in Tofino.

People who already know how to surf will find no shortage of good spots, especially off the beaches along the stretch of coast between Ucluelet and Tofino (including the many beaches within Pacific Rim National Park). One thing surfers will have to get used to out here is the wetsuits – West Coast surfers wear 3 to 4 mm of rubber in summer, and at least 5 mm in the winter.

Water temperatures can range from as low as 4ºC in winter to as much as 16ºC in summer. But the titles of local surf flicks will tell you even more than those numbers: “Numb” was produced by Tofino-based film-maker Jeremy Koreski, and “49 degrees” refers both to our latitude and to the water temperature (in Fahrenheit).

surfing in ucluelet

If you have never surfed before, don’t let that stop you! You are strongly recommended to start with a lesson, for many reasons – the foremost of which is for your own safety. The ocean can be very dangerous for those who do not know what they are doing: the waves are powerful, the water is very cold, and one can get into serious trouble extremely quickly. There are also standards of “surf etiquette” that you will learn in a lesson, for example about who has right-of-way on a wave. Finally, if you have never stood up on a surfboard before, a surf lesson or two will definitely quicken your path to success. The surf is generally much bigger in the winter – normally several metres in height, and occasionally up to 10 metres or more. Big winter surf is usually accompanied by strong storm winds, though, so even if you are a strong and experienced surfer it is rare that these big-wave conditions are very surfable. (Study the maps and check in with local surf shops to see if you can find some cove protected from the winds).

In summer, typical wave heights are more like one to three metres – very good for learning. Which beaches are good depends upon the swell’s direction. If you are an experienced surfer, check in with the local surf shops for info. If you are a beginner, your instructor will make sure that you get to the beach with the best conditions for learning.

Tofino and Ucluelet have numerous surf shops that offer private and group lessons, as well as rentals of everything you will need: boards, wetsuits, roof racks and more. Some also rent other gear, such as bodyboards and skimboards. Several companies also offer multi-day surf camps, some town-based and some based out on remote beaches. Although there is good surf near Bamfield, there are no surf shops here – you must arrive with everything you need. Port Alberni, located at the top of a deep inlet, does not have any surf nearby.

Kayaking

Vancouver Island’s wild west coast is one of the world’s premiere sea-kayaking destinations – especially the relatively protected waters of Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds.

There are a number of sea-kayaking companies based in the towns: in Port Alberni, Bamfield, Tofino, and in Ucluelet and nearby Toquart Bay. Guided day-trips with trained guides, suitable for beginner kayakers, are available from all of these towns. Many companies offer overnight trips as well, suitable for beginner or advanced kayakers. Paddlers with sufficient rescue and navigational experience may also find kayaks available to rent at all of these locations, except for within Ucluelet town.

A word of caution: Even though the more protected waters of the sounds may appear like tranquil glassy ponds on some mornings, do not be fooled! This is still ocean, and winds causing large breaking waves can come up surprisingly quickly. Every kayaking party (be it just one or two friends, or a large organized group) should have at least one person who is well versed in navigation in areas with strong tidal currents and frequent thick coastal fog. As well, this person should be well versed in performing self-rescues and assisted rescues. The water out here is unforgivingly cold – even in summer – and swimming is not an appropriate safety strategy. If you do not have a group member with the required experience, you should contract a guide. Favoured destinations for overnight trips are:

The Broken Group (Barkley Sound)

The Broken Group

The Broken Group of islands are located within Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. This cluster of small islands is located between Bamfield and Ucluelet, at the mouth of Barkley Sound, and it can be accessed by boats (that are able to transport kayaks and gear) from any of Port Alberni, Bamfield or Ucluelet. Being within the park, camping is regulated and for a fee.

For the most part, passages between the islands are protected, but the outer southwestern side of the islands faces the open ocean, and can offer paddlers an exciting taste of open ocean paddling conditions. Wildlife is abundant, and sunset vistas from the islands are superb!

It is possible to paddle to the Broken Group from the boat launch at Toquart Bay, a 28 kilometre drive from Ucluelet, mostly along gravel logging roads. The 15 km crossing to the islands from Ucluelet is exposed to open ocean winds and swell, and should only be attempted by very experienced paddlers who are prepared to contract boat transport should conditions not be favourable to depart.

The Deer Group (Barkley Sound)

The Deer Group

This group of large islands, just off the coast of Bamfield, is less sheltered than the Broken Group. Not being national park, though, it is much quieter and less visited. The islands are known for exquisite rock formations and shell beaches.

Water taxis that take kayaks and gear are available in Bamfield, and with a bit of advance planning boat transport can also be arranged from Ucluelet. The nearest of the Deer Group of islands is only 3 km from Bamfield, but this is a stretch of water that is very exposed to wind, swell and current. Depending upon your group’s experience level and the prevailing conditions of the day, you may be able to paddle yourselves to the Deer Group from Bamfield.

Annual Events

The great community spirit in our little towns means that we have a lot to celebrate – with each other and with visitors.

Aside from the annual events listed below, there are always community events such as arts and craft displays, music and dance shows, or film festivals, so it pays to check in with the local tourism websites before you travel.

Spring

Whalefest (Tofino, Ucluelet). Late March: A week of interpretive and cultural events, as well as the start of the whale-watching season, celebrating the return of migrating grey whales.

Forest Day (Ucluelet). Early May: a weekend with presentations by forestry experts, logging sports, and a salmon BBQ.

George Fraser Day and Heritage Fair (Ucluelet). May: a weekend oriented about Ucluelet’s history and its wonderful rhododendron gardens, with tours and music.

Summer

Edge to Edge Marathon (Tofino/Ucluelet). June: a marathon run from Tofino to Ucluelet, with half-marathon, and marathon-relay events as well.

Pacific Rim Summer Festival (Tofino, Ucluelet)
. July: two weeks of live music.

Ukee Days Fair (Ucluelet). July: a weekend country fair, with loggers’ sports, children’s games, live music, and an oyster and salmon BBQ.