The Pacific Rim of Vancouver Island is a place like none other. It’s close enough to reach in a day and yet somehow it feels removed from the “real world.” Once you slip into this little slice of coastal paradise, it can be easy to forget just how close to home you really are.
The coastal towns of Tofino and Ucluelet are major tourism hubs in the summer months and visitors come from all over the world to experience fishing, wildlife watching, kayaking, hiking and surfing on the West coast. While both towns are without a doubt charming and picturesque, a truly authentic West coast experience requires venturing a little further beyond the well-worn tourist track.
My home away from home each summer is Eagle Nook Resort, nestled deep in Barkley Sound about an hour outside of Ucluelet, and it provides exactly the kind of authentic West coast adventure I’m talking about. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the resort offers one of the most unique all-inclusive experiences on Vancouver Island and as remote as it is Eagle Nook is still less than half a day’s travel from Seattle; direct flights with Kenmore Air mean it’s easier to get to than you might imagine.
Adventure Abounds at Eagle Nook Resort’s Barkley Sound
Adventure is abound in Barkley Sound. Between Humpbacks that can often be seen breaching along the coastline, the excitement of landing a trophy Chinook salmon and breathtaking views from every angle, it’s pretty hard to get bored.
I was lucky enough to guide our Eco-Adventure Tours last summer, 4-hour cruises through Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands searching for Humpback and Gray whales, sea lions, seals, porpoises and even the occasional black bear foraging for a snack at low tide. I can honestly say that before guiding these tours I had never seen so many types of wildlife, so close and so frequently.
Although growing up on the West coast means I’ve spent my fair share in, on and around boats and the ocean, being brand new to guiding was still slightly daunting; for starters I had no idea where to find whales. Thankfully in Barkley Sound they aren’t hard to come by.
In fact, I’d say anytime you head out on the water you’re far more likely to see at least one whale (but probably several) than to not see any at all. We’re fortunate to have summertime populations of both Humpback and Gray whales off the West coast of Vancouver Island, as well as transient Orcas that frequent the area (although they can be a little less predictable).
I was lucky to have no troubles finding whales on any of my tours last summer, and from Humpbacks lunge feeding right next to the boat to Harbour Porpoises playing in our wake, the shows were pretty spectacular.
Eco-Adventure Tours – Up-Close and Personal with Nature
My favourite day on the water was the very last tour of the season. I had a Dutch couple on the boat, Trudi and Cor, who had never seen whales in the wild before - I was especially keen to make sure they had a great trip.
Our tours are generally 3 to 4 hours long depending on the weather and how fast we can find wildlife. On this particular day it was cooler than normal. Fall was already heading our way, and I was slightly worried the whales may have already vacated my go-to spots.
September is when Humpbacks and Grays start their annual migrations South. Although I’d heard there was a lone Gray whale just outside of Ucluelet Harbour I opted to head for Bamfield instead, hoping the two Humpbacks that had been hanging around in Trevor Channel were still there.
After over an hour on the water without so much as a distant spout I began to feel doubtful. Maybe Ucluelet would have been the better choice. At this point we were running out of time to head in that direction. I put the boat in neutral and was about to ask Trudi and Cor if they wanted to stay where we were and hope for the best or make the run to the other side of the Sound.
Then all of a sudden a Humpback spouting off our starboard side. My question was answered before I could ask it.
The whale wasn’t far off at all, maybe 50 meters away, slightly behind us and moving steadily forward every time it surfaced. After a minute or two we realized it wasn’t alone. There was a second spout just a little further back.
The whales didn’t seem to be feeding and I figured they were probably preparing for their Southbound trip. Trudi and Cor seemed happy to snap photos of their signature “humped” backs as they slowly cruised past us but I kept hoping they’d do something a little more exciting.
After a couple minutes their tails curved out of the water one after the other, and they propelled themselves back into the depths. Humpbacks can stay down for a long time when they dive and it can be nearly impossible to know where they’ll resurface. I wondered if these two had decided to hightail it towards Hawaii.
Then out of nowhere, both whales burst out of the water in almost perfect unison, fully breaching the surface before crashing back down with explosive force.
In all my tours, I’d only ever seen Humpbacks lunge feeding (still a pretty neat thing to watch). Witnessing two of them breach less than a hundred meters from the boat left me just as excited as Trudi and Cor. It was nothing short of unbelievable.
The whales surfaced once more, one of them rolled onto his side and slapped a pectoral fin on the water and then they were gone. The show may have been short but it had certainly been spectacular, and the three of us were left speechless and smiling from ear to ear.
Once again, the West coast and its inhabitants hadn’t disappointed; I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the season. Trudi and Cor went home with a great story to share with their family back in Holland. I can only imagine and count down the days to see what the 2017 season has in store.
A travel-loving, hiking, and fishing gal, Nadia Linning is originally from Surrey, British Columbia. But thanks to her dad’s Port Alberni roots, she spend much of her childhood on Vancouver Island, especially the Pacific Rim. And she fell in love with the area. Which is great for her job as Guest Services Coordinator and Eco-Adventure Tours Guide at Eagle Nook.