|Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, B.C.|
'I touched a gray whale!'
Suddenly it was our turn. Two gray whales came over to see what we were all about. Brian Congdon, our guide, identifies many whales in the area and calls these,"the Friendlies." Out came the cameras and video recorders, including those of our guides, who said they had never seen anything like this before.
For over an hour the whales swam near our boat or under it. They rolled over, sometimes lying on their sides as if they were watching us. Sometimes they extended their pectoral fins, which we touched. They lunged to gather food and when they resurfaced, they would sometimes roll on their backs to allow the food to gather behind their teeth.
Sometimes they nuzzled each other and seemed inseparable. We touched them and felt the spray from their blowholes, which is supposed to bring good luck. It smelled like rotting fish but that was a small price to pay for the thrill of those moments.
Our guides were as excited as we were. Brian put a hydrophone in the water so we could hear the clicking noises the whales made to identify their surroundings and communicate with each other. As suddenly as they had come, they disappeared. When we realized they were not coming back, we headed for Ucluelet, thrilled with a grand finale to a perfect day.
Our day had started at daybreak. Tracy Morben of Majestic Ocean Kayaking was our guide for a kayaking trip in the Broken Group Islands. Partnered with Subtidal Adventures, Brian Congdon a veteran with 28 years in the business, took us across the inlet in a "Zodiac" and dropped us off on an isolated, well-protected island. (broken islands photo credit: Tourism BC)
Under Tracey's direction we unloaded the kayaks, removed our warm and practical orange survival suits, and assembled the equipment including neoprene boots, mitts and jackets. Clothes, shoes and cameras were stored in dry bags and tucked under our waterproof aprons. Unless the kayak tips, everything stays dry, even when it rains. We were in the best of hands with the best of equipment.
The kayaking was delightful. After two hours of paddling, a welcome break in quiet waters was munching on a huge, homemade oatmeal cookie. We stopped for a filling lunch at Chalk Island using a huge fallen tree for a table, with tablecloth, serviettes and hot beverages.
The Broken Group Islands are a pristine archipelago made up of more than 100 rocky islands and islets in Barkley Sound that can only be reached by boat. The beauty of our surroundings and the abundance of wildlife left me at a loss for adequate words.
Tired but happy we made our way back to Ucluelet, a tiny town with a population of 1,753, on the edge of a great rain forest. Ucluelet means, "safe harbour," a harbour that bustles with a mixture of fishing boats, modern yachts and small passenger boats.
Fresh seafood is a Ucluelet specialty, famous for salmon, cod and halibut. The restaurants are inexpensive but good while accommodations vary from cost-conscious to prestigious romantic hideaways. The townspeople are pleased that no big chain hotels have come in yet!
The new Wild Pacific Trail is truly "Life on the Edge." It skirts the rugged cliffs and shoreline of Amphitrite Point. The 2.7-km loop (1.5 miles) can be walked in 45 minutes but that wouldn't allow time to appreciate the fury of the waves or the splendour of a sunset. It's a perfect trail for storm, whale & bird watching.
Each spring, more than 26,000 Pacific Gray Whales migrate northward from early March to late April. During other months it is common to see resident gray whales, transient Orcas and occasionally humpbacks and dolphins.
Black Bear Watching is a canoe adventure, one of several tours offered by Daryl Keeble of Pristine Adventures. Clayoquot Sound boasts the highest blackbear population density in the world. Using a canoe, Daryl gets his guests closer to wildlife than by any other form of transportation. Spring and fall are peak viewing times for black bear but we also saw raccoons, eagles, shore birds, sea lions, seals, mink and river otters.
This statement summarizes Daryl's philosophy of life. "Money pulls me away from the land. If I get caught up in commercialism I become nothing more than an ad for a car. Life is too important for that."
His love for the outdoors and his respect for the land and animals has given him a rare insight to the fine balance of man's relationship with nature. He has a keen interest in preserving what he loves for future generations.
Photos credit to BC Tourism