Last summer, my guy and I were traveling the Pacific Northwest for a week. We spent a couple of days photographing a lovely wedding on Lake Washington, during what could have possibly been the best weather Seattle had all season. Sunshine! Clear skies! Hot, hot, 90°F days!
But as we’d been hoping to escape our own heatwave back home, we couldn’t wait to cross the border into our northerly neighbor for a respite from the rising mercury.
We hadn’t been to British Columbia since the 2010 Winter Olympics, but our small taste of the wilds of Whistler was enough to bring us back sooner than later. Crossing the border from the PNW to BC, it was quite apropos that the first sign we saw billed it as “The Best Place on Earth.”
After boarding the ferry in Tsawwassen, crossing the Strait of Georgia, and disembarking in Nanaimo, we made our way west across Vancouver Island.
Situated in a temperate rainforest biome, the island is home to all kinds of wildlife, from wolves to cougars to bears, as well as tall peaks, forested isles, sandy beaches, and majestic fjords.
The Pacific Rim of the west coast is a national park preserve, and we were incredibly lucky to find a B&B in the middle of it all — a B&B with only one room for rent. And not only was it super private with only one room, it was also super stealthy by being the only accommodation inside the First Nation community of Esowista.
That meant we had the whole stretch of coastline in front of our room to ourselves (almost), because only community members (and the occasional bear) were allowed access to that beach.
That’s right, the occasional bear… which we spotted one morning when we were out for a sunrise stroll on the shore. (Talk about a wake-up call!)
The bear (more like a cub) paid us no attention at first… He was lumbering in and out of the driftwood not more than 50 yards away. Probably hungry. Probably foraging for food. Thankfully, we had none on us.
We stopped in our tracks, wondering whether to turn back or stand still… because wherever there’s a baby bear, there’s a mama bear… ?!
The little guy sniffed around and spotted us. He moved toward us cautiously, but suddenly changed his mind and scampered off into the woods. Maybe his mama was calling him for breakfast.
We continued along the surf-swept coastline of Long Beach, the widest stretch of pristine sand in the Pacific Rim. At this early hour, the beach was still and serene. The first rays of sun were peeking out over Clayoquot Sound, casting beautiful shadows on the sand. We were alone in this delicious wilderness.
The extreme low tide exposed stunning outcroppings of reefs all over the beach. They were so dense that at one point I was walking through a maze-like corridor of vibrant marine life, with rocky reefs on either side of me, some reaching over 20 feet tall. That put all the sea anemones, starfish, mussels and barnacles at eye level — thousands of them in the most extraordinary tidepools I’d ever seen.
That afternoon, we drove into the famed surf town of Tofino to scope out the local surf scene. You know you’re not in Cali anymore when even the surf signs show surfers wearing gloves, booties and hoodies!
Tofino is a small settlement on the tip of the Esowista Peninsula. It’s the type of town with only one major thoroughfare and a handful of restaurants. In fact, I think there were just as many surf and kayak shops as there were restaurants.
In the summer coastal fog envelops its bays and inlets, giving the town a quiet, eerie feel.
Though winter is notorious for monstrous waves crashing into the rugged coastline, summer usually brings mellow, fun-sized swell to the peninsula.
It was the day that I never thought would come… the day where I would buy my first real winter wetsuit.
The warmest suit I’d brought with me was a 4/3 (considered a winter suit in LA, but definitely not warm enough for an LA girl in BC), so I picked up a little souvenir in town: a new 5/4 wetsuit, complete with a hood.
When I first started surfing a few years ago, I always figured that if it was cold enough to warrant wearing a 5/4, I should probably be snowboarding instead. And here I was, about to surf with the sea lions in a frigid wilderness.
Not only that, but I was about to surf on the same beach where we’d spotted a bear that morning… the same beach that was part of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. (Cross that one off the life list! … even though I never knew such an opportunity existed.)
Without a doubt, the biosphere was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen, much less surfed. (And, my new wetsuit kept me comfortably toasty through our sunset session!)
While we had a beautiful beach in front of our B&B, behind us was another world entirely. Right in our backyard was a mossy rainforest home to the biggest slugs I’d ever seen! Judging from the amount of havoc just a few inch-long slugs can wreak in my garden at home, I’d never be able to grow anything up here with these slimy beasts.
A few steps away from our door, the Schooner Beach Trail led us through a thick evergreen forest full of thousand-year-old cedars and spruce. All we could hear within that vast terrene were the exotic trills of birds and frogs.
An elaborate path of wooden walkways meandered around the rainforest and over a stream.
We came out of a clearing where the forest met the sea, landing on the northern end of Long Beach in front of Schooner Cove. The beach was wide open yet secluded, with tree-covered islets dotting the deserted coastline.
At the end of our week, we drove a little further south on the peninsula, arriving in the fishing village of Ucluelet. Its rocky headlands are known for jagged cliffs and surge channels that have claimed many a shipwreck, and the only passage across this rugged terrain runs along the coast via the Wild Pacific Trail.
It was a gray and misty and beautiful day, a very Vancouver Island type of day.
We walked through a temperate rainforest that opened up to views of Barkley Sound and Amphitrite Lighthouse.
Flanking the trail were wild blueberry bushes filled with buds and berries. I couldn’t resist picking a few to taste!
When we finally left the island, we decided to board the ferry from Victoria, which took us over Haro Strait back to the Canadian mainland.
This much more scenic route passed through the Gulf Islands and the San Juan Islands, straddling the border between British Columbia and Washington.
Hundreds of islands and islets form the archipelago within the strait, and from the ferry we could see sandstone beaches and oak meadows floating atop the bluest water. It was just about the most perfect day we could hope for on our last day in the Pacific Northwest.