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Vancouver Island:
Thar She Blows
A Whaling Good time On Vancouver Island's Rugged West Coast

By Jane Cassie
Photos by Brent Cassie

The thunderous roar of waves resonates in my ears. Ocean spray cloaks my bright yellow slicker. The unruly breakers toss driftwood timbers as though light as toothpicks, and mesmerize surfers clad head to toe in neoprene. They also draw out storm watching aficionados, true blue romanticists, and families like mine who have come in search of some outdoor adventure. Its Vancouver Island's rugged West Coast; a destination that offers excitement for everyone!

While my brood still snoozes, I take advantage of this early morning hour on picturesque Cox Bay, just five minutes south of Tofino. The beach boulevard, rippled like corrugated cardboard and dotted with tidal pools, separates the turbulent Pacific from storm-ravaged evergreens. Summer warmth will soon captivate sandcastle architects and young tykes in search of sea anemones. Boogie boards will come out of hibernation beach volleyball teams will rally most days till sunset, and picnickers, sunbathers, and kayakers will replace us hearty storm watchers.

I eventually make my way back to the northern end of this heavenly bay where forty-five acres are devoted to guests of Pacific Sands Resort. Snuggling up to the shoreline are Lindal cottages and three story lodgings, where crackling fireplaces warm cosy interiors, and private patios view the pounding Pacific.

Since the early seventies the resort has been a labour of love for the Pettinger family and, based on the number of returning guests each year, they have figured out the key to success. "Couples enjoy storm watching from their private hot tubs and our summertime venues attract the families," owner and General Manager, Dave Pettinger proudly shares.

For us, this West Coast weekend is a family affair. Although our fourteen-year-old son hardly thinks that the ideal holiday includes parents, there is salvation when his best friend gets to tag along and we soon discover that the two electronic buffs are easily lured away from TV by the bounty of nature that waits just steps away.

A well-maintained boardwalk, canopied by gnarled cedars and spruce, leads to a rewarding vista, even for our two complacent teens. From the jetty perch that divides Chesterman Beach and Cox Bay we are privy to a perfect panorama in both directions. And as crashing waves shoot up white-water geysers, our gaze extends beyond the rocky plateau. We realise that there is only one thing separating us from Japan, and that is the relentless and unforgiving ocean!

Sunset Trail, on the resort's property, is just one of many hikes that borders Pacific Rim National Park. As well as other recreation opportunities, the old growth rainforest, extending the length of the notorious coastline, acts as a natural thirty-three kilometre corridor for the highway that joins Tofino to Ucluelet.

With this new taste of the great outdoors, the teens look forward to more and, after retiring their hiking boots, we head into Tofino where we bypass art galleries (calling out my name) to get outfitted for survival. Whale watching and other soft adventures dominate this once thriving fishing village that is hemmed in by Clayoquot Sound and the wild ocean waves. And although somewhat resistant to feeling camouflaged like an awkward astronaut, I am warmed by my own adrenaline as I zip up the red suit.

From March to May more than twenty thousand gray whales pass by en route to The Bering Sea, and while ebbing and rising every fifteen seconds, sightings of the massive ocean bulges are almost certain. If not, Jamie's Whaling Station will provide a lifelong rain check to re-visit again.

Today, though, our navigator, Lynn, expresses uncertainty. "The ocean swells are cruel and the clouds spell impending rain." We can tell she's an expert. She's always lived in Tofino and knows the conditions like the back of her hand. She decides to cruise Clayoquot Sound in hopes of spotting one of the grays that often escapes to the calmer bays. We skim the glassy surface in search of black bear along the tide line, seal pups on rock outcroppings and sought after dorsal fins breaking the waters' surface. We come up empty handed. "I guess we're out of luck, today," Lynn resigns. "Unless you want to live on the wild side and check out the open water." Although I'm somewhat precarious, the teens yelp out a collective, "Yahoo!" …and we're off!

Once out of the protective sound, the transition from still waters to gigantic rollers is instantaneous and, like a seaward mariner, I go with the flow! I think of all the shipwrecks along this coastline and pray that our pontoons have more staying power than the air mattresses I've owned. Splashes of salt water kiss my lips and my stomach rises in unison with each swoop. Cheers from the front row echo in my ears and in spite of my racing heartbeat, I feel exhilarated and energized. Then Lynn suddenly slows the Zodiac and all falls silent. As we rise to the crest of a new wave, we all witness it. First the spout of air, then the dorsal fin, finally the massive gleaming backs that arch above the water's surface, over and over again. "Thar she blows," I call out, and chuckle to myself at how often those words have applied during our visit to Vancouver Island's rugged West Coast.

Where To Stay
Pacific Sands Beach Resort
1421 Pacific Rim Hwy.,
P.O Box 237, Tofino, BC V0R 2Z0
Phone: 250-725-3322 Fax: 250-725-3155
Toll free: 1-800-565-BEACH (2322)
www.pacificsands.com

Things To Do:
Jamie's Whaling Station
Toll free: 1-800-667-9913

Jane and Brent Cassie are a travel writer/photographer team. Follow their other adventures on their website - www.janecassie.com.