Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Inspired by nature

Beautiful, diverse Vancouver Island will leave you wanting to stay longer

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UCLUELET, B.C. -- A wind-drive storm hamers the blue-green ocean to froth on black volcanic rock, providing a clear illustration of why the nearby path is the Wild Pacific Trail.

A walk along the trail offers an opportunity to see the power of the Pacific Ocean that can produce awe-inspiring waves or grind ships to bits on the sharp rocks. The big waves also provide Canada's best surfing at Long Beach between Ucluelet and Tofino.

But the power of the ocean that's best seen during a storm provides ample reason to get out your rain gear and head to the Wild Pacific Trail for storm watching or taking photos rather than hunkering down in your motel room when it rains. Unless, of course, you're staying somewhere, such as the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort in Ucluelet, that lets you see the shore without venturing outdoors.

"There's not another dining spot with this kind of view," Adele Larkin, Black Rock Oceanfront Resort general manager, said during breakfast in the resort's Fetch restaurant. "Both the lobby and the restaurant have unobstructed views of the stormy shore.

"The ocean view is one of the major attractions," Larkin said.

Vancouver Island offers far more than storm watching, from great beaches to museums to scuba diving to fine restaurants and spas. There's no shortage of activities for a wide range of ages and tastes.

The completed portions of the Wild Pacific Trail are close to the fishing and logging village of Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. While it's not a difficult trail, the hills and wooden steps leading up and down to stream crossings will give hikers a bit of a workout.

Storm watching is one attraction, but wildlife such as bald eagles soaring overhead is another. You can watch whales from shore or take one of the boats that get up close for a much better view of these huge mammals.

In addition to the three completed portions of the trail at Ucluelet, plans called for the trail to be extended north to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The completed sections range from one to three kilometres in length.

While the waves crashing on the shore show nature's power, an equally clear indication is the trees and bushes that have their shape twisted by the wind. Some are bent over, while others have few limbs on the windward side.

Most of the rooms at the Black Rock resort have a view of waves breaking over the volcanic rock at Big Beach in Ucluelet. Two of the best views are from the lobby or the wine cellar below the lobby. The wine cellar, which is proving popular for weddings, looks out into the surge channel coming in from the beach.

Plenty of rain -- 665 centimetres annually -- falls on the west coast of Vancouver Island, so rainy or stormy days aren't rare. In contrast, Victoria receives 64 centimetres of rain.

Larkin said the resort attracts international visitors, as well as Canadians from Alberta and Saskatchewan and a variety of locations in B.C.

"We try to bring to their attention that there's a plethora of things to do," said Larkin.

Whether you fly to Vancouver Island or take the ferry, there are always attractions close at hand. Ferries departing Vancouver transport passengers to terminals near Victoria and Nanaimo.

From Alberta, WestJet or Air Canada fly into Victoria, Nanaimo and Comox. WestJet's Edmonton to Comox flight takes about 80 minutes.

Arriving by either ferry or aircraft, visitors to Victoria have the option of stopping at attractions near the airport and ferry terminal such as Butchart Gardens, a number of wineries or varied activities at locations such as Brentwood Bay. Victoria has a wide range of attractions for a range of tastes, including the Royal British Columbia Museum.

Lodge features marina

Brentwood Bay Lodge, located near the dock for the ferry connecting the community to Mill Bay, offers a marina, kayak rentals, boat tours and scuba training. Many boaters leave their craft in the marina, then board the tour boat for a short ride to Butchart Gardens.

Marina manager Matt Smiley said the inlet -- a glacier-carved fjord about 230 metres deep at its deepest point -- is home to a variety of marine life, including eels, sponges and starfish.

The lodge is close to the shore, offering an unobstructed view of the bay from the restaurant and lounge.

Visitors planning a trip to the world-famous Butchart Gardens need to be sure they have sufficient time to see the facility. The admission price of $26 per adult convinced me and my wife to hold off until we had the time to make a visit worthwhile.

Although putting the words British Columbia and winery together usually brings visions of the Okanagan, there are dozens of wineries on Vancouver Island and other nearby islands.

Church and State Winery, on the road to Butchart Gardens, offers visitors wine-tasting and a large restaurant. The winery has produced a number of award-winning red and white wines.

Signs along island highways point the way to many more wineries.

There are a variety of other attractions for travellers making their way north from Victoria.

If you're not planning to drive, consider taking the Via Rail dayliner that operates between Victoria and Courtenay. The train makes several stops during the 4 1/2-hour trip.

The BC Forest Discovery Centre at Duncan provides visitors with a glimpse of the early days of logging on the island, when lumber companies built their own railways to bring logs out of the bush. Artifacts on display include steam-powered locomotives used on logging railways.

Further north, the community of Chemainus provides an illustration of what communities can do when they leave a resource-based economy behind. Faced with the closure of the local mill in the early 1980s, the community set to work, beautifying the downtown core and starting the process of painting murals that has made the town world famous.

However, what was once a fresh, new idea has been copied by dozens of other communities that now have their own murals. Chemainus has a variety of bed and breakfast accommodation and boutiques offering a wide range of goods.

East-shore highlights

The east shore of Vancouver Island contains a number of communities with interesting attractions and, often, great beaches.

The Hudson's Bay Company bastion, built in 1853 to protect the Nanaimo harbour, is one of the historic and arts sites this city has to offer. Not far from the eight-sided bastion are the Nanaimo Museum and the Port Theatre.

Parksville and Qualicum Beach are popular summer vacation spots with lovely beaches to attract visitors young and old. Parksville recently completed a boardwalk to add to the allure of its beach.

These two communities are the key components of Vancouver Island's Oceanside Region, an area that offers a variety of attractions to pull visitors back year after year. The area is home to a number of great resorts, which include fine restaurants and spas.

For example, Pacific Shores in Nanoose Bay has a restaurant that features locally grown food and has a lengthy wine list to meet any taste.

Pacific Shores, Black Rock Resort, Brentwood Bay Lodge and a variety of other resorts on the island offer a range of spa treatments.

Among Oceanside tours and attractions is snorkelling in luminescence -- underwater fireworks created as zooplankton respond to agitation of the water. Oceanside Tourism says, "You will feel like you're travelling at the speed of light through the stars."

Further north -- you'll pass this museum near the Comox airport -- is the Comox Air Force Museum, which features displays of uniforms, photos, medals and aircraft engines, ejection seats and other parts. The nearby Heritage Airpark displays a variety of aircraft, including fighter jets and multi-engine planes such as the Douglas DC-3 and the Argus submarine hunter.

From the Oceanside area, travellers can take Highway 4 to Port Alberni and then on to the west coast of the island. The Alberni Pacific Railway takes visitors on a steam train ride to the McLean Mill National Historic Site for sawmill demonstrations.

From Port Alberni, the winding Highway 4 travels on to Ucluelet and Tofino, its twists and turns offering some spectacular views of the Kennedy River.

Vancouver Island leaves you yearning for more time to enjoy its many experiences and attractions.

-- Canwest News Service


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 19, 2010 E1

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