Island Hopping Part 1: The Pacific Rim

This post will likely be of little interest to anyone other than us, since it’s strictly to document part one of our week-long vacation up Vancouver Island to the Pacific Rim. Mind you, there are a couple decent pics, so if you’ll be hitting Ucluelet-Tofino you may want to have a peek.

Of note, we have an older dog with a bit of a bum shoulder so the whale watching, surfing or eco-trips so plentiful in the area weren’t part of this trip. Rather, this features lots of big beaches and rugged coastline.

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is on the west coast of Vancouver Island, between Tofino and Ucluelet, running from the start of Florencia Bay at the south end to the start of Cox Bay at the north end, and is probably 25 kilometres or so in length. You can see from the map below what would end up being our Beach Day itinerary, beginning with Florencia Bay. The only exception would be Schooner Cove, which is currently closed.

I began by writing this in chronological order, but we jumped back and forth between Ucluelet and Tofino so many times over 2.5 days, that I ended up organizing things strictly by location.

Pacific Rim map, downloaded from Parks Canada.

Getting There

While we would have preferred to stay in Tofino, we could only get a place in Ucluelet (or “Ukee” as it is known), so we ended up doing a fair bit of driving north-south on the Highway between the two. Heading out from Victoria, the only way to get to the area is north past Nanaimo, then west on the #4 highway from Qualicum through Port Alberni. When factoring in a quick food stop, we were on the road for about seven hours, five-and-a-half of which were driving. It’s pretty smooth sailing until you get onto the #4. Slow at the best of times with a single lane each way, the highway improvements at Kennedy Lake slowed things down even more than usual.

The only substantial stop we made was for a stroll around Chemainus, about an hour north of Victoria, a little way past the Malahat Highway. If you haven’t been, it’s a quaint seaside village with a pretty rich logging and rail history. Now, however, the town is most notable for the variety of murals that adorn many of the buildings downtown. I hadn’t been in years, since I used to visit my parents regularly in Qualicum Beach.

the view from the Malahat
Looking east from the Malahat lookout.

A little flavour of downtown Chemainus.

Since so much of our first day was taken up by driving, after we checked in to our Airbnb a little after 4pm, we decided to do a little exploring around Ukee and drive up the highway mostly to scope out the things we wanted to do during our stay.

Ucluelet

Our first accommodation was really nothing special. It was small and clean and theoretically would have been sufficient for sleeping. However, it was a very old house with the owners upstairs and the basement subdivided into two Airbnb units. There was absolutely no soundproofing anywhere. Whether someone was walking or just watching TV upstairs, you could hear it. If renters in the next unit walked, talked, showered or even blow-dried their hair, you could hear it. Sadly, they did all of this and moved furniture around close to midnight our first night.

After that settled down, a cat yowled just outside of our bedroom the rest of the night with only a few 20 minute breaks. The noise did improve substantially the second and third night, but at $240 per plus taxes and fees, let’s just say there are better ways to spend nearly $1000. I’m only linking to their listing so that, should you be planning a trip and want a quiet stay, you don’t make the same mistake we did.

ucluelet dock near our Airbnb
After walking down a steep set of stairs, we had a nice view close to our place.
mount ozzard
Mount Ozzard from our Airbnb, with radar station in light clouds.

We were close to the town centre and water, however, and there was a nice little dock close by (above). Directly in front of our place was, apparently, Mount Ozzard and its visible golf ball at the summit (left). We likely couldn’t have done this hike with our ageing pooch, but the views from the top make it worthy of consideration for our next trip. Oh, and the golf ball is actually a radar station.

map of southern Ucluelet
The Amphitrite Lighthouse loop is dotted green

After a little online research we planned to do some of the Wild Pacific Trail, highlighting some of the area’s best scenery. When we hit Amphitrite Lighthouse at the southern-most tip of the town (map, right) we only walked a little bit of the loop to get a glimpse of the area. We weren’t disappointed. The lighthouse itself is small and was blocked off when we came, but we took the obligatory arrival selfie and a couple other pics in the area (below).

A few pics near Amphitrite Point Lighthouse.

There isn’t much to photograph in town, as the town centre is very small with a few shops and eating spots lining a main drag, Peninsula Road. The waterfront dock is cute, sitting just below the coffee houses we found, Zoe’s and The Foggy Bean (below), about three blocks from where we stayed. Of note, the only vegan place in town, Yayu, had decent food, but served very small portions and was very expensive. We had to eat again after having breakfast there.

A few pics around Ucluelet’s dock.

I’m glad we decided to drive to Tofino on our first day to plan our remaining two full days in the area. We were able to scope out the things to see in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. You can’t miss the signs, but just note you’ll need to pay for a pass to use any of the park’s beaches or parking lots. It’s pretty cheap, with a day pass that lasts most of two days for well under $10 for one person or $15 for a group of up to seven. We decided our first full day would be a tour of the beaches in the park reserve, ending in Tofino, and our second day would be one of the longer stretches of the Wild Pacific Trail, remaining in Ucluelet.

connie at tofino brewing
Tofino Brewing deliciousness.

After our inventory, unsurprisingly (if you know us) we ended up at Tofino Brewing. Delicious beer in a very cool tasting room on Industrial Avenue. The Kelp Stout is pretty much to die for, the Spruce Tree Ale actually tastes a bit like a spruce tree (a good thing) and their Beergarita is a stupidly tasty blend of lager, tequila and lime juice. I think they have seven rotating taps and some other concoctions. We actually ended up at Tofino Brewing two days in a row, and there are a couple more pics in the Tofino section later.

Most of the pics above were from the day we arrived, prior to driving up the highway to Tofino. On the evening of the second day (actually Beach Day, further down) I went for a little run around some of Ucluelet, close to our Airbnb. I had planned to run at least once in each area, but between a misbehaving foot and wanting to be kind of lazy and hang with Connie, I only ended up running once the whole week away. As with every place on this trip, I got a couple nice pics.

A Little Jog

The run took me near the aforementioned lighthouse loop, past Terrace and Little Beaches, and around a pretty nice loop of high end homes and spectacular views. I guess Vancouver isn’t the only place with a swanky Marine Drive.

Around our Ukee ‘hood.

And, on our last full day in the area, we visited Big Beach and a larger piece of the Wild Pacific Trail, an area called Artist’s Loops.

Big Beach

The whole area up and down the coast along the Pacific Rim is known as the graveyard of the pacific and it’s not hard to see why. The rocks and weather in this area could easily tear a wooden boat a new one. Apparently it did years ago, right on this beach, though no one knows much about the remnants of the mystery wreck beached here.

Big Beach with a mystery shipwreck.

Wild Pacific Trail Artist’s Loops

This was probably the highlight of the whole week for us. The entire Wild Pacific Trail in this area includes another couple kilometre extension we didn’t take the dog on. However, this hike was about 3.1km of reasonably mild terrain, with absolutely spectacular views and viewing platforms. We took it at old pooch pace and thoroughly enjoyed it. Pretty sure a painting or two has been inspired from the rocky and rugged shoreline, but you can judge for yourself. Apologies for so many pics below, but that’s just a fraction of what I took.

wild pacific trail artist's loops map
Map of our Artist’s Loops hike.

Wild Pacific Trail Artist’s Loops.

Beach Day

Our first full day would see us hit the sights up the Pacific Rim highway, between Ucluelet and Tofino and end up at Tofino Brewing again, followed by Tacofino Tofino, the original location.

Florencia Bay

Another shipwreck. Until 1930, Florencia Bay was known as Wreck Bay, then renamed for the Florencia, a Peruvian Brygantine. In 1861, while carrying lumber back home from Victoria, the Florencia ended up adrift, picked up by HMS Forward, then set adrift again when the latter developed engine trouble. This second period adrift wouldn’t end well, with the Florencia shattering on the islet in the bay.

Wickaninnish Beach

Not to be confused with the famous Inn of the same name (though basically neighbours in the park), Wickaninnish Beach is probably 2-3km past Florencia. The beach is essentially at the south end of Long Beach and includes the Kwisitis Visitor Centre. In fact Kwisitis, means literally the “other end of the beach” in the Nuu-chah-nulth language. There’s a pretty cool interpretive centre inside, but we didn’t spend our time there.

Comber’s Beach

Comber’s Beach was pretty nondescript as these beaches go, but was more secluded and almost deserted when we were there. It’s not far by any means, but from the parking lot it’s roughly a 1.5km roundtrip hike, including some boardwalk, to see it. This hardly bothered me, as the quietest beaches are the best. Like all the other Pacific Rim beaches, the sand and space were spectacular. Comber’s also had a fair bit more driftwood near the treeline, which I suppose makes sense, given the name.

Long Beach

To some degree, Long Beach begins at Wickaninnish Beach and includes Comber’s Beach, but most often they are thought of separately and there was certainly a little driving between them during our beach day, so I’ll just keep them separate too. Though, if you were so inclined you could probably walk or beach run for kilometres continuously through all of them at low tide.

Long Beach is the most popular surfing destination and the longest stretch of uninterrupted sand (with the most parking). Since there’s already so much similar beach stuff here, I’ll just include a 15 second video of Long Beach surf.

Radar Hill & Kap’yong Memorial

The last beach day stop before Tofino was a little different, and not a beach at all. A tiny climb up Radar Hill provided some nice panoramas (though not as nice as those encountered on Saltspring). A radar station, with little remaining, was located here during the cold war, while Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry has been commemorated with a Memorial we actually couldn’t find.

With regard to the pics below, I had to walk to a rather precipitous drop-off that seemed to include remnants of said radar station to get the last panorama pic, and gave my shin a good gash in the process.

Oh, and apparently there’s a WWII plane crash site just a small trail hike from Radar Hill. Until I was poking around online after we left the area, I had no idea and wished we’d seen something there to give us a clue.

Tofino

Much like Ucluelet, the actual village of Tofino isn’t all that photo-worthy to me. Don’t get me wrong, they’re both nice little towns in their own ways, just that they’re like many seaside places in BC. However, in no particular order, between the two days, a little flavour of the place, with beer, tacos and burritos thrown in for good measure.

At the tail end of our beach day we ended up at Tofino Brewing again, followed by TacoFino (much better than the Vancouver or Victoria locations). The pics below were taken on our two visits to the town of Tofino.

Our three nights in Ucluelet were really great. While the accommodation could have been better, it taught us to not throw our trips together so last-minute, so we’d have a bit better choice when booking. Ultimately, though, staying in Ukee instead of Tofino did let us spend more time there, and it clearly has the more rugged and breathtaking scenery.

Feel free to continue on to part 2 of our trip, Saltspring and Galiano Islands.

Top