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#GetOutside: Pacific Rim National Park, Vancouver Island


I'm intending for #GetOutside to be a recurring series of posts about my ventures into the wilderness. This week's instalment takes us to the edge of the world, Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island's remote west coast.

The west coast of Vancouver Island has always called to me in a way that no other part of the world ever has. It's a frontier so separate from the island's civilized southeastern side, where most of the population lives.

The west coast is wild, rugged, and by and large untamed. I fell in love as a teenager, fishing with my uncle in Barkley Sound, near Ucluelet, and the love affair only grew when I joined him again in my twenties to fish for prawns in the isolated fjords of Kyuquot Sound, on the high northwestern end of the island.

Today's #GetOutside post is about one of the only parts of the west coast accessible by paved road, and certainly the most known: the stretch of coast between Ucluelet and Tofino encompassed by Pacific Rim National Park, and in particular, by Long Beach.

The village of Tofino is about a 3.5 hour drive across the central spine of Vancouver Island from Nanaimo, mostly on winding, precarious, incredibly scenic two-lane highway. Nanaimo is an enjoyable and fairly pricey 90 minute ferry ride from Vancouver. Long Beach spreads out beside the highway about twenty minutes before you reach Tofino proper.

As the name implies, Long Beach is a long beach. Very long, very flat, very windswept. And it's a surfer's paradise, with big breaking rollers scudding in unmolested from Japan, seven thousand kilometres away.

I'm terrible at surfing, but I'm lucky enough to know a patient Hawaiian. But even if I didn't, surfing is one of those activities that is super fun even if you totally suck at it. One of my favourite Long Beach memories came on a super rainy, super stormy weekend in late August, when my partner and I shared a surfboard between the two of us and splashed about in the waves for hours.

We were going to get wet in the rain anyway, was our thinking. Why not go play in the ocean?

If you can get a spot, the National Park campground at Green Point is definitely the place to stay. The rates are reasonable and it's located just up a short trail from the beach itself, meaning you can walk your surfboards down whenever you feel like it, and walk them back up at the end of the day for a campfire and 'smores. I always sleep so well after surfing all day!

I've also stayed at private campgrounds closer to Tofino, but they're generally more crowded and aren't located right at the national park, so you have to drive to get to a surf spot. Not a huge problem, but it kind of takes away from the romance of camping and surfing in a vast empty space that may as well be an island on the other side of the world.

In the winter storm season, when surfing and camping aren't as appealing as just cuddling up in front of a picture window and watching the waves roll in, try the Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet, and ask for "The Nest" if you possibly can.

It's a luxury cabin nestled high in the trees with a stunning view out over a private little bay, and it's located right next to a lovely hike out to the lighthouse at Amphitrite Point. The cabin has a fireplace, and it's dog friendly!

We went out in January and had the resort mostly to ourselves, and the rates were affordable besides.

Both Ucluelet and Tofino have full services, surfboard/wetsuit rentals and some pretty good restaurants. Ukie is a working fishing town while Tofino caters more to the surfers, but they're both worth a visit.

The west coast of the island isn't easy to get to, and it can be a bit pricey in the peak season, but year-round, it's a wonderful, wild, primeval place on the margin between sand and sea. I never leave without glancing back wistfully into the rearview, hoping I'll return again soon.

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