Tofino – Beaches, Big Trees and Bears

After leaving Cathedral Grove, we made for Tofino out on the western coast in the Pacific Rim National Park. The town is situated at the tip of a peninsula amongst a cluster of islands and inlets.

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Rather than three trees – this photograph is actually taken in the space between three leaders which arise from a single bole.

The temperate rainforests along this stretch of the coast are stunning – we walked the steps and boardwalks through the luscious greenery admiring the towering trees above and their tiny delicate lichen analogues below. The parallels with the temperate rainforests in the UK – such as those found in Wales – are apparent through their determination to green every available space – as you can see in the image of the wooden boardwalk below!

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Boardwalk covered with mosses and ferns

One day we walked through the forest to reach Schooner Cove – one of the stretches of pristine sandy beaches which line the Pacific – and another, we walked the length of MacKenzie Beach watching surfers learning the waves whilst sandpipers foraged along the shoreline.

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Sandpipers and sanderlings feeding along the shoreline in MacKenzie Beach

The beaches around Vancouver Island were almost all headed up with bleached-white driftwood – presumably pulled clear to lie well above the strandline. These are no mere branches – the timber at the top is often entire trees. Where these piles were well established, they provided nice little ecological niches, with plants establishing within the hollows and small birds foraging in amongst the cavities their huge trunks crated.

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Driftwood piled artistically with a crow sat at the apex – corvids were frequently to be seen foraging for morsels along the shore

Whilst we saw plenty of the grey squirrels, sadly all to familiar in the UK now, we also saw some much smaller species too, such as this one which popped up to see us at Long Beach. There are two similar species – Douglas and American Red squirrels – which are tricky to tell apart to the unfamiliar eye. Fortunately their distributions are rather different – Douglas squirrel is not found on Vancouver Island.

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American Red squirrel along Long Beach, Tofino

In the late summer/early autumn, the black bears frequently spend time along the shore, foraging under rocks and boulders for crabs and other rockpool treats. We had hoped to join a kayaking trip out to see the bears, but the organisers said it was too late as the bears were heading back inland to follow the salmon runs. However another outfit just around the corner was still running trips – sadly not by kayak – so we hopped on and went out to watch them! The tour leader was very experienced and spotted the ‘right kind’ of black blob at a great distance when it was merely a spec on the shoreline. On closer approach, he cut the engine and idled slowly and silently close enough for us to watch the bears without disturbing them.

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Black bear foraging along the shoreline in Tofino

Watching the bears overturn the boulders as though they were simply pebbles to be pushed out of their way allows you to appreciate quite how powerful these creatures really are. Whilst we never saw another wild bear on our travels, it was great to be able to observe this natural behaviour without needing to worry too much about our exit strategy!

​On our last day, we took a kayaking trip out around Clayoquot Sound, including a walk around the Big Tree Trail on Meares Island. The staggering trees include cedars which are between 1,000 and 1,500 years old. These spectacular beings came scarily close to destruction in 1984 when MacMillan Bloedel prepared to log the island. The Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Council declared the entire Island a Tribal Park and successfully gained an injunction against the company which has allowed these treasures to be preserved to this day. The arrogance of the proposal to log the island hit me quite strongly – after standing for 1,000 years or more, why should this generation and this company decide that these ancient trees were theirs to take? Much more chilling is to think of the vast expanses of forest which didn’t escape this fate.

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The cloud hanging over the wooded islands around Clayoquot Sound, Tofino
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The view from the kayak on a beautiful Sunday morning.

Next stop – Victoria out on the eastern tip of Vancouver Island!

 

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