Outdoors

Life on the Edge

A visit to Ucluelet

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The west coast of Vancouver Island is paradise.

Pacific Rim National Park, which includes the almost-mythic stretch of pristine sand known fittingly as Long Beach, is a recreationalist’s Valhalla.

The ocean on this far edge of Canada is undeniably extreme, with towering waves that draw hardcore surfers and storm-watchers from hither and yon.

When the sea is rambunctious (trust me, not uncommon) the rocky headlands and surge channels emit thunder. When the ocean draws back, the tide pools gleam like Las Vegas—a thousand multi-colored sea creatures glittering in the sun like showgirls.

The delightful road across Vancouver Island winds through the mountains and glides beside the blue waters of Kennedy Lake, eventually reaching a “T” intersection that marks the western terminus. A right turn here takes you to Pacific Rim and the town of Tofino, an established tourist destination, loaded with trendy—and wonderful—eateries, lodges and shops full of left coast tchotchkes. On the west coast, Tofino has been the place to go for decades.

Left takes you to Ucluelet. Most people turn right.

On a recent weekend sojourn, I decided to turn left.

I didn’t know much about the village of Ucluelet, other than that it was a historical fishing village situated on the Ucluelet Peninsula. Ocean to the west, Ucluelet Harbor to the east. But the opening of a new trail, the Wild Pacific Trail just outside of town, had piqued my curiosity.

What I found surprised me.

While Tofino has by and large reshaped itself to be a “destination,” Ucluelet—called “Ukee” by the locals—has kept its seafaring bones. In a word, it’s authentic. There’s an old-school West Coast rough-and-tumble ambiance to the place that is as fresh as the wind that blows unencumbered across the wild Pacific. Down at the harbor, sea lions sing old Tom Waits tunes and eagles perch on the tops of buildings (we counted an even dozen visible from the window of our hotel).

And yes, the Wild Pacific Trail is simply amazing. One of the planet’s premier coastal walks, it ingenuously snakes along the wave-hammered headlands, drawing pilgrims from around the world. In winter, the storm-watching is epic.

There’s also the new catch-and-release Ucluelet Aquarium, an aquarium on a small scale, an opportunity (especially for kids) to get up close and personal with sea critters.

We also found a growing number of inviting restaurants serving up seafood from the docks, fare so fresh one can safely presume it was swimming earlier in the day. And Ucluelet now boasts a variety of overnight accommodations that deliver casual elegance and comfort. Authentic and civilized.

We ensconced ourselves at the Whisky Landing Lodge on the waterfront right in the heart of Ucluelet. Artfully constructed of native rock, cedar and glass, it was one of the best places I’ve ever stayed—a winning combination of luxury and comfort, with killer views and a staff so friendly it felt like we were visiting old friends.

The whole Ucluelet vibe is that of an undiscovered destination-to-be, a rarity in this overhyped age. But considering that the Wild Pacific Trail is now the number two outdoor attraction in British Columbia on the popular Trip Advisor website, I recommend heading there at once.

For more information about Ucluelet, go to http://www.ucluelet.csa

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