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Back on Dry Land

Back on dry land, I followed the flow of the rivers to the coast and headed to Vancouver by car along the Sea-to-Sky Highway. From Vancouver I took one of the regular light aircraft flights to the far side of Vancouver Island.

Flying over Vancouver Island is a revelation. All I had seen in the Wells Gray Park suggested that there could be no end to the trees of British Columbia, but here bald hillsides bear witness to the brutal efficiencies of modern logging practices which have devastated the interior of the island.

My destination however, was in one of the areas saved from the ravages of the chainsaw - the Wickaninnish Inn sits on the border of the Pacific Rim National Park, near the mouth of Clayoquot Sound. It is set among an old growth forest of western red cedar, massive sitka spruce and hemlock trees.

The front door is carved from cedar by a local artist, and beyond it there is a luxurious hotel, ideally situated on a small peninsula. From the lobby is a view of the Pacific Ocean, and at night you are lulled by the sound of the sea as it enters the surge pools, only a few feet from the veranda doors. Alternatively, from the comfort of the bar, you can witness the Pacific storms unleashing their fury.

The west coast of Vancouver Island is a very wet place, with an average annual rainfall that is sometimes more than nine feet. The forest which cloaks the hills and tumbles down to the surging ocean is technically temperate rainforest - and it contains all the grandeur and diversity of its tropical cousin. Walking on one of the many trails that are easily accessible from the hotel, you find yourself in a humid world of great ferns, mosses and lichens cling to the trunks of giant trees.

It was here that I experienced the highlight of my visit - whale watching from the village of Tofino with Jamie's Whaling Station, which has been taking tours out around the islands that litter the mouth of Clayoquot Sound since 1982. There is little I love more that being on the sea, but my physiology only allows me 25 minutes, after which there is little I hate more that being on the sea. Patrick Koreski, captain of the Lady Selkirk, provided me with acupressure wrist bands, and instructions to keep looking at the horizon.

Staring out to sea, I caught sight of a shadow on the water and shouted "whale", whereupon all 30 pairs of eyes on the boat strained ... It was a very deceptive piece of wood. This, plus the rising nausea, dampened my excitement. Even the raucous honkings of the colony of stellar sea lions failed to raise my spirits (or lower my breakfast). And then came the words that strike terror into feeble-stomached individuals: "Let's just wait here for a while."

The Lady Selkirk proceeded to wallow. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw an unexplained puff of steam. All sense of impending sickness vanished as I watched the majestic tail of a gray whale lift itself in a languid wave, before following the invisible mammoth down into the abyss. It was humbling to realise that these 45ft beasts were just stopping off midway through their 5,000-mile annual migration, from the waters off Siberia, down to the tropics and Mexico. For the next half-hour they treated us to a simple display of whale life.

Federal regulations protect them by prohibiting boats from approaching within 150feet, but they clearly had not read the regulations and came closer to get a good look at us, the enraptured humans.

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