Whale Watching & Nature Tours
Legions of whales have been calling feeding grounds in Barkley Sound and Clayoquot Sound home for thousands of years. Many of these whales are known as ‘residents’, some returning annually and staying for weeks or even months at a time. Not unlike many of us, most of the gray and humpback whales who forage here make their way to warmer waters off of Mexico or Hawaii throughout winter months, but these species, as well as killer whales (orcas) and other marine mammals, are cruising west coast Vancouver Island waters 365 days a year.
Keen eyes may be lucky to spot a spout from the shore, but the chance to get up close and personal with whales in their natural habitat—under respectful distance guidelines adhered to by the operators—is a delightful reality. Many longstanding local companies such as Jamie’s Whaling Station & Adventure Centres offer professionally guided boat tours (some year-round) for all ages departing from Ucluelet or Tofino. “Whale watching” trips, averaging three hours in length and often guaranteeing whale sightings, are more like wildlife seafaris; the awe-inspiring coastal landscapes and salty air are bonus to the whales, seals, sea lions, sea otters, sea birds and educational experience that can all be part of the fun.
Whale watching is such a celebrated part of the local culture that an annual event, the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, is hosted by Ucluelet, Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (PRNPR), highlighting coastal traditions, marine environments and the returning gray whales. During the festival (mid to late-March) guided adventure tours focus on sighting migrating whales, sea birds and other marine life by boat or seaplane.
On Vancouver Island, adventures on land are just as exciting as on the water, and include hiking, nature tours, biking, rock climbing and caving. For example, one of the Oceanside region’s most celebrated outdoor adventures is spelunking at Horne Lake Caves. Visitors can explore two of the caves by themselves and tours are available to the more spectacular, deeper caves rated as among North America’s best.
Big Qualicum River Fish Hatchery, just north of Qualicum Beach, offers a fascinating interpretive centre and self-guided walking tours. Close to Parksville in Errington, North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre & Nature Museum showcase the non-profit organization’s amazing wildlife rescue and rehabilitation work.