The West Coast of Vancouver Island is a region renowned for vast sand beaches, year-round world-class surfing, kayaking, hiking, sport fishing, and close-up wildlife watching. Its winter storm watching is also a huge attraction for visitors from around the world.
“On a bright June morning,” recounts author, Alison Gardner, “my husband, Peter, and I drove north out of Victoria along Vancouver Island’s east coast and turned west onto Hwy 4. We shared navigation over the island’s inland mountain ranges and around several picturesque lakes to emerge at the Pacific Ocean. It is a comfortable drive achieved in five hours on good quality but sometimes narrow winding roads.
“Our destination on this trip was the small commercial fishing and outdoor tourism town of Ucluelet (resident population 1,600), where we had a week of ocean and land adventures planned while staying in three self-catering lodgings. We selected these accommodations because their designs, personalities and locations are very different from one another. It is impossible not to be mindful that this is the end of the road, on the outer edge of Canada, quite literally. The next stop across the world’s largest ocean is Japan!”
Note about the main title above: the diverse colors and shapes embedded in the title are edited from photos taken of local sea creatures at Ucluelet’s new world-leading, catch-and-release aquarium.
Built around two impressive beach fronts, Wya Point Resort, www.wyapoint.com, consists of three visitor choices: these are serviced campsites, a collection of furnished yurts for a “glamping” experience, and on a separate beach entirely, the newest addition to the resort consisting of nine eco-friendly luxury lodges. They are built to the highest standards of sustainable construction in the world and reflect the First Nations (native) heritage and ownership of the land. Our stay was in a two-storey, one bedroom Eagle Lodge.
After checking in at the resort’s roadside Welcome Centre to get keys and directions, we turned off the highway onto a narrow winding road pressed in by acres of old growth spruce and cedar rainforest so dense as to block out the sky above. Emerging from the woods just short of the shore, we came upon a row of whimsically-designed wooden lodges overlooking the fine sand Ucluth Beach. Each lodge has a narrow pathway to the beach which is strewn with bark-stripped driftwood logs and protected from wind and strong waves by a handful of small islands.
Each of nine lodges overlooks the Ucluth beach. Peter Gardner
Perhaps the jewel of all the lodges, this one bedroom Thunderbird Lodge features an impressive spiral staircase up to a loft bedroom. Wya Point Resort
Savoring the perfect silence except for the sound of gentle waves and the occasonal call of seabirds and bald eagles, this property offers a deep appreciation of the wild west coast while sitting on Eagle Lodge’s spacious deck facing the beach or strolling the shore, beachcomber style! It puts life in perspective to learn that this property has been the traditional home to the Ucluelet First Nation indigenous people for over 7,000 years. We are on an ancient village site where its residents lived in communal long houses and from which they expertly fished the surrounding seas.
A sunset view from the deck of lodge #7. Peter Gardner
Today, descendents of these same people welcome guests to their land, proudly mindful of 21st century principles of sustainable design in all aspects of each lodge’s construction. Western red cedar post and beam timbers have been harvested from local traditional territory, with some timbers expertly carved and painted by local craftsmen.
Floors include radiant heating systems under the floor boards, a cozy blessing for those who choose to visit during the cooler winter season for a bit of the region’s famous storm watching. A modern kitchen, comfortably furnished living and dining areas, one or two bedrooms per lodge and a deck and barbeque facilities complete the satisfying package.
Whiskey Landing Lodge, couldn’t be more different from Wya Point Lodge. It is in the heart of this small town’s waterfront action, looking out on the bustling activity of the central government wharf where ferries, fishing boats, seaplanes and eco-adventure vessels come and go through the long, narrow harbor. Looking larger than it is, this tribute to local culture and the west coast’s native cedar wood and stone beauty offers 14 spacious studios, one or two bedroom suites, each self-contained with a modern kitchen.
Whiskey Landing Lodge overlooks Ucluelet’s colorful government dock and a picturesque harbor beyond. Peter Gardner
At street level, Whiskey Landing is home to fine shops including Cedar House Gallery, with its traditional and contemporary native art, jewelry, clothing and gifts. Across the street is the new Ucluelet Aquarium, a 100% catch and release aquarium that makes it unique in the world. Its wide array of colorful sea creatures and plants all come from local waters and are released back to their home territory yearly. A five-minute stroll uphill from the wharf reveals a satisfying array of local Ucluelet restaurants, ice cream shops and galleries.
Whiskey Landing Lodge bedroom and luxury bathroom. Alison Gardner
Now in its third year of operation, Whiskey Landing Lodge has an elevator which makes the accommodation accessible to all, and its spacious suites are each on one level. The staff is exceptional for its engagement with guests and its knowledge of the community.
The fascination of being situated on a working community’s waterfront comes with the caution that there is a fish cannery off to one side of the lodge which can result in early morning noise when it is seasonally operational and, you guessed it, it can generate some fishy smell during that time. Suites facing the front are absolutely the best with the bonus of a perfect view of the harbor, and those on the side facing the aquarium are equally satisfactory no matter what the season.
The Lodge décor offers creative boutique touches in each suite, such as a colorful fireplace. Alison Gardner
Unveiled in 2008, Black Rock Oceanfront Resort, www.blackrockresort.com, consists of an impressive granite and glass central hotel of self-catering apartments and a collection of townhouses spread throughout the large grounds of this property. Less than 10 minutes drive from Ucluelet center, it is the most like a traditional resort including a full-service restaurant and bar, and a first-class spa utilizing all the natural elements that make Canada’s west coast a healing place.
Its location is among its greatest assets occupying a piece of rough black rock coastline with plenty of Pacific Ocean action. The year-round spectacle of wind and waves makes it a popular choice for winter storm watching getaways.
The Resort faces the ocean’s full force of wind and waves. Black Rock Oceanfront Resort
Black Rock offers studios, one- and two-bedroom accommodations, with some units which can be arranged to open into each other to create even larger family spaces. The resort regularly garners awards and recognitions from many respected sources: for example, in 2015 a Certificate of Excellence and Reader’s Choice Award from TripAdvisor as #11 among Canada’s Best Resorts; in 2014 a Reader’s Choice award from Condé Nast Traveler as #11 for Best Resorts in Canada and appointment to Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List.
A Black Rock one bedroom suite offers a spacious living and dining area and a well-equipped kitchen. Peter Gardner
One of Ucluelet’s many jewels of nature is the Wild Pacific Trail, ranked as TripAdvisor’s #2 Outdoor Attraction in the entire province of British Columbia. It is only a five-minute walk from the resort, providing an inviting summer walking trail to keep fit in a most pleasant way, and in winter a front row seat to some of the area’s best storm watching.
Among our favorite walks from the resort is the Ancient Cedars Loop which is the newest addition to the Wild Pacific Trail. It showcases old-growth Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and giant red cedars … we’re talking up to 800 years old here!
A bedroom opens to a large deck with a white water view. Black Rock Oceanfront Resort
For most seniors, accommodations are not just a carelessly-chosen add-on, but a key element of a successful holiday. The self-catering travel trend is a popular concept with older travelers especially when it combines a certain amount of luxury, plenty of space, and front-line vacation excitement interfacing with raw nature. Now there’s a story to tell, something that senior travelers also like to take home from a satisfying short-term or extended-stay vacation!
Ucluelet (pronounced you-KLEW-let) is a local First Nations word meaning “safe harbor”. Storm watching season extends from November to March. Whale Watching season runs from March to May, as 20,000 gray whales migrate north from Baja, Mexico passing close to Vancouver Island’s western coastline while moving with their young to summer feeding grounds in Alaska. The annual Pacific Rim Whale Festival is in March.
Vancouver Island is the largest Pacific island east of New Zealand, and the 43rd largest island in the world. Nearly half its population of 760,000 lives around the southern island region, that is Greater Victoria.
Getting there: By car or bus, Ucluelet and the Pacific coast are about 1.5 hours on first-class paved road from the nearest city, Port Alberni. On this road expect lots of curves, elevation changes and spectacular mountain and lake scenery. There are scheduled flights to larger Island cities, and ferries from the British Columbia mainland and from Washington state in the U.S. that sail to Vancouver Island daily.
Alison Gardner is a travel journalist, magazine editor, guidebook author, and consultant. She specializes in researching alternative vacations throughout the world, suitable for people over 50 and for women travelers of all ages. She is also the publisher and editor of Travel with a Challenge Web magazine. Email:email@example.com.