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Sunshine Coast Victoria

28th May 2010

Bald Eagles, Orca Whales and Schooner Cove

Panoramic View of Schooner Cove      (please use scroll bar)

    The sleeping arrangement had proved fine, but I reckoned I needed a decent pillow. The removable curtain affair had worked a treat, though a bit of fine tuning was required on the bowlines that I used to hang the poles on to hooks on the van's interior sides.
    Sad to say I had detected rain on the van at 4am. I was almost awake by 6am, so I roused myself, got dressed, and decided there was no way I was going to make porridge in the rain. The Canadian mainland was shrouded in mist and rain as I munched on a banana and a bunch of grapes.
    After a brief study of the maps, I headed off across the island to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The route, which took me almost three hours, took me over a high range of mountains, along roads lined with gigantic trees. It almost felt as though I was driving through a canyon. Half way up the climb, I passed a cyclist with an alarmingly large load on the back of his machine, pushing it up the punishing slope. A short distance past him was his mate who had stopped to secure the plastic sheeting around his heavy load. Poor lads, I thought, as if the climb wasn't bad enough, they had the rain to contend with. My heart went out to them. Up and up I climbed, into the cloud base. Once the summit had been reached, it was a thrilling drop down to the Alberni Valley, where amazingly it wasn't raining. The road snaked around Sproat Lake, where I stopped to stretch my legs. What a serene lake that was, so peaceful, just the occasional bird song, and the constant and distant sound of waterfalls cascading down the opposite hills. Mists hung about the upper slopes as if they were trying to hide this secret gem. A five mile stretch of road based on an up/down, left/right stomach wrenching rollercoaster ride, followed by another mountain range brought me down to Kennedy Lake, and finally on to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve visitor centre.
    The chap in charge was a Scottish lad, and extremely helpful. He pointed out the walks to me, those not to be avoided, the campsites plus whale/bear watching opportunities at Tofino to the north and Ucluelet to the south. The reserve had some back bears present. I discussed with him what I should do if I came across a black bear on one of the walks. He advised me to make as much noise as possible before hand to give the bear a chance to avoid you and let them know you are human. Once they know you are human they would normally not bother you. However, if they become persistent, hit it with a stone or stick. If all else fails, roll up in a ball and play dead. The bear might whack you, cracking a bone or two in the process, but he will soon grow bored and leave you.
Bald Eagle Pair
    I decided to head to the far north first and check out whale watching trips from Tofino. I could then plan the rest of the day around that. I arrived at Tofino, a small unassuming place with a seemingly decent number of native Indian folk in residence here. The story of the original population is as follows. The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is in the traditional territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth people, who have lived here for countless generations. Nuu-chah-nulth territory stretches approximately 300km along Vancouver Island's west coast, from the Brooks Peninsula in the north to Point-no-point in the south and east to the Vancouver Island Range. I quickly found a whale-watching outfit, but an aborted attempt with them forced me to rapidly drive over to an alternative centre. They thankfully held on till I arrived. We were soon speeding along in a Zodiac semi-rigid inflatable in waters by the Clayoquot Sound. The pilot adjusted his speed so that we could circle some sea-kayaks whose occupants were observing a couple of bald eagles perched high up in the tree tops of one of the many rocky islands. The two had apparently mated here for the last 20 years.
    Since winds and rough water were imminent, the pilot stepped on the gas in order to get to an area where a pod of Orca whales had recently been spotted. I asked him later how quickly we had been slicing through the water. "Oh, about 30 knots", he replied. It certainly felt like 30 knots. I was sat at the front, where the full force of the bouncing could be felt.
    I got chatting to the guy next to me, a fellow Englishman, who had his family with him. He asked what more was I planning for the area, and we moved on to my itinerary. He had just covered it all, apart from the dip into Mexico. He had taken a year out from work, taken a VW campervan, and travelled all around Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, U.S.A. and now Canada. The time was soon approaching when he would be taking his van to Vancouver to get it shipped back to the U.K. whilst he nips over to Hawaii. What a marvellous trip I thought, puts mine to shame.
Orca Whale
Orca Whales
    After about 50 mins. of skimming across the waves, the pilot slowed the boat down, and on cue, in the distance a pod of Orcas appeared; three adults and one calf. They were leisurely surfacing with a blow out, and then gracefully slipping below the surface to the depths below. After a minute or so they would reappear up to 100m away. We trailed them for a while, keeping a respectable 50m plus away from them. They headed towards the shore, and once near the shore they began diving and surfacing more frequently, hardly deviating from the same locality. The pilot reckoned they had located and trapped one of their prey, a harbour seal. Often adults would isolate a harbour seal and train the calf how to kill the creature. From the surface it didn't appear to be a frenzied activity, though God knows what was happening beneath the waters. This particular breed of Orcas is known as the transient Orca. The diet of these transient whales consists almost exclusively of marine mammals; they do not eat fish. Transients generally travel in small groups, usually of two to six animals, and have less persistent family bonds than residents. Transients vocalize in less variable and less complex dialects. Female transients are characterized by more triangular and pointed dorsal fins than those of residents. The gray or white area around the dorsal fin, known as the "saddle patch," often contains some black colouring in residents. However, the saddle patches of transients are solid and uniformly gray, and they feed mainly on seals as they pass through the area. Resident Orcas are the most commonly sighted of the Orcas in the coastal waters of the northeast Pacific. Residents' diet consists primarily of fish and sometimes squid, and they live in complex and cohesive family groups. Female residents characteristically have a rounded dorsal fin tip that terminates in a sharp corner. We stayed with them for almost an hour before it was time to head back to port. It was quite a moving experience seeing these graceful creatures in the wild. We all agreed it had been an enthralling experience.
Bald Eagle
    On the way back the pilot slowed down so that we could glimpse at some harbour seals basking on a small rocky islet, and also spot another pair of bald eagles. Another exhilarating spurt with the boat brought us back to terra firma.
    I headed back down south along the Reserve, calling in on Radar Hill, where a cold-war radar station had been housed. This afforded a marvellous view north towards Tofino and the surrounding coastline.
Schooner Cove Forest
    A short distance further brought me to Schooner Cove. Here, a 1km trail meandered through totally unspoilt natural forest full of cedar, hemlock and Sitka spruce, not that I am an expert on trees. It was an enchanting walk along duckboards and wooden stairways, up hill and down dale. The haunting, densely wooded surroundings dripping with Spanish Moss bore down on the wooden path. It was truly awe-inspiring, enough to make one feel insignificant. Occasionally the path would cross over small streams which were used as spawning grounds for trout and salmon.
    As I trekked down this trail towards the sea, I came across a couple with their dogs. A swift "Hello" to them revealed that they were from that side of the Atlantic, so I asked the chap how do I recognise a hemlock. He gave me a look as though to say "Why are you asking me that?", but in a polite way, then thought better of it and replied, "Hey, I don't know. They are all just big trees to me". His other half shouted "Avatar". I gave her a bemused look. She enhanced her sentence to , "Doesn't it remind you of Avatar". I replied in the affirmative, but it reminded me more of the images conjured up in my mind when I first read Lord of the Rings. She smiled and daintily stepped past me trailing her poodle and clutching the hand full of shells she had collected.
    When I reached the cove, wow, I was bowled over. To the left of me a long stretch of light sand curved around for miles along the Reserve. Immediately in front of me and to the right were two small tree clad islands. The sea was breaking on rocks in front of the island in front of me. I circled this island over the barnacle encrusted rocks and found a place to sit and soak up the atmosphere and watch the waves disperse their energy on the rocks below me. This was a wonderful location. I just sat and stared , at peace with the world, as did others scattered amongst the rocks. Time had ceased at this place. I was wrapped up in my thoughts. There were times in the cities, when despite all the people, I felt terribly alone. Here, I felt ever so close. I shan't even attempt to explain that.
    The sun was getting low and it was time to find a place to camp up for the night. I called in at one of the campsites in the Reserve, but it was completely full; apparently I should have booked months ago. I knew before I crossed the Atlantic that this was going to become more problematic as the high season approached. However I wanted the freedom and not shoehorn myself into a rigid timeframe, so I had decided to take the hit on this. I found a site down at Ucluelet.
    It had been a long day and lack of sleep was catching up with me; not late nights but early mornings. I cheated and ate in the local seafood restaurant. A brief chat with the waitress revealed she had lived here for a few months, but she had never visited the Reserve. I encouraged her to do so.
    All in all, an action packed day, the whales' experience will be engraved on my mind for a long time to come. And the wee van did me proud over the mountain ranges.
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Sunshine Coast Victoria

Uploaded from Traveller's Inn - City Centre, 1961 Douglas Street, Victoria, BC V8T 4KT on 30/05/10 at 01:30

Last updated 16.4.2012