When fishing was the premier industry on the coast, a constant flow of ships frequented Ucluelet's processing and packing plants. With the boom in eco-tourism, however, the town is scrambling to reinvent itself. It now offers a few fine B&Bs and cabin resorts but has yet to catch up to Tofino. Ucluelet is cheaper though, just as close to Long Beach, and more likely to have vacancies in the high season.
Fishing, kayaking, and whale-watching are the main attractions. For custom fishing charters, contact Roanne Sea Adventures, in the boat basin (tel. 250/726-4494; www.roanne.ca). To combine lodging with your fishing expedition, check out Island West Resort, 1990 Bay St. (tel. 250/726-7515; www.islandwestresort.com), or, for more luxury, Oak Bay Marine Group's Canadian Princess Resort.
Subtidal Adventures, 1950 Peninsula Rd., in the West Ucluelet Mall (tel. 877/444-1134 or 250/726-7336; www.subtidaladventures.com), offers whale-watching trips, kayaking expeditions, and a sunset cruise into the Broken Group Islands (C$89 adult). Aquamarine Adventures, Small Craft Harbour Floathouse 200, near the base of Hemlock Street (tel. 866/726-7727 or 250/726-7727; www.westcoastwhales.com), operates whale-watching tours (C$79-C$89) using 12-seater Sundancers, rigid-hulled inflatable vessels that allow for maximum maneuverability. Majestic Ocean Kayaking, 1167 Helen Rd. (tel. 800/889-7644 or 250/726-2868; www.oceankayaking.com), offers 3-hour kayak trips around Ucluelet harbor (C$60 adults) and more adventurous day-trips to the Broken Group Islands (C$235 adults).
The 3km (1.9-mile) Wild Pacific Trail takes you out to the Amphitrite Lighthouse, a prime whale-watching spot.
Broken Group Islands
Lying off the coast of Ucluelet in Barkley Sound are the Broken Group Islands, an archipelago of about 300 islands and islets that are part of Pacific Rim National Park. Due to the relatively calm waters, abundant wildlife, and dramatic seascapes, these islands are popular destinations for experienced sea kayakers and ocean canoeists. Divers can explore historic shipwrecks as well as reefs teeming with marine life. The underwater drop-offs shelter large populations of feather stars, rockfish, and wolf eels that grow as long as 2m (6 1/2 ft.) and occasionally poke their heads out of their caves.
Access to the Broken Group Islands is limited. In Ucluelet, you'll find a number of operators who can arrange a trip, including Majestic Ocean Kayaking, with fully guided 4-day trips to the islands beginning at C$999. You can also pass through the islands on a packet freighter from Port Alberni.
Sechart is also the site of the Sechart Whaling Station Lodge, an operation of Lady Rose Marine Services (tel. 800/663-7192 Apr-Sept, or 250/723-8313; www.ladyrosemarine.com). It primarily serves the needs of kayakers, though it's open to anyone who wants a unique wilderness experience. Rates are C$140 per person or C$210 for two people sharing the same room, including three family-style meals a day. The only ways to get to the lodge are via the packet freighters, a Toquart Connector Water Taxi (tel. 250/720-7358) from Bamfield, or your own vessel. Kayak rentals are available. For reservations, contact Lady Rose Marine Services (above).
Once the center of massive environmental protests that drew the world's attention, Tofino is now a rather schizophrenic town -- part eco-tourism outfitters, activists, and serious granolas; part former loggers and fishermen; and part Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht peoples, who live mostly outside the town. Conflict was common in the early years, but recently all parties seem to have learned to get along.
The reason for Tofino's popularity is not hard to fathom. Tofino offers incredible marine vistas at the end of a thin finger of land, battered by the Pacific to the west and lapped by Tofino Sound on the east. The town is notched with tiny bays and inlets, with a multitude of islands, many of them very mountainous, just off the coast. Farther east, the jagged, snowcapped peaks of Strathcona Park fill the horizon.
Tofino is becoming more crowded and subject to a particular brand of gentrification. On the beaches south of town, luxury inns serve the rarified demands of upscale travelers attracted to the area's scenery. There are more fine-dining restaurants and boutiques here than can possibly be justified by the town's size. Dining is as big a draw as sea kayaking for many Tofino visitors.
With all the bustle, it can be difficult at times to find solitude in what's actually still an amazingly beautiful and wild place. Accordingly, more people decide to avoid the crowds and visit Tofino in winter, to watch dramatic storms roll in from the Pacific.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.