Port McNeill (pop. 3,000) is a logging and mill town -- not particularly quaint -- that serves as an access point for whale-watching and other wildlife tours, numerous outdoor-recreation opportunities, and the ferry to Alert Bay. Alert Bay (pop. 1,000) is a fascinating destination for anyone interested in First Nations culture. It has a world-renowned collection of totem carvings and wall murals, as well as historic buildings.

During the second week of June, the Nimpkish Reserve hosts June Sports & Indian Celebrations (tel. 250/974-5556, the 'Namgis First Nation office) on the soccer field in Alert Bay. Traditional tests of strength and agility are demonstrated by the island's tribal members.

BC Ferries (tel. 888/BC-FERRY [223-3779] or 250/386-3431; www.bcferries.com) runs daily service between Port McNeill and Alert Bay. The crossing takes about 45 minutes; peak fares are C$9.20 per passenger, C$22 per vehicle. If you're going to Alert Bay mostly to visit the U'mista Cultural Centre, you can easily leave your vehicle at Port McNeill. It's about a half-hour walk from the ferry dock to the center.