Whale tales

Did you know…

A humpback whale is a bottom feeder, coming up three times to breathe between shovelling food. These three breaths are seen as plumes of spray almost exactly 20 seconds apart, ending potentially with the curve of a grey back or if very lucky, the tail flipping up before a deep dive after which the whale stays underwater for at least 3 minutes.

For years now, we’ve come up to Tofino in January or February, seen the promotion for the annual Whale Festival and thought…’we should come up here for it one year…’ and never have. So to find that we timed it perfectly on our great escape from window replacement and packing boxes this weekend, was an added bonus alongside the beautiful weather AND the many plumes we saw on the horizon on our arrival at the interpretive centre at Wickinninish Beach in the Pacific Rim National Park.

Looking through the festival magazine, it was great to see a former school mate in the programme, billed as a local guest educator. Knowing how involved Silva has been in the set up of the Ucluelet aquarium and the signage around Amphitrite lighthouse, I know her audience will be well entertained on 20 March. Unfortunately, that’s our last night in Canada so we’ll have to pass.

After a great lunch at Shelter where we learned what a sleeve looks like served in a pint glass (and where my earl grey tea arrived with a soup spoon with which to stir my honey), we checked in to our town side hotel and then headed to the industrial way to pick up the access track for the Tonquin trail.

A quick pee stop with inspirational graffiti, and we headed off down the Tonquin to Middle Beach with the light doing Emily Carr things through the trees.

We were slightly surprised by a passing drone on the beach but stayed long enough to watch the start of the sunset before heading back before the path was too dark to navigate.

We found a lovely bench to watch the final disappearance of the sun.

We headed back to town, where several creative crosswalks, no longer fitting the appellation of zebra crossings (for the Brits) took us to Wolf in the Fog where we were well-fed and entertained by the bar manager, Hailey and the team of busy chefs in the open kitchen.

We weebled our way back to our hotel and had a last nip at the marina bar before retiring for the night.

An icy but sunny Saturday morning dawned, and our plans to take in the opening parade for the Whale Fest started with pastries and drinks from Tofino Coffee Roasters.

Apparently, this 38th parade was the first in 20 years to be blessed by sunshine. Of course, no matter when Ari goes to Tofino, and no matter what the meteorologists predict, the weather is always stunning for him. That didn’t stop the group leading the parade in what has been, most years, an appropriate opening number: “Singing in the Rain”

Not many people can say they’ve watched the same parade twice, by virtue of a route winding through a small downtown core, and after receiving too much candy, seeing a friendly face from Salt Spring, and doing a bit of shopping, we headed for lunch in Ucluelet. But first, a brief stop at Chesterman Beach for a spot of beachcombing and a decided lack of Mr and Mrs Frank, the long term eagle couple of Frank Island.

A blessing from the sea…

Random flotsam, possibly from one of the wild storms that never happen when we visit!

In Ucluelet, we arrived at our favourite long time restaurant for lunch and one we have raced (motorbike vs Mitsubishi) to many times over the years. Still great today: The Blue Room featuring an all day breakfast, local lunch menu and some wonderful artwork.

After which…

Stuffed with food, we decided to see if we could see some more whales from the Lighthouse Loop. The Wild Pacific Trail is a jewel in this area – crazy trees, clanging bell buoy (which always makes me start humming a tune from Quadraphenia!), the haunting wail of the port beacon, and then Amphratite lighthouse, standing squat and unprepossessing in the high bright sunshine. Sure enough, there were whales. One even came close to the shore – possibly a year round resident or cleaning its back on barnacles. We also saw a California sea lion and several dancing oystercatchers.

If anyone knows the wheres or whys of the tradition of leaving locks with lovers initials in the middle of nowhere, I’d love to hear from you.

Whale sighting replete, we took the loop back past and through trees filled with ruby-crowned kinglets and bald eagles. We met two newlyweds and their photographer, and took a mini detour around a new bog education trail.

We got back to my car in time for an exhilarating drive back over the Serpentine and mountain pass to Port Alberni before the quick hop back to Victoria and our ‘starving’ felines.

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