There are days when the blue skies spread from Tofino northward over emerald islands and rounded humps of rainforest, rolling back as far as the eye can see, to the snow-capped rocky peaks on the backbone of Vancouver Island.
Clayoquot Sound—home of the Hesquiaht, Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island. There are five sounds in total on the west coast of the Island, and each one is quite different. Clayoquot is characterized by long fjord-like inlets, with major river valleys at the head of each one.
These inlets are protected from the open Pacific by three big islands: Meares, Vargas, and Flores. The outer shores of Vargas and Flores feature long white sand beaches, with combers from across the Pacific rolling in on their shores.
Vargas Island is flat and boggy; the coastal plains on the outer edges of Flores and Meares Island sweep up in dramatic curves to heights of three thousand feet. These mountains are wrapped in ancient rainforests of cedar, hemlock and spruce.
Strolling along the forest floor at the feet of these giant trees, one feels a sense of awe at their sheer size. The massive base of the red cedar tapers quickly and spirals heavenward, while the massive girth of the Sitka spruce just plows skyward like a column from the Parthenon.
One is humbled by their age. Red cedars can live to be two thousand years old and many are over one thousand. You can stand at the base of such a tree, and rest your hand on something which has been alive for many, many centuries.
Whether you look at these forested landscapes from a distance, or get right in on the ground, they are a joy to gaze upon and the rich air they generate smells sweet and cool.
This kind of natural habitat is home to many wild creatures. Black bears roam the hills eating berries and gather in fall to feast on the salmon spawning in the river valleys. Timber wolves cruise the outer beaches looking for black-tailed deer, raccoons, mink and other small mammals.
Grey whales swim right by every spring, heading north to the Bering Sea around March, and returning to the Baja Peninsula around October. Every year a number of grey whales decide to swim no further than Clayoquot Sound, and spend their summer here. They plough up the shallow sand and mud bottoms, squeezing tons of water and sand through their baleen with each mouthful, eating the amphipods that are left behind. Such a mammoth creature, subsisting on such tiny critters!
Transient orcas arrive unpredictably pretty much every month of the year, and swim quietly through the inlets hunting for seals and other marine mammals. Humpback whales have made a comeback. Few marine mammal sightings are more spectacular—humpbacks will blow a net of bubbles around a school of small fish, then swim right up through them all, exploding through the surface of the ocean and falling back on their side with a resounding splash!
Sea otters have staged quite a comeback as well. They like to dive and feed voraciously on clams and urchins—they must consume a quarter of their body weight daily as they are the only marine mammal without a protective layer of fat. The may be sighted floating on their backs amongst kelp patches, using a rock to smash open the seafood delicacies that compose their diet.
Clayoquot Sound is an amazing place—one of the most spectacular pockets of biodiversity left on the planet. The hard part always comes when it’s time to leave, whether you live here or not. Maybe that’s why Tofino is known as “Tuff City.”