British Columbia

BRITISH COLUMBIA

Canada’s Pacific Coast is rough and wild. And it has orcas, gray whales and humpbacks – along with rainforests full of bears and cougars.

Credit

Foto: istock/HPphoto

BRITISH

COLUMBIA

Canada’s Pacific Coast is rough and wild. And it has orcas, gray whales and humpbacks – along with rainforests full of bears and cougars.

Credit

Foto: istock/HPphoto
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Whales BRITISH COLUMBIA

The waters around the Canadian Vancouver Island are the world’s pivotal region for meeting orcas. There is no better place to watch them anywhere. Gray whales, too, pass by here on their long northward travel.

Whale watching in British Columbia mainly boils down to whale watching on Vancouver Island, even if you can also book tours directly from Vancouver. Tour operators, both on the mainland and the island, have specialized on orcas.

Another highlight is the migration of the gray whales past the western part of the island. Approximately 20.000 gray whales travel to the Bering Sea from the Gulf of California every year, passing Vancouver Island between the end of February to May. (There are also resident whales, which stay all summer. Between March 14th and 22nd, Tofino and Ucluelet on the western coast of the island celebrate the Pacific Rim Whale Festival with up to 100.00 people watching the whales from the mainland. Occasionally, there are also minke whales and during summer, there are often humpbacks north of Vancouver Island.

The most important city of the island is Victoria in the south. 70% of all whale watching tours of British Columbia start from there. That results in a huge number of tour operators, actually so many of them by now that the whales are sometimes bothered by the many boats.

An alternative is the west of Vancouver Island with Tofino and Ucluelet. A lot of tours start from here and Long Beach and Wickaninnish Beach are just beautiful. Other than from Victoria, you also get to see a lot of gray whales here during summer. Whales can also be spotted from the mainland from one of the many hiking trails in the Pacific Rim National Park.

»Main season for orcas on Vancouver Island is from the middle of May to the middle of September. During that time you can meet them almost every day.«

A bit further north is Campbell River, where many tours launch into the Strait of Georgia with its many little islands and fjords full of seals, eagles and black bears. The main place to see orcas is the area around Telegraph Cove on the northern end of Vancouver Island. There is no other place where you can rely on seeing orcas as much as here. You can even see them from the mainland.

Theoretically, you could meet orcas in the waters of British Columbia all year long, but the main season is from May to September.

Tours can be done straight from Telegraph Cove with stubbs-island, orcellaexpeditions.com (multi day tours) or kingfisher (kayak tours). Mackay whale watching starts from Port McNeill, or you can go sailing from Alert Bay with seaorca. Orcas are regularly sighted until the middle of September, only occasionally after that.

Credit

Foto: shutterstock/2009fotofriends

To Do BRITISH COLUMBIA

Vancouver Island offers rough and wild coasts, impenetrable rainforests and kilometers of lonesome beaches. The Canadian Rocky Mountains are home to some of the most beautiful national parks in the world.

450 kilometers long and 100 kilometers wide, Vancouver Island is the biggest island of the Northern American Pacific coast. Huge parts of the island are covered by moderate rainforests and especially the southern side of the island that faces the Pacific is extremely rough and ragged: A perfect place to experience the wild Pacific storms in autumn. The northern side is a bit gentler and offers an endless amount of waterways, fjords and islands in the Strait of Georgia and the Johnson Strait.

The most important city is Victoria (80.000 citizens) with its very British flair all the way south. On the northern end you’ll find Port Hardy, where the tours to the Inside Passage in Alaska are launched.

The main difference between a moderate rainforest and a tropical rainforest is that the moderate one can also be found in the rather temperate climate zones away from the equator. Other than that, they are just as wild, chaotic and impenetrable. The rainforest on the North American Pacific coast mostly consists of a dense population of spruces and Douglas firs, in northern California there are also sequoias. On the ground, everything is just tangled and mossy. These forests are rich with species and among the most fascinating (and sometimes most spooky) ecosystems in the world.

The Pacific Rim National Park is one of the most beautiful ones in Canada, attracting over a million of visitors from all over the world. The most impressive part is the coast of the Clayoquot Sound between Ucluelet and Tofino with its grotesque rock formations and kilometers of lonesome beaches full of driftwood. Long Beach and Wickaninnish Beach are among the most beautiful beaches of the whole American western coast.

West Coast Trail & Wild Pacific Trail: The West Coast Trail in the south of the Pacific Rim is one of the most well-known (and depending on the season, also one of the toughest) hiking routes of Canada. Skilled hikers will need about one week for the 75 kilometers; less experienced hikers should start with a shorter segment. The Wild Pacific Trail is a lot easier and follows the scenic coast of Ucluelet. There are also easier segments available, e.g. the Lighthouse Loop.

»About 1.000 cougars live in the dense rainforests of Vancouver Island – that’s about one quarter of the Canadian population.«

There might be no brown bears on Vancouver Island, but a lot of black bears, which often dare to advance even into the front gardens of the little towns. They usually don’t care about humans, but are interested in pretty much anything else that is fit to eat and openly available. During low tide, they often come to the shores of the fjords to look for mussels and little maritime animals. (That’s also why most bear safaris start by boat.) On the northern coast of Vancouver Island, you can go on tours into the mainland-fjords, where you can see grizzlies from August to September, for example with tiderip, greatbeartours or grizzlycanada.

There are also (an estimated) thousand cougars in the thick rainforests of Vancouver Island, a quarter of the whole Canadian population. At first sight, they seem less dangerous than black bears. However, black bears can easily be scared off and attacks are usually accidents – cougars, on the other hand, sometimes follow hikers over a longer stretch of time to see if there are chances for a successful attack. Encounters and attacks might be extremely rare, still there are signs along the trails instructing you what to do, if you encounter one of them: Move backwards, be noisy and try to appear as big as possible. In case of an attack, defend yourself with anything within reach. Cougars can grow to a size of about 1.5 meters and weigh up to 70 kilos. From a standing position, they can jump about 5 meters high and 9 meters forward.

If you ever go to British Columbia, you really have to visit the Rocky Mountains as well. The national parks of Banff and Jasper are two of the most beautiful ones in the world. The easiest way to explore the region is by road trip: The Trans Canada Highway leads you to all the world famous sights: Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, Columbia Icefield, Sunwapta Falls, Maligne Lake, Athabasca Falls, Emerald Lake, Moraine Lake, Mount Robson. Hint: Don’t use the Trans Canada Highway at Banff, but Highway 1A to Lake Louise: Smaller road, less cars, more to see.

Pictures BRITISH COLUMBIA

Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island is one of the most beautiful parks of all Canada. Also not too hard on the eye: The nearby Canadian Rockies.

Credit

Fotos: chbaum, shutterstock/visceralimage, istock/oversnap, istock/Ken_Canning, shutterstock/Gleb Tarro, istock/OGphoto, istock/Kenneth Canning, istock/Kenneth Canning, shutterstock/canadastock, istock/Spondylolithesis, shutterstock/Don Mammoser, shutterstock/Galyna Andrushko, istock/Kevin Miller, shutterstock/Michal Onderco, istock/Greg Panosian

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