Go North | Vancouver Island: Storm chaser

Jaimal Yogis | October 21, 2011 | Story Travel

The rain comes down sideways up here. Dark skies blend seamlessly with the sea, and giant waves consume black rocks in bursts of white. It’s easy to see why the western coast of Vancouver Island has often been called the Graveyard of the Pacific; it has a history of taking down ships as if that were a national hobby. Not to worry. You have a fire roaring. You’re sipping one of those British Columbian pinots. (Who knew—good wine in Canada!) And you’re watching Poseidon’s wrath through the floor-to-ceiling windows of your suite at Black Rock Oceanfront Resort in Ucluelet (pop. 1,600), Ukee for short.

With something like 10 to 12 storms per month between November and March, often packing hurricane-force winds and 20-foot seas, storm watching has become almost as popular as hockey in these parts, and Ukee is one of the best places to witness the action. The quaint fishing town has somehow stayed off B.C.’s major tourist radar while offering most of what you want out of Canada: black bears meandering out of the brush; great snowy peaks that descend to long, sandy beaches; wind-sheltered areas of Barkley Sound that are perfect for kayaking; and, with the opening of Black Rock, the town’s first full-service resort and spa, a ringside seat for the storms. Imagine, too, being at the heart of the tempest while dining on gourmet fare such as maple-candied coho salmon or Valencia orange–glazed duck breast with spring leek risotto and braised beets. That’s what you’ll do at Fetch, Black Rock’s elegant French-influenced restaurant.

When the sun finally does break through, it’s all about hitting the water. Sean Jensen of Ukee Surf School is happy to pick you up in his converted mail truck, complete with Sasquatch emblem, for a surfing—that’s right, surfing—lesson at one of the several nearby breaks that range from easy to epic. There may be snow on the sand, but the wetsuits these days make it possible to actually enjoy the pristine clarity of these waters—and with luck, you’ll find yourself sharing them with an orca pod. Surf and kayak sessions (Majestic Ocean Kayaking offers rentals and lessons) should be followed by a 90-minute speedboat trip to Hot Springs Cove, off the coast near the town of Tofino, a town 30 minutes up the road from Black Rock. The volcanic water, heated to around 105 degrees, cascades into five separate boulder-encrusted pools, the lowest of which is mixed with bursts of cold saltwater from the sound.

Any huge storms on the horizon that might cancel that two-hour flight home? Here’s hoping.

An evening north
Spending time in the slightly more bustling town of Tofino, a 30-minute drive from Ukee, isn’t unlike finding yourself in the Canadian version of Oahu: Surf shops blend with ruggedly modern restaurants like Shelter (Jack Johnson riffs, snowy surf videos, salmon rice bowls) and romantic spots such as Sobo (candlelit dining that could include local mussels and clams in a tomato, saffron, and leek broth).


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