Surrounded by the quiet old growth forest and mountains, the drive along the highway to the island’s west coast can be a contemplative, inward journey. Until the reverie is broken by the busy fishing town of Port Alberni. Here, rivers, lakes, and the ocean converge offering both fresh and salt water fishing. A charter could take you to small hidden coves tucked in the deep water inlet or out to the open ocean. Port Alberni claims to be BC’s salmon capital (so does Campbell River on the eastern side of the island so be careful). It’s hard to dispute when barbecue smoke mixes with the salt air during September’s salmon festival.
There are fourteen Nations that make up the Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) people of western Vancouver Island. Spring and summer are the traditional harvest seasons when halibut, salmon, herring are smoked or dried, and berries are picked to make preserves for the winter. Throughout the year, there’s crab, sea urchin, clams, oysters, mussels, duck, and deer.
The road west from Port Alberni, then north along the coast to Tofino and Ucluelet (meaning, ‘safe harbour’ in the local First Nations language), leads to the open sea. People come to surf, paddle, whale watch, hike, walk the sand beaches, storm watch, soak in natural hot springs, fish, beach comb – all which encourages a great appetite. No age or budget is disappointed – from organic, natural, healthy food in funky cafes, to the a vibrant craft brewery culture, to sustainable chef-prepared meals in five-star, spa-spoiling hotels. Fish tacos, in many variations, have become a regional favourite served in food trucks and full-service restaurants in and between the two towns. But don’t leave out Ucluelet’s two specialties – salmon pie and the Ukee Dog.
Eco-excitement is a good way to describe the enthusiasm here. There’s always a food celebration in the spirit of sustainability and harmony.
- Feast Tofino – throughout May, a boat-to-table seafood celebration
- The Tofino Food and Wine Festival – in June at the Tofino Botanical Gardens
- The Clayoquot Oyster Festival – in November in Tofino
The stillness of the old growth forests and the ocean’s capricious temperament are restorative. Everyone leaves with a profound sense of awe and deep respect.