With nearly 1,000 Provincial Parks, National Parks, Marine Parks, Regional Parks, Protected Areas, Conservancy Areas, and Ecological Reserves. Some from volcanic rock and full of beauty and natural splendor, Vancouver Island and the BC Gulf Island and Discovery Islands offer magnificent rain forests, towering mountains, sparkling blue seas, remote shell beaches, and secluded bays. Rugged Central and North Vancouver Island feature a largely uninhabited wilderness of forests, lakes and snow-capped peaks. The Pacific Rim on the West coast delivers wild landscapes, old-growth forest, and never-ending sandy beaches, with wildlife residents such as black bear, cougar, Elk, bald eagles, a variety of whales, Vancouver Island is a unique, natural paradise awaiting exploration through your lens.
The first area I want to highlight is the Tofino area. Tofino is a pretty fishing village at the tip of Esowista Peninsula near the entrance to Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It is here where you step into the land of the “Group of Seven” painters and capture the essence of the Pacific Northwest… The Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, typifies the majesty of the Pacific Northwest, boasting flawless natural beauty accentuated by a tapestry of vibrant communities.
This area inspires many renowned artists and artisans, who honor the magic of this land by bringing it into the physical realm. Add to that a climate that summons outdoor enthusiasts from all corners of the Earth and it is clear that this area is poised to please the photographer.
An ancient settlement on the northern edge of Barkley Sound, Ucluelet takes its name from the Nuu-chah-nulth phrase, Yu-clutl-ahts, the people with a good landing place for canoes.
A bit further south is Ucluelet. Ucluelet is situated in the Long Beach of Pacific Rim National Park, located between the villages of Tofino and Ucluelet – the most accessible and most developed component of the Pacific Rim National Park. Named for its 12-mile stretch of surf-swept sand, Long Beach is open year-round and offers outstanding beach hiking, surfing, storm watching and whale watching. The open sea stretches off unbroken and vacant, while the elemental forces at play here, the winds and tides, the sun and rain, excite within visitors a deep-seated resonance, a sense of belonging in this place.
Both Tofino and Ucluelet are excellent areas to observe, and photograph numerous whale species, bald eagles that dot the shoreline, and black bear.
As we move east, we always visit the charming and picturesque seaside village of Cowichan Bay. Cowichan Bay is located on the east coast of southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The Cowichan Bay settlement started in the 1850s as a Hudson’s Bay Company fort. The original site was located at the flats at the top of Cowichan Bay. Cowichan Bay was the earliest development north of Victoria, with Europeans settling on the secluded Cowichan Bay to farm and trap, and eventually moving into fishing and logging. In 1862 the HMS Hecate arrived with a boatload of settlers. A store and hotel soon followed, and by 1900 Cowichan Bay was a tourist mecca with steamboats calling regularly at the government dock.
Cowichan Bay draws its name from an Island Halkomelem word meaning warm country or land warmed by the sun. The name originated because of a large rock formation on the side of Mount Tzuhalem that supposedly resembled a frog basking in the sun. Originally both Cowichan Lake and the settlement were known as Kaatza, the Cowichan word for big lake. The Cowichan Bay area and much of the southern Strait of Georgia is the traditional land of the Cowichan First Nation.
Today, the village of Cowichan Bay and the surrounding area is home to historic buildings and a host of artists, craftspeople, unique shops, and cottage industries – including some fine local wineries and organic farms. Take a step back in time to enjoy the slower pace of life in this community that embraces the values of local resources and sustainability.
But this is much more than that. All you have to do is look towards the ocean. Its home to dozens, if not hundreds of transient and resident Orca Whales. This area has always been our favorite, and first choice to take zodiac tours to follow the orca pods to watch them frolic, hunt and breach amidst some of the most photogenic islands in the Pacific Northwest.
The viewing of wildlife on and around Vancouver Island and the Gulf and Discovery Islands of BC offers something for all nature lovers and wildlife photographers. Whale watching requires little introduction, as British Columbia is well known as the place on earth to watch migrating and resident whales feeding, breaching or spy-hopping. The phenomenon of salmon spawning draws people from all over the world to the Pacific Northwest to watch schools of salmon return from the sea to lay their roe in their ancestral spawning grounds. Vancouver Island happens to be conveniently located on the Pacific Flyway for the millions of migrating birds that miraculously find their way north and south with the changing of the seasons. Vancouver Island supports black bears, cougars, wolves, elk, deer and many other mammal and bird species, both abundant and threatened in numbers.
Whale watching around Vancouver Island in British Columbia is an exceptional experience that will leave you awestruck after watching whales that weigh thousands of pounds frolic in their natural habitat. Killer whales (Orcas), Gray whales, Humpback whales and Minke whales ply the waves and perform their watery rituals. Whale Watching tours are operated along the east coast of Vancouver Island, from Victoria to Campbell River and Port Hardy, on the west coast of the island out of Tofino and Ucluelet, and from the BC Gulf Islands and Discovery Islands. Whale watching at its best!
And finally, there is Campbell River. Campbell River marks the spot where the open waters of the Georgia Strait narrow down and fill with a tight cluster of islands. The BC mainland’s coastal mountain range looms large to the east.
The Discovery Passage runs north along the coast of Quadra Island through Seymour Narrows (famous for its surging tides) and onwards to the Johnstone Strait. This is prime whale watching and salmon fishing. In fact, this area has been called the salmon fishing capitol of the world… and it’s just not humans that know it. The bears know it too.
That is why I lived in BC for three years, and why we still visit the area. We go to photograph the black bear and Grizzly Bear as they feed on the surging salmon coming inland to spawn.
We have numerous trips running on Vancouver Island… Please visit our Canadian workshop page as we are constantly adding tours for wildlife and for landscapes. http://northof49photography.com/photo-workshops/