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Pacific Rim, I Love You


Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, sitting on the west coast of Vancouver Island, is the most incredible park I’ve ever visited, bar none. The appeal of any park is obviously very subjective, but the particular appeal of Pacific Rim tickles my fancy like no other. Beautiful landscape? Check. Beaches? Check. Hiking trails? Check. Mountains? Check. RAINFOREST?! Oh my goodness, CHECK.

The park was established in 1970 and like most national parks, is unique in Canada in terms of the ecosystems and natural communities it protects. It encompasses an area of the coastal lowland forests of the Pacific Coast mountain region as well as the near-shore waters of the Vancouver Island shelf marine region, and is the only part of our national parks system  representing Canadian temperate rainforests (which, by the way, are amazing).


The park is broken up into three zones of awesomeness (Parks Canada calls them “units” but I think that sounds a little stuffy) – Long Beach, which stretches along the southwest coast of Vancouver Island from Tofino to Ucluelet; the Broken Group Islands, which make up about 100 small islands in Barkley Sound; and the West Coast Trail, stretching from Bamfield to Port Renfrew.

Because I love adventuring and visiting new places, I zeroed in on Pacific Rim as somewhere I wanted to spend part of my summer holidays. Plenty of adventuring to be had, and plenty of new things to experience. Taking on the West Coast Trail is just beyond my skill level (at least for now), and visiting the Broken Group Islands can only be done by boat (which sadly, I didn’t have at my disposal) so I visited the Long Beach section of the park.


The majority of visitors to this part of the park are probably there to catch a wave on their surfboards. Me? I heard the words “rip tide” and bolted straight into the trees. After trying to regain a little bit of my lost dignity from bolting and subsequently realizing it was a lost cause, I switched into explorer mode and geared up for an adventure with both feet firmly planted on solid ground.

My friend Paul, master architect of my Pacific Rim adventures, would have my head if I so much as whispered the location of the trailhead that we set out on because it’s a relatively unknown spot in the park, unmarked and used only by the lucky few who already know about it. All I knew before we headed out was that the trail led down to a secret beach, sheltered from the hustle and bustle of tourists flocking to the other beaches in the area and devoid of leather-skinned surfer dudes selling surfing lessons from the back of their camper vans. It sounded like the perfect place for an adventure.

The trail was steep, tricky at points, muddy in others, and incredible 100% of the way. The trees were blanketed in moss and some were so tall I couldn’t even see the tops of them if I tried. Fun fact that I didn’t know about the park before I visited: it’s actually one of the highest biomass producing communities on the planet. Not at all surprising after spending even five minutes in the forest and seeing just a tiny fraction of things that live there.

We met some giant, juicy slugs along the trail (typical residents of the region’s rainforests) that seemed perfectly content to slurp their way through the trees and across the forest floor as we rambled on down the path, climbing over fallen trees and jumping across streams and mud puddles. At one point I got the overwhelming feeling that we had exited the real world and had entered an enchanted forest, and I half expected to run into wood nymphs or fairies.

After nearly an hour of trekking downhill through the forest, we were spat out of the trees onto the secret beach, and let me tell you, we weren’t disappointed. I was so excited to have finally arrived that I kicked off my shoes and ran off down the beach, giggling like an idiot and certainly not recovering any of my lost dignity from earlier. It was quiet, it was calm, it was beautiful. It was nature at its best. The photos that I took of the place really don’t do it justice.


Even if it hadn’t been beautiful (which it was), it was a place with much exploring to be done. We spent a good chunk of the day clambering around rocky points along the shoreline, finding tons of tidal pools teeming with intertidal marine life – starfish, anemones, mussels, you name it. What’s cool about these little creatures is that they’re constantly subjected to the effects of the changing tides and yet they’re perfectly well adapted to it. Anything that lives between the high water mark and low water mark has to be tough enough to survive exposure to sun, wind and scavenging at low tide, but also has to be adapted to underwater survival at high tide – twice a day, every day. Good job little intertidal friends, good job.

 


Even more than the intertidal exploring, what I loved most about the place was the tranquility and sense of peace it offered. As far as I could tell, it WAS a secret beach because we spent the entire day down there and not a single person crossed paths with us. Imagine: for a park that gets over 700,000 visitors each year, we were able to find a place that was quiet, secluded and away from the crowds.

My first visit to Pacific Rim was more than I had hoped for and blew me away entirely. There’s so much to see and do and no way to do it all in the short time I spent there, but what little I did see was amazing. Having now seen the areas directly outside the park – beautiful, but not untouched – and then experiencing the magic of the mysterious secret beach and the incredible rainforest, I can’t imagine that trip  without the park.

All this to say: Pacific Rim, I love you. I’ll be back (one day…).


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