Gray Whale watching usually takes place on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the Pacific Rim National Park area. Tours originate in either Tofino or Uclulet. The area is serviced by both bus and air from Vancouver. For details on Getting to Tofino see Appendix.

As with orca tours, Gray whale watching is done from either small, manoeuvrable zodiacs or larger motor yachts. As the Tofino area is exposed to the open Pacific, however, you may want to take seasickness pills prior to boarding just as a precaution. Large swells, originating off Japan, are carried across the ocean on the Japan Current to break like thunder on the BC coast. Wild northern weather can whip those swells up into frenzy.

A German tourist and the skipper of a zodiac from Jamie's Whaling Station were killed in 1998 when a freak wave broadsided the usually seaworthy craft. Some tours may be cancelled due to stormy conditions. Tour operators will usually explore more protected water when poor conditions prevail. Needless to say the chances of seeing the migrating behemoths is almost nil whenever this occurs. The protected inlets around Tofino offer a chance to spot resident Gray whales, orcas, dolphins and porpoises or scavenging wolves and bears on shore. Informed operators will also take the time to explain the various controversies surrounding the Clayoquot temporal rainforest. No matter the weather conditions be sure to carry along some extra clothing including hat and gloves, jacket and extra sweater.

Though camping in Pacific Rim National Park is an ideal way to explore this part of the coast the weather can be uncooperative during prime whale watching season. A new shuttle service has been inaugurated to ferry people between the national park and Tofino or Uclulet. To avoid the commute, put up at a centrally located hotel like the Maquinna Lodge instead. Though not luxury accommodation, the Maquinna Lodge is comfortable and close to tours, groceries, restaurants, pubs and gift shops. Be prepared to entertain yourself in the evening hours however, as Tofino is hardly an urban centre by anybody's definition. The five-star Canadian Princess Resort has put together an excellent, whale-watching package for the spring season only. As a bonus the cheapest accommodation is aboard the 70 metre long Canadian Princess which was built in 1932 and served as a survey vessel until 1975. Now it serves as the centrepiece of the Resort itself. While ship accommodation is somewhat more rustic than that on shore, all staterooms have a sink and bunkbeds with shared bathrooms. Ship accommodations can be a bit noisy: creaking and groaning throughout the night. What, however, could be more in tune with the romance of high seas adventure than "roughing it" for a night on a charming old vessel? Shore-based accommodations are 2-4 person deluxe suites with private amenities.

Canadian Princess Resort customers receive a slight discount on bus transportation from Vancouver or Victoria and will be dropped off and picked up at the resort.

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Oregon Grape

Oregon Grape

Looking much like tiny concord grapes on a holly bush, the intensely sour fruit of the Oregon grape is loaded with Vitamin C. Munch them directly from the bush for a surefire pucker or render them into sugar-loaded jelly for a more palatable treat. Traditionally Oregon grape berries were mashed with other, sweeter berries to enhance their flavour. The inner bark of both stems and roots was a source of brilliant yellow dye during pre-European times. The source of the colour, an alkaloid called berberine, is known to possess antibiotic properties that are still used to combat both internal and external infections. An extract concocted from the roots is used by modern-day herbalists to correct a wide range of liver, kidney and urinary tract problems.

Illustration by Manami Kimura