Serenity! Port Renfrew, BC.
Tucked in, warm and cozy on the Wild Pacific Coast.
Lured by the promise of rare winter sunbreaks and warm temperatures in one of my (many) favorite places, Port Renfrew sits on the southern end of the wild west coast of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. Known as a fishing destination, southern terminus of the West Coast Trail and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, and ancestral home of the Pacheedaht First Nation, Port Renfrew remains small, quiet, beautiful, and the local community continues to live and work close to the land and water.
Upper Estuary. Port Renfrew, BC.
The Pacheedaht First Nation—or “People of the Seafoam”—are a Nuu-chah-nulth people, and neighbors and relatives amongst the nearby Ditidaht First Nation and the Makah people across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington State.
Botany Bay! Port Renfrew, BC.
As I write this, my wife Stephanie and I are in a small, warm cottage with a morning view looking over Port San Juan and the Gordon and San Juan Rivers. Following a day of beach hikes and amazing overlooks, it is great to turn the lights down low, drink something warm, curl up with your dog, and just let your mind go back to the wonders you have just experienced together.
Chiton! Botanical Beach, Port Renfrew, BC.
As usual, mid-winter, I wanted to get away. But it was not just me this time, Stephanie also wanted to take a break and see wildness and beauty in the world. And for this trip, far-flung adventure was not the prime objective as we were looking to kick back, read, paint, take photos, sip our coffee in the mornings, and generally chill out for a while.
Tidepool, Botanical Beach. Port Renfrew, BC.
At first, we were thinking of sun, sand, and warmth. Sitting on the beach sounded good, so we looked at Hawaii. They were expecting rain on the days that fit our schedule. We looked at Arizona and New Mexico, thinking we could hike the desert and photograph some new birds and wildlife. We still want to do that, but for this trip it sounded like loading all my photography gear and getting it down south was more work than we wanted to undertake.
Colors of the Sea! Botanical Beach, Port Renfrew, BC.
For some reason, I did a quick weather search for Port Renfrew, which, like Bellingham is almost always wet and cold in February. But I love Port Renfrew even when rainy and grey and I try to get back there every few years, and wow… the forecast was for five days with just some minor showers and in the mid-forties during the daytime. And sunny skies (well, cloudy skies but the weather photo showed a partial sun on the header). It sounded like paradise, and we could pack the car and head north for a road trip the next day.
In the morning, we went north across the border and into British Columbia headed for the hour-and-a-half ferry ride over to Vancouver Island. Along the way, we counted one llama and some seventy-five bald eagles perched in the trees lining the highways (the llama was not perched!). As always, the ferry ride is my notice that it is time to chill. You can go on deck and watch for whales and porpoise, but in winter you can also just snooze and feel the Strait of Georgia slip under the boat (see Endnotes). Steph usually opts for being on deck, and I usually get in my first nap. Kick back, chill… working the plan for the coming days.
Driftwood & Tidepools! Botanical Beach, Port Renfrew, BC.
Off the ferry, you head south towards Victoria, but hang a right before you get there and go west on Highway 14 to the coast. It is a beautiful two-hour drive from the ferry to Port Renfrew, and the road provides spectacular views as it winds its way right alongside the Strait of Juan de Fuca coastline with Washington’s Olympic Mountains shining to the south. Passing through the town of Sooke (beautiful as well), you soon find yourself passing beach after beach as you drive within Juan de Fuca Provincial Park.
Stellar's Jay. Port Renfrew. BC.
On this trip, we stopped at Sandcut Beach and then at Jordan River to watch surfers and sealions in the water. This was especially poignant for me, as just a month ago on my trip to the Olympic Coast I watched and talked with the winter surfers across this same Strait at the Elwha River estuary in Washington. After Jordan River, if you like beaches, this world is your oyster: China, Second, Mystic, Bear, Hidden, Chin, Sombrio, Parkinson are all great beaches with waterfalls, beautiful hikes through the forest, and walking as far as you want (the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail runs for forty-seven kilometers or just under thirty miles, and ends at Botanical Beach in Port Renfrew).
Botany Bay and Botanical Beach in Port Renfrew are not to be missed. At low tide, the tidepools are amazing, teeming with marine life (barnacles, chitons, mussels, and anemones on this trip) pressed between sandstone and granite, just waiting for the last rays of sunset or the first light of day to set the background sky to sparkling colors of orange, red, and shades of blue. In between, surging ocean break and smaller waves flowing continuously over sand and rock. It is just mesmerizing!
Tomorrow starts our fourth day of adventure in this wonderful area, and we have one more travel day as we start home. Following my motto, never take the same road twice if there is a choice, we will take the long way. We’ll follow the Pacific Marine Road up past Fairy Lake, across the Robinson River, and up to Lake Cowichan. Then the major highways as we loop around Sananich Inlet and back to the Ferry dock.
End of Day! Port Renfrew, BC.
I am sure that by the time we disembark, the eagles will be roosting and invisible, the lama will be in its pen for the night, and we will be very ready to be cozy in our own home and bed – dreaming of the next adventure.
· What is the difference between a boat and a ship? One answer is that a ship can carry a boat, but a boat cannot carry a ship. Another is that a ship’s captain gets annoyed if you refer to the vessel as a boat, but a boat’s captain does not get annoyed if you refer to the vessel as a ship. Ferries and submarines are always boats.