THE ALBERNI V ALLEY by Penny Benjamin

There are very few places left in the world that can be considered truly unspoiled, especially for vacationers looking for a new experience. Visitors wait in hours-long lines to enjoy almost every destination these days—from Disneyland to Mt. Everest to Yosemite National Park. There is one magnificent exception: Vancouver Island, Canada.

This isn’t the Vancouver you already know—that’s the city. This Vancouver is miles and miles of forest, hiking and biking trails, water sports, and fishing. Lots of fishing. Depending on whom you talk to, Port Alberni is known either as Canada’s “Ultimate Fishing Village” or the “Salmon Capital of the World.

Your introduction to this stretch of Canadian frontier starts when you land at the newly expanded Alberni Valley Regional Airport (YPB). The town of Port Alberni (population: about 18,000) sits at the head of Vancouver Island’s longest inlet, about 25 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The town is as quaint a fishing village as you’ll find anywhere, except this village hosts some of the best sportfishing in the world.

LANDSCAPE Port Alberni is a deep, saltwater harbor favored by anglers the world over. The Somas River runs right through town, and you can wade in and cast right from the highway. From January through March the steelhead make their run up the Stamp River, while April and May you can find them in Sproat Lake. In the late summer, nearly half a million salmon head for the spawning ground near the Stamp River Hatchery. The western coastal towns of Tofino and Ucluelet are the gateway to open-ocean fishing. You’ll need an iron stomach to weather the hours it takes


to navigate the rough swells to reach the rich fishing waters, so bring warm clothes and anti-nausea meds.

Ocean outfitters, based in Tofino, offers salt- and freshwater fishing charters for salmon, halibut, and trout. They will build an itinerary to suit your interests and skill level, whether you’re on a serious fishing expedition or on a family trip. They also provide tidal black bear watching, and bird tours. Coastal Charters also offers a variety of land and sea-based activities. In Ucluelet, Cameron Ocean Adventures will take you whale watching, too.

For a true outdoor experience (without sacrificing luxury), stay at the beautiful Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. It’s a Relais & Chateaux ecotourism lodge that just made Conde Nast Travelers’ Gold List for 2019. You can only get there by floatplane, helicopter, or boat. When you arrive, you’ll be delivered to your personal tent by horse-drawn carriage. There are only 25 sumptuous tents on the property, each equipped with a cast-iron stove, an en-suite bathroom, heated floors, and a private outdoor shower. The privately owned resort is open seasonally, and has partnered with the local Ahousaht First Nation to ensure the hotel is sustainable and eco-friendly.

CULTURE Captain James Cook landed on Vancouver Island in 1778, where he met members of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations. As is always the case, the Europeans’ arrival nearly wiped out the Nuu- chah-nulth, who were felled by disease. More than 90 percent of the native population died from malaria or smallpox. The Alberni Valley Museum provides a fascinating look at Nuu-chah- nulth art and culture.

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