Comparing Canada with Australia sounds absurd enough, Vancouver Island with Cape Hillsborough even more. I have been to many places around the world and am not the one to compare any countries. But all that time I spent at Cape Hillsborough, it just kept reminding me of Tofino on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.
It’s not the flora or fauna, but the rocky headlands, the endless dark sanded beach with volcanic rock boulders dotted alongside. The reason why I remember Tofino and Vancouver Island so well, is because I had one of my most amazing animal encounters over there.
Back in 1994, when I traveled across the U.S.A. and Canada for a year, I started following the NHL Ice Hockey League. The Vancouver Cannuks made it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 12 years, thanks to a Russian Pocket Rocket called Pavel Bure. They were facing the New York Rangers in a best of seven playoff series. The Rangers led 3:2 after the fifth game and the Cannuks needed to win their home game for a chance to secure the Stanley Cup.
I had a fabulous day the day before. A boat cruise showed 13 humpback whales, countless fish eagles and was topped at a natural hot spring on one of the many volcanic islands.
It was a rainy day the following day, as so often around here. I decided to stay in Tofino to watch the sixth game with locals here, before I move on. As the rain clouds eventually dropped their last raindrops, I drove to the nearby Tofino National Park.
I parked by the beach and followed the trail through a subtropical and wet rainforest.
It wasn’t long before I reached the dark sanded beach, which looks exactly like the one at Cape Hillsborough.
Two headlands enclosed this beach, large boulders dotted alongside, braking in to smaller rocky outcrops.
I still had some time and felt adventurous. ‘If I follow the beach north and surpass the headland, I should get back to my Chevy Van’, which was parked near the beach.
Plenty of seabirds call this area their home. Fish eagles were circling high above me and terns and cormorants rested on rocky islands in the bay. I was so engaged in nature’s splendor, that I didn’t pay much attention on my detailed surroundings.
As the rocks and boulders increased in numbers and size towards the emerging headland, I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye. One of these ‘rocks’ ran towards the forest edge.
OM-D, this is a young Black Bear, who was digging along rocks in search for crabs and other nutritious food. Blending in completely with his environment, I didn’t notice him until I came to close and scared him off.
I almost shat my pants too as he came to a stop at the forest edge and looked at my actions. My actions were to stand still and think off an escape route, just in case. It was a young black bear, most likely just recently set free by his mumma bear. He wasn’t sure about me as much as I was of him. There was a dead tree not far I could climb, but black bears are the smallest of North American bears and exquisite climbers. I sure can’t outrun this bear, my only options would be to dive in to the waters by the beach. But even those were a fairly long way away.
The young bear looked at me for a while and when he realized I was no danger, he returned to the beach to forage for more delicacies. My adrenaline was pumping through my veins as I watched him getting on with business. He didn’t seem to mind, neither did I. It was fantastic watching this bear so close to me actually. Eventually he past the headland and blended in rocky surroundings. Out of sight, but not out of mind. This was the direction I had planned to walk. What to do, what to do?
I noticed a steep ledge on the flanks of the headland, covered in long wet grass and odd trees. If I get up there, I may be able to spot the bear and see what his actions were. Combing through the wet tall grass, I couldn’t see anything. I should climb a tree to be safe and have a better overview. The mossy, wet tree trunk was as slippery as soap.
All my strength and climbing skills were needed. I didn’t want to fall down the 5 meter drop on to the rocks, that would be painful to say the least. I eventually found a secure spot within the tree branches and looked over the beach and headland.
No bear was seen, but I felt he couldn’t be far. What happens next is truly unbelievable and therefore locked in my memories for ever. Any guesses on what could happen next? I noticed some movement through the high grass but couldn’t see anything, that’s how tall this grass was. I heard bear grunting not far from me, my heart was pumping blood even faster. This young black bear had exactly the same idea as I did. Unbelievable! He climbed the tree next to me in about 10-meter distance. Wow, how incredible was that?! He found a fairly comfortable resting spot and looked over the beach and headland just as I did before. He then spotted me in the tree next to him and started chatting. This sounded a bit like ‘Chewbacca’ complaining about something. I replied to him with similar sounds which he seemed to take in as well. Then I told him, that there is no way, that I be leaving this tree before he did. This was rather comical and I had a good chuckle in amazement. Just wow. Human and animal having exactly the same idea to observe and escape danger. I couldn’t, and still to this day, can’t get over the facts. A good half an hour passed by when he got bored with our conversation and slipped down the slippery slope. I waited another 15 minutes before I dared to climb down.
I followed the headland around and realized, it gotten too steep and slippery to continue. This is why the bear returned and felt cornered in a way. The bear wasn’t seen again as I walked back the same way I came. My heart was still pumping, my brain in overdrive. What an amazing experience. Awesome.
Until last year’s unplanned camp with a pride of 9 healthy lions at Khaudum National Park in Namibia, this was, and still is one of my most memorable animal encounter.
I missed the Ice Hockey game by far as I drove along another spectacular sunset. Beeping cars coming towards me, indicated an exciting win for Vancouver. Not as exciting as my win.