The locals call it ‘Ukee.’ (That’s you-key said quickly.) And it’s totally worth checking out if you find yourself on Vancouver Island’s west coast.
Ucluelet. That’s U-clue-let. Not Uck-loo-let. Not Ew-koo-let. And definitely not, as one tourist was gently reminded recently, U-slut.
The name originates from the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations word that means “safe landing place” – a welcome sign if you choose, as we did, to fly into this remote rainforest community on a puddle hopper plane from the mainland. (Warning, dodgy weather patterns can mean a return ride by bus if it’s too foggy to fly home.)
Chances are, if you’re at all acquainted with Vancouver Island, you know of Ucluelet’s trendier cousin Tofino – located a half hour’s drive to the north.
Tofino established itself as a stormy surfing and cappuccino Mecca long ago. Ucluelet, on the other hand, has a less transient local population (around 2,000 people) and, until recently, remained more resource-based with forestry and fishing as its number one industries.
Since those industries have become less feasible (longer story here…ask a local!), the town has jumped on the tourism bandwagon.
We crashed in comfort at the Water’s Edge Resort at Pacific Rim (formerly known as the Tauca Lea Resort & Spa), which is also home to one of the top restaurants in town – The Boat Basin.
And we bundled into a Zodiac to scout whales along with sunning sea lions that could be found flopped over top of their rocky ocean homes. Beautiful animals, but you don’t want to linger downwind.
Our guide, a guy by the name of Lance Blackwell, serves as an unofficial town ambassador. “You don’t live in Ucluelet because you like cappuccino shops,” the long-time resident told us, shouting as he surfed his Zodiac down the back of a heaving swell. “This, I mean this, is why you live here.”
Town mayor Eric Russcher says what distinguishes his town is that even when it’s over-run by travelers, it still feels more like a community than a tourist destination.
As for how Russcher teaches people to pronounce the name of his west coast town?
“Just break it up. The ‘u.’ The ‘clue.’ The ‘let,'” he advises. “Put these three sounds together and you’ve got Ucluelet. If you can’t twist your tongue around all that, well, Ukee’s a good back-up.”