A Pilgrimage To Meares Island – Visiting The Hanging Garden

 

 “We must protect the forests for those who can’t speak for themselves such as the birds, animals, fish and trees.”

The first time I heard of Meares Island was in 2009 while watching Northern Wilderness hosted by Ray Mears (no relation).  During the episode Ray joined Gisele Martin, a young   Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman on a walk to the Hanging Garden, a tree said to be 1,500 to 2,000 years old. I vowed after seeing it on screen I’d go there one day.

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This past weekend was my birthday and when my husband asked what I wanted to do I said “I want to go to Tofino and see The Hanging Garden on Meares Island”,  One of the last true old growth forests in Canada.

BBFDE490-6246-490B-BEBB-15720D7A00C5We boarded a water taxi at the crab docks in Tofino at 2pm. It’s a 10 minute ride to Meares and as soon as we hopped off on the other side it’s straight into really dense forest.  The first 20 minutes of the hike is along a rugged cedar plank trail. The instinct is to look up in awe at the towering Cedars, Hemlocks and Douglas Firs but some of the planks are rickety so best to come to a full stop to take in these giants . It’s quiet aside from the birdsong and wind rustling the forest canopy high above.

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The plank trail ends at the Hanging Garden Tree, an ancient Cedar with a circumference of 18.3 meters and a height of 42.7 meters. It’s big to say the least.  We lingered here a while and I shared a few of the stories I remembered from the show with my husband. The tree is said to contain a vast amount of species of insects that are yet to be discovered by scientist and although the tree is hollow, the Hanging Garden is bursting with life.

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Hilthuu? is the Tla-o-qui-aht place name for Meares Island.

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Many people decide to return along the cedar planks to the dock and head back to Tofino after seeing the Hanging Garden but there is a very rugged 3.5km trail that takes you around the island; we decided to keep going.  The trail is marked in some areas but others weren’t so clear.  The trick is to continue in a clockwise manner.  It’s very muddy and because the forest is so dense everything is wet to the touch and bug repellant is a must. Proper shoes are important.

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Cedar has been used by the people of this area for millennia for everything from clothing to canoes and some of the trees have visible scars from being stripped for their bark. . Only the amount needed would be harvested, never more.  This stripping of bark doesn’t hurt the trees but only 1 strip is taken at a time to make sure the tree remains healthy and intact.

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Only today (back home) and probably best, we found out that wolves live on Meares.  As much as I would love to see them, I’m happy we didn’t run into any this time.

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The Salal and Ferns grow thick in this forest and the trail took us through some treacherous areas, walking across huge fallen logs and through some deep mud.  We even lost the trail for a quick few minutes and found it by crawling on our hands and knees under a big tree trunk.  What an adventure!

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After 2 hours we arrived at the Return To Boat sign which signalled the end of our hike. Muddy, hot and with big smiles we stepped out of the forest shade and into the sunshine of the floating dock.

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We sat taking in the warm rays and rehydrating while waiting for our ride. When you are dropped off before the hike the water taxi driver puts you into his schedule (to keep track of who is on the island for safety) and he was right on time to pick us up again. Gliding across the straight back to civilization I was feeling excited to have finally seen the island and the big trees. I recommend you go if you are planning a trip to Tofino.

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Until next time Tofino!  And thanks for joining me.

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Love,

Jennifer

 

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