On my first day in Tofino, British Columbia I found myself whispering. Talking at a normal level seemed like it would shatter the tranquility and scare the bald eagles and river otters living all around. The quiet in this small village was welcoming and soothed my mind and soul as well as my ears. The colors here are blue and green. The icy blue waters of the sound and bay are surrounded by mountains of ancient green rainforest and are just as calming as the quiet.
Stretching some 280 miles along the west coast of the U.S. and Canada, Vancouver Island is an untamed land about the size of Holland, roughly 12,400 square miles. High steep mountains running north to south split the island into two sections and shield the east side of the island and the southern parts of British Columbia from the terrific Pacific storms
The village of Tofino sits on the western side of the island on Long Beach Peninsula, a piece of land that juts out into the Pacific and is surrounded by massive sounds and inlets. Tofino with its 2,000 permanent residents is on the north side of the peninsula, and Ucluelet, one of the most renowned kayaking destinations in the world, is on the other side. In between is the northern part of Pacific Rim National Park.
The park and the two towns draw in about a million visitors a year, but almost all of them are there in June, July and August. September and October (as well as April and May) are perfect times to visit to soak in the solitude. At this time of year you can hike the rainforest trail or kayak the sound and have the place almost entirely to yourself. Temperatures can vary and are almost always on the cool side, but wet and cool is what the Pacific Northwest is all about. In fact, being there on a stormy night can be a fun experience when you are watching it from the comfort of your room by a fireplace.
Until this year driving was the only way in, but now Kenmore Airlines out of Seattle offers a few flights to Tofino that make getting there half the fun. Leaving from Boeing field in Seattle the flight takes you over the dazzling San Juan Islands that dot the Pacific and gives you a glimpse down onto the green fields, some beautiful seaside island homes, and rugged undeveloped islands. If you take this route in you will stop on the eastern side of Vancouver Island in a town called Nanaimo (yes, this is where the famous chocolate dessert with the same name comes from) to go through customs. Stop in the gift shop for a Nanaimo bar and once in Tofino you can rent a car and take the only road into town.
Once you have arrived, nature is the only item on the “to do” list. Kayaking is the best way to experience the wild life and appreciate the coastlines. Kayak trips for the first timer or experienced traveler all are easily available. Or, if you are not ready for a sea adventure, the rainforest may be more your speed. The best place to start discovering the rainforest is at the Wickaninnish Center which is located on a broad expansive beach that seems completely unspoiled. This interpretive center offers exhibits and local history information and is a good way to get your bearings.
One hidden spot I particularly recommend is Hot Springs Cove. There are no roads to get there, only a bumpy and exciting hour-long boat-ride followed by an amazing 30-minute hike along the pristine coastline. At the end of the hike you will be rewarded with a natural hot spring with a temperature of around 120 degrees bubbling from the dark soil amid ferns and huge conifers. The water cascades down the rocks into several natural pools and then into the ocean. Bathers can stand under the hot waterfall or sit in one of the many natural pools including one pool at the bottom where at high tide the cold waves of the ocean rush in giving you a hot and cold bath all at once.
For a small town you might think you would have to “rough it” where lodging and food is concerned, but that is not the case. Some surprising high quality places await you upon your return from your outdoor adventures. For lodging, the five-star rated attraction for both lodging and food is at the Wickaninnish Inn. Built on an outcropping of rock that juts into the ocean this hotel has 180 degree water views that are spectacular in any setting. Each of the 76 rooms offers an ocean view, fireplace, and furniture made from recycled old growth fir and driftwood. Everyone raves about The Point; the fine dining restaurant in the inn. The dining room faces the pounding surf with glass all around and a huge pounded copper fireplace to drive away the wet chill that often fills the air.
A more economical lodging I can recommend is the Cable Cove Inn. This wonderfully clean, well-run inn faces Clayoquot Sound and the Pacific and features six rooms with hot tubs, gas fireplaces, and views of the water. A breakfast is delivered to your door each morning and massages and yoga classes are available in a separate little guesthouse built down the cliff overlooking a tiny bay. There are no phones, no TV’s, and no Internet connections here. This is perfect for keeping with the solitude found in Tofino and for a truly romantic evening without distraction.
Dan Dawson is a travel journalist and dedicated world traveler who has written articles for many publications on adventures abroad. He is also the marketing manager for the Big Blue Bus. Tell him about your favorite vacation spot at www.WonderlustTravel.com