Original Article by Lucy Hyslop for Vancouver Sun
When you endure winters on the wet coast, it’s not often that you hope for more bad weather on your vacation.
But heading to Tofino in winter has long been about not just braving but positively embracing the storms. I’ve been heading into the funnel of a storm roughly every other year since 2001 to see, feel and hear the wickedly whipped waves – I’m just not so keen to be a storm chaser when journeying over to the wild west of Vancouver Island by plane.
I was aboard a small plane as it bounced in turbulent high-altitude weather – a visceral sinking-stomach reaction. My fellow passengers, from Vancouver and Calgary, along with a honeymooning couple from the U.K., were all up for a winter tempest – although not quite so close up at a few thousand feet high. It was a relief to see the sandy sweep of Long Beach -as we landed at one of the world’s best landing strips, ane just less than an hour from Vancouver Airport’s South Terminal. (And flying makes a good change from the five or so hours it can take to journey from Vancouver by car and ferry.)
Of course, being here in the off season means prices are notably lower – and there are fewer tourists kicking around, to boot – but Tofino’s stormwatching calling card is not just the fond imaginings of a few tourism marketers.
For city dwellers, there’s nothing like it: A storm among towers, traffic, and a busy schedule is nothing more than a hindrance; a storm in the wild is a spectacular, rollercoaster of a show.
The sea spray spiraling off the breakers is the ultimate, trippy West Coast facial, as you bound over rocks and intertidal swells revealing bright-green sea anemone gurgling underneath. Think of it as enforced meditation as you count the rhythm of the waves before the biggest one trundles in and you’re humbled by its punch.
On Chesterman Beach – another white curve of a beach roughly “the depth of 50 surfboards” (that’s how local surfers describe it) and bookended with silhouetting Sitka trees – everyone’s geared up in the traditional beachwear of southwesters and gumboots or heading into the sea in their thick “Canadian bikini” wetsuits, hoods, booties and gloves to surf. Both images giving life to the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing (especially when Northern Pacific Ocean temperatures are only around 10C year round).
Like most visitors, however, it doesn’t take long before I ditch the coat, waders and great outdoors, and slink into a hot tub to watch the torrent roll in. Let’s just say there’s nothing more smug than being toasty (and indulging in chocolate-covered strawberries and a hot chocolate) while the coast takes a drubbing.
Right on cue, the next day brings a little sunshine to let us explore in a new light. We head south to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve – Canada’s first national park west of the Rockies and notably, will be free of fees next year to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary – to hike among the mossy Western Redcedar, Western Hemlock and even Pacific silver fir, before we backtrack north to the end of the Esowista peninsula and the town.
At the vanguard of a laidback lifestyle (and scooping Time Inc.’s 2016 Sunset Travel Award for “Best Beach Town in the West”), everything about Tofino is ruled by the elements. Where once there were only two restaurants that open all year round, today there are many (from Shelter and Sobo to RedCan Gourmet and Wolf in the Fog) whatever the month, and the season will be spread out in front of you: from the dinosaur-esque gooseneck barnacles, the delicacy revered as percebes in Spain that harvesters riskily prize off rocks out in the middle of Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, to the parade of hedgehog, chanterelle, angel wings and yellowfoot mushrooms sliced from some secret stash under a crumbling Douglas fir nearby.
Coffee and beer dominate, too: Saturday night heaves with locals heading to Industrial Way’s Tofino Brewing Company (don’t miss out on its “umami-type” kelp stout from locally harvested kelp) and in town java hangouts include Rhino Coffee House.
Even its art has a nod to the elements, with creations daubed on surfboards (after all, there are some nine surf schools you can call on to help you pop up and ride into shore – whatever the season) dotted throughout the town.
Sun, sea, sandcastles? So over-rated when you can have horizontal rain, moody skies and pounding surf to keep you company.
If you go – Accommodations
The Wickaninnish Inn
Jutting out on to the rocks at Chesterman Beach, the sumptuous Wick Inn has just celebrated its 20th anniversary (its owner Charles McDiarmid is the veritable godfather of the stormwatching phenom). Expect high craftsmanship and wood-centric, triple-glazed suites complete with TVs that can be tucked away at the press of a button and in the closets, shiny Helly Hansen raincoats begging to be worn.
Chesterman Beach B&B
This neat oceanfront B&B – Tofino’s first (it opened in 1984) – is virtually on the sand at Chesterman. Tucked behind an imposing old-growth forest of cedar and spruce trees, it has suites with gas fireplaces and kitchenettes.
Long Beach Lodge resort
Just being greeted by the Douglas fir desk designed by North Vancouver wood guru Brent Comber sets a luxurious tone at Long Beach Lodge – and that’s before you reach its Great Room complete with ocean backdrop.
Pacific Sands Beach Resort
Test drive the new Surfside Grill and Surf Shack at this resort on Cox Bay, which now also offers Sunset House, a newly renovated guesthouse for 10 people. Say hello to fireplaces and balconies throughout.
Whalers on the Point Guesthouse
With one of the world’s most enviable views across Clayoquot Sound and its broken islets as well as the 5,000-year-old Opitsat community of the Nuu-chah-nulth nation, this Tofino Hostel is a friendly spot that’s worth checking out.
Black Rock Oceanfront Resort
Statement floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase the ocean, Black Rock is designed to be “set in nature.” The resort suites include gas fireplaces and soaker tubs.