Why Visitors Travel to Vancouver Island and Hope for Stormy Weather
Original Article by Celeste Moure for Vogue Magazine
Island getaways conjure images of blue skies, sun, soft breezes, and balmy sit-out-with-a-book temperatures. But believe it or not, the turbulent weather on Canada’s Vancouver Island may coax you away from the typical tropical beach getaway. Mother Nature puts on an astonishing spectacle as storms originating from as far as Japan make their way across the Pacific Ocean and arrive on the island’s jagged west coast, where massive waves pound the rocky shores and roll across unspoiled beaches. In the quaint towns of Tofino and Ucluelet, from November through March, storm watching (and winter surfing) is the center of attention as between 15 and 20 stunningly powerful, and just stunning, “mega storms” batter the coastline. So never mind the sunglasses—instead pack your Wellies, a sturdy raincoat, and pray for the worst possible weather.
The Wickaninnish Inn may have spearheaded the storm-watching season in Tofino in the mid-’90s, but today almost every hotel in town and neighboring Ucluelet has jumped on board. Sitting on a bluff above Cox Bay is Pacific Sands resort, where spacious suites are outfitted with fully equipped kitchens, gas fireplaces, and outdoor decks with hot tubs. Borrow one of the resort’s yellow rain jackets and walk along eco-friendly wooden pathways that meander through the forest and lead to the beach. Tucked away into an old-growth forest in Ucluelet is the First Nations owned-and-operated Wya Point Resort. Simple but cozy post-and-beam-style cabins feature picture windows, fireplaces, and heated floors. Right outside your door are paths that lead to a private beach where instructors from the on-site Surf Shop will get you suited up for a lesson.
Go for a Paddle: Paddle West Kayaking
During a guided tour with an experienced Paddle West Kayaking naturalist, you’ll paddle the rugged shorelines of Clayoquot or Barkley Sound, which are teeming with intertidal life. You might spot seals, sea lions, sea otters, and eagles—and, if you’re lucky, maybe a black bear or even a whale—as you make your way across kelp forests.
Take a Hike: Wild Pacific Trail
This is the kind of island where a local with a crazy idea, an artist’s eye, and a passion for the outdoors can make anything happen. Jim Martin (aka Oyster Jim) had a vision of creating a public hiking trail along Ucluelet’s coastline and 16 years ago began sculpting small sections of what is now Wild Pacific Trail. The more than 5-mile network of paths features an Instagram-worthy lighthouse, interpretive signs, and benches tucked away into viewing points.
Hang 10: Surf Sister
With a backdrop of stunning old-growth rain forests, Tofino offers some of the most consistent surf in the world. It’s no wonder you’ll hear Australian, German, Dutch, and Kiwi accents in the water. The ladies who run Surf Sister Surf School will have you catching your first (or hundredth) wave in no time.
Coffee: Zoë’s Bakery and Cafe
A huge chalkboard menu written in perfect curlicue script lists the daily soup, salads, and sandwich specials as well as baked goods like peanut butter cups, pots-de-crème, and cupcakes. Zoë, the owner, turns gluten into a delectable edible art—take note of the “I love gluten” sticker inside.
Play: Howler’s Family Restaurant
This diner is cute as a button thanks to its casual ambience and warm decor. In the main dining area, exposed brick walls are accented by corrugated tin, while bare Edison lightbulbs hang above simple wooden tables. There’s a retro five-pin bowling alley and a vintage arcade in the back, complete with billiards tables.
Eat: Food Trucks
You won’t have any trouble finding Ravenlady Oyster Forte or Tacofino, two food trucks that have shut off their engines and found permanent homes. The former is located next to an Ucluelet liquor store in a small square with a sculpture garden and outdoor seating. Here, oysters are prepared every which way—panko-fried, smoked and drizzled with blue cheese, or poached in coconut curry. But you can’t go wrong with naked oysters on the half-shell. Tacofino—a favorite with locals both in Tofino and in Vancouver (where it has not just a truck but also multiple restaurants)—may have lost its wheels, but its locally sourced fish tacos and burritos are to die for.
Eat: Wolf in the Fog
Set above a surf shop and featuring decor made out of driftwood (a wolf greets you as you enter) and surfboards, the vibe at Wolf in the Fog—arguably the best restaurant in town—is laid-back lumberjack–meets–stoked surfer. In other words, this place is chill, with a soundtrack (James Brown, the Beach Boys, Beck) to match. After a day spent hiking or surfing in the rain, feel free to dress up—or not. Chef Nicholas Nutting, who spends his off time foraging in the forest and fishing in the ocean, makes a killer Moroccan-spiced octopus served on chickpeas, peppers, and tomatoes.
BC Ferries, which has crossings to Nanaimo from two Vancouver ferry terminals, is the most leisurely way (read: two hours on a ferry, then a three-hour drive to reach Tofino) to get to the island. Or take the one-hour Orca Airways flight directly into Tofino from Vancouver International Airport’s South Terminal.