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Tofino – wave after wave of pleasure
If you’re a water sports enthusiast, Canada’s Surf Capital is certain to tickle your curiosity. California, however, it is not. The remote town of Tofino, on an isolated peninsula on Vancouver Island, attracts people seeking thrills, freedom and authentic wilderness throughout the year. As well as surfing, you can observe whales and bears in their natural habitat or canoe around the surrounding barren islands. Visitors flock to Tofino in the winter months too for another evermore popular activity: Storm watching. Tourists either brave the elements or watch on from the comfort of their hotels and cabins as waves bombard the Tofino coast.
Tofino was founded in the 18th century by Spanish explorers and named after Vincente Tofino, a hydrographer teacher. The tiny isolated settlement on the Esowista Peninsula on Vancouver Island, however, remained pretty much anonymous for a couple of hundred years. Despite having obvious touristic charms, only the most determined visitors could enjoy Tofino’s incredible natural beauty. A logging road and airport, opened in 1959, finally made the place accessible to tourists. Once the scenic Highway 4 was completed, the peninsula – especially around Long Beach, became a trendy destination for young travellers and surfers alike.
Rainforests and Wild Beaches
In the 1970s the 150,000 acres of rainforest around Long Beach became The Pacific Rim National Park. It has been a popular place for campers craving a real escape from civilisation ever since.
The park is well managed to ensure the natural beauty of the region is protected and that tourism is sustainable. As a consequence, you have to pay to enter and to pitch a tent. Long Beach, the most famous beach in the area, truly lives up to its name with 16 kilometres of long sands. With high waves throughout the year, it is a magnet for thrill-seeking surfers. Although the surf is great, you’ll need to pack a wetsuit as the average sea temperature is 10 degrees Celsius.
Following the trails through the beautiful forest, you may also stumble across less known unspoilt beaches and coves as well as rare birds, plants and wildlife.
Closer to Tofino, there are two other popular stretches of sand – Cox Bay and Chesterman Beach - with a good selection of hotels, lodges, campsites and cabins nearby. Chesterman Beach, just an eight minutes’ drive from Tofino, is particularly well suited to novice surfers. Both places though are great for experiencing some of the most breath-taking sunsets you could possibly imagine. The cosy bars and eateries are also welcome retreats too as the energy of the perfect storms starts to circulate.
There is also a good selection of guesthouses, lodges and hotels in Tofino village itself. With some of the most incredible ocean views in western Canada, you can sit out in front of a cabin and admire the many small wild islands in Clayoquot Sound.
Bear and Whale Watching
Whilst the surf is incredible, the storms are thrilling, and the atmosphere is electric, the most awe-inspiring part of your Tofino visit has to be getting acquainted with the gracious Pacific Gray and Humpback Whales in Clayoquot Sound. There are many firms offering boat trips and the opportunity to view these majestic migrating mammals in their natural habitat. The best time to go is in mating season in February to March, when you can also get good deals on hotel accommodation.
Almost as captivating as observing the whales, is spotting black bears foraging for food on the shores of the facing Meares Island. Many boat operators also offer bear watching excursions and scouring the coastlines so that you can see these powerful creatures from a safe distance without disturbing them in their natural surroundings.
Canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding are also popular pastimes. You can even cross the waters to Meares Island on canoe, which will give you a different perspective of the remote wilderness of this part of Vancouver Island. Meares Island is a reserve for several hundred of the indigenous people of this region who are known collectively as the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations.
If a bit of a lull after all the tempting high-octane activities on offer in Tofino appeals, you could pamper yourself in one of the many spas. However, you could do that anywhere. A more exciting option would be to take an excursion to the Hot Spring Cove in the Maquinna Marine Provincial Park. After just over an hour’s spellbinding boat trip and a 30-minute forest hike, you can wallow in a succession of warm pools and waterfalls, heated by the geothermal springs.
Whether for the surf, storms, trekking or wildlife, remote Tofino offers visitors unforgettable and thrilling getaways from the stress and monotony of urban life and a chance to get in touch with nature and themselves.