* Prices may differ from that shown
==Getting to Tofino==
Tofino is a spectacular coastal town set on the Pacific rim of Vancouver Island. Vancouver Island itself is huge, it is about the size of the UK so don't let the word "Island" make you think it is tiny - it is not. A lot of it is inaccessible by road due to the gorgeous landscape. We hopped on the ferry from Horseshoe Bay Vancouver to Nanaimo. There are no direct ferries to Tofino so this is about the best route you can take. We jumped on the 9pm ferry which was a good bet, we got there about 8pm to the ferry terminal. There is no messing about on the BC Ferries, they get you on and off in no time - P&O Ferries take note for the English channel! The ferry was empty and we spent the two hour journey from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo relaxing and getting some food. We arrived in Nanaimo, shattered and the map we had sent us the total wrong way to the Travelodge which was "just around the corner". The drive to Tofino was around 3 hours from Nanaimo so we decided not to do it at night and waited for the morning
==Things to Do en route to Tofino from Nanaimo==
No rest for the wicked! We set off for Tofino early again, we left around 8am after a very nice breakfast in the Travelodge (possibly its only redeeming feature!). We stopped at Coombs to see Goats on the Roof which were totally random and not really as much of a tourist attraction as we thought!...it was literally just goats on a roof! Worth the five minute detour though. We also stopped at Cathedral Grove and walked one of the trails (really easy to walk trail with marked pathways). Vancouver Island was wet. But you know, it didn't matter, it all added to the atmosphere of the place, the low clouds, the mist, it felt just as I had expected it to. We liked Cathedral Grove, but unlike the brilliant facilities of Jasper and Banff national parks that we had experienced before it, the toilet facilities were disgusting in this area, given the amount of tourists who must visit, they seriously need to empty those longdrops much more frequently!
==Things to do in Tofino==
We only had around 30 hours in Tofino and had to make the most of it. We stayed in Pacific Sands Resort which sounds super exotic like it should be in Hawaii, let me tell you it was lovely but the weather was nothing like Hawaii. I will re-iterate, Vancouver Island is wet. Located in the Pacific North West, anyone who has read Twilight knows its a wet place (Forks is the wettest place in the Pacific North West which is why it is ideal for Vampires - I digress! Pacific Sands was a nice place right on the beach, the staff again were really helpful.
There is a longgggggggggg road with trees either side (must be 20 miles long) - at the end is Tofino. Along the road hidden amongst the trees are all the resorts as majority of them overlook the longgggg beaches. One beach is even aptly named "Long Beach" (but no Inglewood for all you Dr Dre fans out there!). They are "the best beaches in Canada" - its worth noting Canada is not famous for its beaches so you may think there is little competition but they have amazing temperate rainforest in the background linking up to the long beaches filled with driftwood. It looked like a scene out of a film. Totally stunning.
A "must-do" is visiting the the rock pools at low tide - our hotel helped us with low tide times as I guess most hotels would. We went for a walk around 4pm and saw brightly coloured starfish and sea anemones in the rock pools. We also got chatting to a lovely elderly lady who lived on the beach. She told us there was a property for sale on the beach for $4 million. If only we could win the lottery!! We both absolutely loved the peace and serenity of Tofino. It is an ideal place to watch the waves crash onto the beach and was extremely popular with surfers even though we didn't partake in the activities.
We tried to get into the Wick Inn (Wickannish Inn) which is perfectly positioned on a rock to watch the waves but it was fully booked so we made do with our beach front apartment instead :)
Link to the Wick Inn - http://www.wickinn.com/stormwatching.html <-- Very popular with storm watchers, it must be AMAZING in Winter!
Beach walks and rainforest walks were popular - be wary of the local carnivores, wolves and cougars as well as bears are frequent visitors to this area.
Note: Vancouver Island is very wet. The beaches are brilliant at Tofino but don't expect to get a tan! Even in high summer we were lucky to get a break in the drizzle.
==Out on the Pacific Ocean==
There are many water sporting activities you can undertake in Tofino. The main town is full of shacks with tours advertised. It doesn't feel too touristy though and I really liked the little town. It didn't have many shops but the supermarket had more in it than any other supermarket we had visited in Canada - a great selection for such a small town. You can also take a seaplane ride over Tofino which I think would be really cool! You can go on boat rides to see super-old Oak trees on nearby islands or of course, one of the major attractions is whale watching or bear watching.
We decided to go whale watching with Jamie's Whaling station. The tour was good, the boat was bumpy and we felt pretty sick after 2 hours. I'd asked in the shop before we went which boat we would be going on and they assured me it was nothing like a Zodiac (a bouncy hovercraft thing) and we wouldn't feel sick at all. However, the deckhand announced that the boat we were on was EXACTLY like a zodiac and bounced and bounced and bounced. We were really glad to get off. We paid $250 for the two of us for 2 hours. Whales were guaranteed. What they don't tell you is yes you'll see the back of whales, you might see the odd whale tail if you are lucky, but if you want to see them breaching and playing, here is not the place to see that - you need to be in Mexico for that during their play time. We saw gray whales and humpbacks (they sometimes see orcas but not guaranteed) but both felt disappointed that they didn't breach as there were dozens of pictures in the shop of them breaching. Obviously they can't guarantee what the whale will do, but I felt it was a little misleading. We also felt we hardly got any time around the whales, they were more interested in taking us back via another route to see eagles and sea lions. Whilst they were great, we had gone to see whales and felt like we'd hardly see anything for the money we paid, on top of feeling really sick and let down by the boat, it wasn't the most fun we'd ever had! :(
Righhhhhht at the other end of the very longgggg road is a place called Ucluelet (known locally as Ukey)- it's mainly where the locals live but has some amazing walks and beaches too but is often overlooked by
tourists even though its totally gorgeous! We decided to go to Ucluelet as one of our whale watching friends had said bald eagles love to sit in the trees outside a cafe called Cynamoka. The coffee was great, the staff were really miserable and the damned eagles were not in their tree! Still, we didn't mind - but take heed people - the drive up and down to park in the coffee shop is STEEP, we scraped the bottom of the car both going up and down and lots of other cars did too - park on the road! We had a little drive around the beaches in Ucluelet and I concluded that it had had a really rough ride in terms of tourism, everyone seems to love Tofino but I think Ukey had a lot to offer as well and with more time we would have loved to have done some of the walks. Time wasn't on our side here and I do think 2-3 nights in Tofino/Ukey would have been perfect for us, but at least we got to see it and we would definitely go back!
I would love to go back to Tofino and Ukey for a few more days. It is well worth seeing and I'd love to see it in a different season (not sure I'd fancy the mountain drive in the winter though!). If you plan to go to Vancouver Island, try to see Tofino rather than Victoria or Nanaimo, it really is quite special and I imagine very similar to Washington State or Olympic National Park in terms of scenery. Gorgeous place, you won't regret visiting! DooYoo Mail me if you need any more tips or are thinking of visiting.
Vancouver Island is the westernmost part of Canada, and on Vancouver Island it's the west coast that is famous for its unique natural environment and associated outdoor pursuits.
Originally, most of the island was covered in forest, bust as it has been intensively logged for over a hundred of years, there are only relatively small vestiges of this original forest left. Some of it has been preserved as part of the Pacific Rim National Park, which incorporates incredible old-growth temperate rainforest, beaches, rock formations, caves and sea stacks, streams and waterfalls.
The Park is divided into three separate units. The West Coast Trail is a 75 km hiking trail accessible only on foot or (in an emergency by boat, starting at Pachena Bay south of Bamfield). This is a gruelling seven day hike, with limited access points and a lot of rough, wet and muddy terrain. The Broken Group Islands form archipelago of over hundred islands scattered throughout Barkley Sound between Ucluelet and Bamfield and is only accessible by boat, with some local operators offering kayak drop-offs. The most popular, accessible and the smallest of the Pacific Rim National Park units is the Long Beach, located between Ucluelet and Tofino. Despite its name the Long Beach incorporates significant areas of coastal forest in addition to the sandy sea shore. Ucluelet and Tofino are themselves not parts of the national park, but both form convenient launching points for exploring the Long Beach (Ucluelet has also a choice of boat trips to the Barkley Sound & the Broken Group Islands).
The whole of the Long Beach and surrounding areas are an excellent location for many outdoor activities.
Surfing is among the big ones, especially in Tofino which is definitely a bit of a cult surfing destination, with a correspondingly relaxed and slightly New-Agey vibe and plenty of beach-bum culture in evidence). Sea kayaking is also common, particularly in the islands of the Barkley Sound. Sunbathing or swimming are not really a serious option, as the area has a huge rainfall and rather low summer temperatures (around 15C), while water never gets warm enough for swimming; but diving in the Long Beach resorts is excellent and by some considered to be the best in the world.
Hiking is deservedly popular, with numerous short trials accessible from the road in the Long Beach area of the national park, while Ucluelet has its own (and still growing) walking path under the name of Wild Pacific Trail, incorporating sections of the forest, rocky cliffs and beach.
Fishing cabins and resorts are present in many locations, especially in Ucluelet, while among the most common and most advertised local attractions are whale and other wildlife watching boat trips. There are many operators, usually running covered boat and zodiac (rigid hull inflatable) trips, charging around 100 CAD per adult plus minus 10% and various amounts for children. The area is known for frequent whale sightings, being on the migratory route of grey whales (these are most often seen in the spring) as well as having some resident local greys, humpbacks and an occasional orca. Some companies offer "guaranteed sightings" which sadly doesn't mean your money back if you don't see a whale, but rather a possibility of going on another trip for free. If your chosen tour operator offers such guarantee, make an effort to go on a trip earlier during your stay so you can go again if you don't see any whales on the first trip. There are also bear watching trips as well as tours that combine marine life watching with a hike on land, for example the Hot Springs trip from Tofino.
But perhaps the best thing to do when in the area is beach-combing. A gentle hike combined with a wildlife safari and a treasure hunt, a not-too-serious beach-combing expedition shows the endless fascination that the liminal space between the land and the ocean holds for human beings. Its hard to imagine a more overtly boring and actually fascinating activity than walking along a beach in a pounding surf, soles polished by the fine sand, feet caressed by the water (even when cold it's strangely pleasurable), iodine rich salt spray filling the lungs with joy, eyes shifting from the sand underneath (was this a piece of eight shining under that clump of seaweed?) to the sky (is it brightening up, perhaps?).
The Pacific beaches of the west coast of Vancouver Island are great for such aimless beach wanderings. There are living ecosystems to explore, with numerous shells and species of algae washed out onto the shore, and birds soaring above. There is lots of driftwood, mostly from logging operations, but some naturally produced, large and small pieces bleached and polished by the sea to a smooth perfection, convoluted, organic forms surreal like Jean Arp sculptures.
Storm watching has became a recognised activity in the recent years (whatever next?) and winter beaches of Tofino and Ucluelet are a fabulous location to indulge. The Pacific, in its raw strength, is pretty impressive even when relatively calm and I can just imagine how awe inspiring the power of a real storm here must be.
Anybody looking to stay in the Long Beach area would need to choose between Tofino and Ucluelet (although there is no reason not to split the stay between both places).
Tofino is prettier and located at the very north-western edge of the area accessible by road. The sandy beaches are closer to Tofino, as are the Hot Springs and other locations of the Clayoquot Sound. The village itself is more beach-bum, surfer kind of place, more overtly touristy, with every single shop front and business devoted to tourist trade.
Ucluelet seems a slightly more real place, although it's also very touristy. It's further from the vast surfing beaches (but it's all within a 20 minutes' drive anyway) but closer to fishing and kayaking areas of the Barkley Sound. It is also slightly cheaper as far as accommodation goes and has more hiking featuring rocky cliffs.
I personally liked Ucluelet more, though how much of it was to do with the fact that we had slightly better weather there than in Tofino is hard to say. Tofino does seem to have certain magical quality of its very own, which is still there despite totally relentless exploitation by the tourist industry.
All in all, some tourist traps are tourist traps for a reason: Tofino and Ucluelet form a prime example of that - unless you can reach some of the boat-only locations, one of these villages is pretty much unmissable in any Vancouver Island trip. Go on, dip your feet in the Pacific.
After weeks of glorious sunshine and very hot temperatures in mainland Canada, I arrived on Vancouver Island to be greeted by cloud and grey skies. The further across the island I got to Tofino, the worse the weather got, and this definitely set the tone for my few days in Tofino.
I didn't actually stay in Tofino but at a campsite between Tofino and Ucluelet. Both are located on the western coast of Vancouver Island and are part of the Pacific Rim National Park. The Park is in the tsunami hazard region and there are signs as to where to evacuate should a tsunami hit. Personally, I did think that it was probably a bit late to be trying to evacuate should the tsunami hit as they do say that if you can see a tsunami there's not a lot you can do.
Tofino is located on the main road which connects the eastern side of the island with the west. This road is particularly winding and I felt car sick for a lot of the way, especially once we'd past Port Alberni. As a result, even though the distance isn't long, it does take a good few hours to drive from Nanaimo on the western coast.
**Why go to Tofino?**
Most people go to Tofino because it is meant to be one of the best places to go for whale watching, sea kayaking and surfing. Now, I did none of these so cannot offer my personal view of what I thought of these, but the people I was travelling with did the first two. As a result I ended up with a lot of free time to spend and the thought of that in a place as small as Tofino when the weather was grey and by this point rainy, did little to cheer me up.
There are several companies within Tofino that offer half day and full day excursions. The cost includes transport and all equipment, which in the case of my friends meant thick red padded overalls complete with hoods and lights and bright yellow rain macs (remember the weather was not good). Once they had all got themselves ready, watching them waddle to the inflatable boat was quite a sight! They went on a full day excursion which lasted some 6 hours and included a stop on an island to hike to the hot springs. As for the whales, they saw two whales. But, when I say saw, I mean they saw two grey humps slightly protruding out of the water - and I'm not exaggerating, I've seen the photos! For many, the best part was the hot springs, and nearly all of them fell asleep on the boat on the way back. So, it appears that whale watching was not quite the trip they had in mind, but they did get to see what they went for.
As with whale watching, I opted out of this (I'm not a boat lover in case you hadn't guessed). This went a lot more successfully than the whale watching. The trip lasted about 4hours during which time they paddled to Meares Island and back, and went for a walk around the island. The kayaks seated two people and everyone was provided with life jackets and given a lesson on basic kayaking technique prior to going. From what I could work out, the back person has to follow the front one and both must paddle in rhythm for the kayak to move well.
No one I knew did this, but I did see companies within Tofino offering surfing lessons including all equipment so there must be some mad people out there who want to surf in the cold.
Now, as I didn't participate in the whale watching or the sea kayaking, this left me with a lot of time to explore Tofino. Tofino is small. If you're from the UK, think of a typical British high street, and that is probably as long as the main road in Tofino. There are a number of coffee shops, a few clothes stores (mainly outdoor clothing), a few art galleries and the essentials. So not much, but to the surprise of my friends I did manage to wile away the entire day there.
My advice would be to go to a coffee shop and have a good hearty breakfast/brunch which is what I did. I stopped at a place called Tuff Beans which is right next to the laundrette and two doors down from the Visitor Information Centre. I had a full American/Canadian breakfast and a very delicious soy milk hot chocolate. The cafe has a number of tables indoors and outdoors, free wi-fi and a few internet terminals. Note though that the internet is not cheap. The cheapest internet I found was at the library, but this is not open everyday and only generally in the afternoons. Plus there are only a few internet terminals.
I then browsed all the shops, many of which had sales. There are a range of clothes stores - you could buy yourself hiking gear, clothes for a party or night out, and then general everyday wear. There is a pharmacy which seems to also act as a bookshop, a decent sized supermarket and two liquor stores.
My tour of Tofino also took me past the hospital which is very small, and the one restaurant that I found. Tofino seemed to have a lot more cafes than restaurants but then maybe the restaurants were elsewhere. As I already mentioned there is a laundrette for those needing to do their laundry, and a library. About half way up the main road, there is a park with children's play area and public toilets (which were clean).
I also wandered back to the wharf area and watched the heli-planes landing and taking off, and to the docks where the fishing boats were.
I was surprised by how many small art galleries/exhibitions there were in Tofino. I went to a couple, the best of which was in a wooden effect building with a totem pole outside. Inside the gallery was very dark but this had the effect of making the paintings really stand out. There was also the opportunity to purchase some of the art. Off the top of my head I cannot recall who the artist was but if I do, I will add this into the review. Either way, I really liked the simple nature of the paintings and the black against the brightly coloured sky and water in the paintings.
Surprisingly I quite liked Tofino and I definitely feel that I saw the place. One day would probably have been enough here and I'm not sure I'd recommend Tofino if you weren't going to do at least one of the activites that attracts people to it. For such a small place where there's not really much to do, I saw a lot of people in Tofino and the laid back air of the place meant I just went with the flow and relaxed, and from what it seems probably had a better time than my friends!
If ever you're visiting British Columbia and want to take a few days away from it all, you have more options than you can point a stick at. Just about everywhere outside of Vancouver and Victoria is as peaceful and as quiet and as scenic as you could possibly wish for. However, if you want mountains, beaches, surfing, peace, quiet, relaxation, scenic drives, boat trips, whale watching, good walks, easy walks, tough walks, any kind of walks you like, then Tofino is the place to be! Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, it's a long way from anywhere. The nearest town of any size is Nanaimo, a good 2.5 to 3 hours away by car. This may sound like a bad thing, but I can assure you the drive alone makes the trip well worth while. For the first half hour or so, there's nothing special to look at, but then you turn off onto the road which will take you right across the island, and the scenery starts getting spectacular. It's mountains, lakes and huge trees by the score for the next couple of hours. The first highlight you'll come to is Cathedral Grove, with some of the biggest trees you'll see this side of California's redwoods. You can pull off the road and take a walk amongst them if you're not in too much of a hurry. Not long after Cathedral Grove and shortly before Port Alberni, you'll pass the Coombs Country Candy shop on your right. All I can say is - go there! The most amazing ice cream, toffees, etc, and just perfectly placed for a half-time break. After Port Alberni, it's up into the mountains, and the road gets pretty alpine in places, with tight corners and sheer drops. The last 30 miles or so before you reach Tofino take you through the Pacific Rim National Park. Here, you'll find a whole load of walks, beaches and beautiful views. After that amazing drive, you're finally in Tofino itself. There's a whole range of b&bs and self-catering cabins to choose from. You can get a cabin right
down on the beach, which is fantastic for those late evening romantic walks. Or you can get a place in town. Just book early, because all the best ones get snapped up pretty quick! In Tofino, the main industries are fishing and tourism. Not surprisingly, the two are combined pretty comprehensively, with several places offering boat trips. The main themes of the boat trips are whale watching, hot springs, tours of the Sound and bear watching. The whale watching trips involve dressing up in a bright orange boiler suit and getting tossed about on the open sea, so not for a landlubber like me, but great for those of us with strong sealegs. The hot springs trips involve taking a boat to a part of the coast which is only accessible by boat, then taking a 1km walk through the forest to the hot springs, where you can sit and turn your legs to jelly, ready for the slightly trickier trek back to the boat! Tofino isn't a place to go if you're looking for a lively nightlife, but if you want to get away from it all, it's difficult to beat.