On the west coast of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, just a 30-minute flight from the city of Vancouver is Tofino, the gateway to Clayoquot Sound. The Sound is the very heart of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve comprising about 864,737 acres that was designated in 2000 and contains a diverse range of ecosystems within it, including temperate coastal rainforest and rocky shores.
Tofino has dramatic, fog-filtered seascapes, acres of emerald green blankets of Sitka Spruce, Cedar, Western Hemlock and Shore Pine trees, and a plethora of outdoor activities for both actives and armchair viewers. All of this coupled with Tofino’s innovative foodie scene and extremely friendly locals render it a risk that once here, you will not leave.
Located just outside the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and facing sweeping views of Chesterman Beach sits The Wickaninnish Inn, a Relais & Chateau property of 75-rooms. In two structures, The Pointe and The Beach, The Wick, as locals call it, is an architectural post-and-beam marvel set on a breathtaking promontory.
Public spaces and spacious rooms are decorated in an elegant, rustic-chic manner with an impressive selection of locally created art that pays homage to its location and the region’s First Nation heritage. Rooms have a fireplace, patio, BOSE music system, and binoculars, rain gear, excursion daypacks, an in-room coffee, tea and gourmet hot chocolate station. Then there are the expansive, mesmerizing ocean-facing windows. High-count sheets, lush mattress toppers and down pillows assure sleep of the prodigal innocent. Large dual vanity bathrooms are furnished with a rain shower and an enormous two-person bathtub possessing those same magnificent picture windows. Here you can sip the complementary in-room Port and stare out those beach facing windows as you contemplate your incredible good fortune at having picked the very best spot in Tofino, and perhaps all of Vancouver Island to hang your hat.
The third floor “Lookout Library” in The Beach building is inviting with its tripod high-powered binoculars, dvds, board games, and of course, an utterly captivating view of Chesterman Beach where you can literally lose yourself. There’s also a first edition copy of Captain George Vancouver’s “Voyage of Discovery,” circa 1798, on display, a framed map of Vancouver Island from the same voyage and a model of Vancouver’s ride, the HMS Discovery.
A well-equipped fitness center and daily morning yoga will keep you in good shape. Following a long beach walk, run or excursion, nothing beats The Wick’s Ancient Cedar Spa. Here you can be kneaded and rubbed into such a relaxed state that remembering one’s name will be difficult.
While The Wick has everything one would expect of a Relais & Chateau designated property, it has two distinct advantages. First and foremost, the owner, hotelier Charles McDiarmid, who spent 14 years with the Four Seasons Hotel group, is the eldest son of Dr. Howard McDiarmid and his wife Lynn. Dr. McDiarmid was for decades responsible for the region’s medical care and Tofino’s community hospital. Dr. McDiarmid was also instrumental in creating the Reserve. Thus, the family-owned and operated Wick in general, and Charles in particular, truly has Tofino running in his blood.
Second, in addition to well-trained Tofitian employees who treat guests like favored relatives in for a visit, The Wick has a remarkable number of international employees that add a worldly, United Nations ambience to this little slice of western heaven. Tel. 250/725-3100.
Eating in Tofino is a problem in that for a town of just under 2,000 people, there is an abundance of innovative, locally sourced choices. However, decisions must be made.
At 1909 Kitchen, a few blocks from the town center, enjoy the marina view in a hip setting and try the tasty miso and maple infused, cedar-roasted black cod. If Executive Chef Paul Moran is not in the kitchen, he can be found foraging the region’s bounty for mushrooms and other fresh ingredients. Tel 250/726-6122.
Downtown’s Sea Monster Noodle Bar is a great place for made-to-order noodle dishes and rice bowls. The fish curry noodle bowl with white fish prawns and eggplant was scrumptiously satisfying. Tel 250/725-1280.
If you can’t live without a Mexican food fix this far north of the border, then stop by Tacofino, a former food truck, now stationary, in the Live to Surf Complex just off Pacific Rim Highway, not far from Chesterman Beach. The fish tacos and “Gringas” – grilled flours tortillas stuffed with meat, beans or cheese and topped with salsa and sour cream – will have you channeling your inner mariachi in no time. Tel 250/726-8288.
The Wolf in the Fog located downtown is a quintessentially Tofino experience set in a woodsy chic atmosphere. The menu is fresh, creative and innovative. Its potato crusted oyster dish with apple and truffle was so delicious it caused me to have immediate onset amnesia: I completely forgot I dislike oysters and never, ever eat them. Thanks goodness I listened to bartenders Charley and Shannon and ordered them. Their “Local Legends” cocktail menu has several drinks made with local British Columbia spirits. The Humpback Vodka with sea asparagus-infused vermouth was smoothly divine. Tel. 250/250-9653.
The Pointe located at The Wick is on Chesterman Beach’s most western end. Focusing on the menu will be tough given the ethereal 240-degree ocean views and nearby islands vying for your attention.
But focus you must or you will miss Chef Warren Barr’s delightful plum and soy glazed Lois Lake steel head salmon with chanterelle mushrooms. Equally critical not to miss is the roasted strawberry and lemon tart or the ‘Big Kid’ Float, where sparkly Tattinger dances over strawberries and vanilla ice cream and is served with a delicate macaroon that still has me reliving my Parisian years. Tel. 250/725-3106.
There are so many possible outdoor activities in Tofino that the big challenge is choosing among whale, bear or bird watching, hiking, fishing or surfing. Then there is also kayaking, storm watching or an excursion to Hot Springs Cove in the Maquinna Provincial Park.
I joined two Australian couples and the knowledgeable and genial general manager Liam McNeil of Tofino Sea Kayaking for a 2.5-hour kayak excursion through the Sound. Under royal blue skies we glided through calm waters around Stubbs Island and Felice Island. Several harbor seals swam nearby and Canadian Bald Eagles flew overhead. Also remarkable, floating bull kelp, many the length of a stretch limo with heads the size of large grapefruits. Tel 250/725-4222.
Chesterman Beach has some of the most dramatic views of any seascape. Like a well-crafted Hollywood movie set, only better, the views change when the tempting trifecta of tide, sun and fog alter its breathtaking beauty, sometimes in an hour, sometimes in a minute.
Make sure and stroll around downtown, see its landmark totem pole and peruse the Mark Hobson Gallery. No doubt his background as a biologist has made his prolific body of work – original paintings, giclées and prints – even more impressive. Tel 250/725-3120.
If you are, like me, a card-carrying member of the International Chapter of Chocoholics Anonymous, you will want to stop in at Chocolate Tofino at the Live to Surf Complex. Here handcrafted chocolates and homemade gelatos served in freshly made chocolate-dipped waffle cones will remind you that diet is truly a four-letter word. Try the coffee toffee gelato with a chaser of the ‘secret’.
The lessons learned
As soon as you arrive to Tofino, you will begin to embrace its homespun phrase “Tofino time, half the pace, twice the pleasure.” And you will indeed want to go slowly to fully appreciate all that this remarkable place has on offer. Father Time will thus be your best friend as Mother Nature reveals herself in all of her tantalizing Tofitian glory.
Julie L. Kessler is MoneyInc’s Senior Travel Editor, writes travel for several other major media outlets, and is an attorney and legal columnist. She is also the author of the award-winning book “Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com