Date: 26th January 2014
If ever there was a perfect coastline, in my eyes, it would be this. Peppered with islands, rocky outcrops, secluded bays and secret sandy beaches, the coastline around the small town of Tofino is picture perfect. On top of that is the sense of mystery and anticipation of a chance encounter with a bear, wolf or a glimpse of a whale amidst the waves.
Anne Marie and I slept under canvas at the Bella Pacifica Campground which offered sheltered sites in the forest only steps away from McKenzie Beach and a few km from downtown Tofino. The town itself is more of a village, with one main street providing access to a network of piers, harbours and coves. We arrived at the very start of summer when things were still pretty sleepy, but the population booms each year with tourists flocking for the camping, hiking, scenic tours and world-famous surfing.
We spent a few days exploring the surrounding coast and took a full day boat tour to Hot Springs Cove with Marina West Motel Eco-Tours. After some debate on whether to fly to the springs, which would take just 20 minutes, I’m so glad we opted for the longer boat trip as the sights along the way were incredible.
First on the list were Grey Whales, which proved elusive and with choppy seas, the most we glimpsed of them was a flash of their backs as they surfaced for air. Still, this was my very first whale encounter which was exciting all the same. You really get a sense of how immense these beasts are. With each outward breath a cloud of steam burst from the water like a geyser, followed by hoots from those on board and the frantic snapping of camera shutters.
Dolphins appeared next, followed by Harbour Seals, Sea Otters, multi-coloured Star Fish, Bald Eagles and plenty more bird life. All of this was just en-route to the hot springs, which were really something else. After a short trek through the forest along a wooden boardwalk we were met with the tell-tale smell of sulphur and steam rising through the rocks below our feet. It was then off with the clothes and a frantic tip-toe dash over the rocks in search of the ‘goldilocks’ pool; not too hot, not too cold.
There’s something primeval about sitting in a bath-warm rock pool, the sound of ocean waves pounding against the shore only feet away. You can imagine generations of First Nations people coming to use these pools long before they were discovered as a tourist attraction. I think the locals have got the balance just right here though, it’s not over developed, other than the walkway, changing shelter and basic toilet the rest is pure nature.
After our hot springs adventure we cooked up a big feed back at camp before heading down to the beach. Tofino is certainly one of those places where people are drawn to the shore each evening to watch the sunset. Each one we saw seemed more spectacular than the last. It’s something no photographer will ever tire of and a perfect way to unwind after a long day of exploring.
The drive south to Victoria took us through a beautiful mountain lined landscape and past Cathedral Grove, home to ancient Douglas Fir trees, some over 800 years old. The trees are truly enormous and it’s not long before you feel the effects of repeatedly craning your neck skyward. It’s a real shame that such ancient trees are so rare to come by. The timespan in which these trees have lived can only make you think about the past and how in that time we’ve devastated forests like this the world over.
After the wilderness of Tofino, Victoria was a nice change of pace. It’s a big enough city with a population of over 300,000, but dam it’s elegant. The harbour is definitely it’s main focal point, with yachts, tour boats, ferries and seaplanes zipping to and fro. Commanding over all of this commotion is the historic Empress Hotel, wrapped in a cloak of Ivy.
We didn’t have long to spend in Victoria which was unfortunate. With so many inviting bars and restaurants, it would have been nice to stay longer. Still, it’s always nice to have an excuse to return.