That’s what Ken calls the west coast of Vancouver Island. For us baby boomers, the town of Tofino has always had an exotic aura. In our 20s, it was a destination nearly as enticing as Goa or Kathmandu. Today, it still calls with a siren song for those who love the Pacific coast and for cold-water surfers.
It’s about 175km from Parksville on the east side of the island to Tofino. About 100km of that is a true mountain road across the Vancouver Island Range. Sharp curves, steep hills, countless “slow” signs and spectacular views on mountains high enough to still have snow on their flanks in late August.
Finally, we arrived at a T-intersection, left for Ucluelet, right for Tofino. You can’t go further west. The land here is covered with a rainforest of massive douglas fir, red cedar and new growth hemlock, witch’s hair moss drape their branches.
And then, in breaks between the trees, the wild Pacific, cold and powerful. Despite the claims made about tropical beaches on far-off islands, I believe Long Beach is the most beautiful in the world. It is wide and covered in fine sand. On one side the endless views over the Pacific, on the other, the rich green of a centuries-old forest. Along the forest edge, tumbled logs washed up by the ocean, bone white. Surfers use the washed-up logs to cobble make-shift shelters where they hang their wetsuits and shelter from the endless wind. There’s a connection with raw nature here. I love walking on this beach. It’s like watching a campfire, ever changing yet constant. Magnificent.
In reality, Tofino and Ucluelet are fishing villages and that’s still an important activity here. Boats go out every morning and small fish plants dot the inlets. Tofino, at the end of the road on the north end, became a destination for artists and chefs years ago. Ucluelet, at the south end, is quickly catching up, but with it’s own distinctive character. The mix of remoteness and sophistication with a surfer dude backbeat is enchanting.
Both villages are overwhelmed by tourists this summer. There isn’t a service we didn’t wait in line for – restaurants and coffee shops, especially. Businesses are understaffed and still accommodate us with a smile. We tourists are a seasonal intrusion surprising well tolerated.
But the wilderness, the raw power of the Pacific and the majesty of the rainforest are what will continue to draw me back to the real west coast.