Episode 9: Tofino

So, we slipped through the intersection, rode by the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and headed for Tofino. We got hung up in some gnarly rain but as we arrived in town the rain faded and the sun began to punch its way through. We were lucky, end of October and the sun was sporting its colours, highly unusual for Tofino. If there's one thing you can count on in Tofino heading into the off season was unpredictable weather.

In mid October!

Stealing the last waves before dusk

The Wickininnish

We checked into our next digs, the Wickaninnish Inn on Chesterman Beach. The 'Wick' has a reputation, it's supposed to be quite good, so I was looking forward to seeing if it'd measure up to its 'best resort in Canada' status as heralded by Travel + Leisure magazine in 2015. Any resort worth its salt will boast a stunning backdrop and the Wick had that stitched up. All one has to do is go to the lower level, through the cafe, out the door and walk the short walk to the beach to get why the place is special. There's obviously been great care in the development of the Wick and that was confirmed by managing director Charles McDiarmid's comments during a two hour tour of the property. For me there's no better building material on the planet than wood. It has a natural beauty and connects us with the elements. The Wick definitely connects here, in fact it connects with the forest around it, the rocks before it, and the water a short distance away. With the layout of the Wick one has to nod ones head to the level of commitment in working with nature as opposed to erasing it. The site was selectively cleared and those trees that came down for the build were recycled as building materials and art in the Wick itself, just look at the huge portico supports at each entrance and the entrance doors themselves. Every effort has been made to embrace and pay tribute to the locale which struck a chord within me. The other thing I picked up on was the attention to detail, even if one wanted to ignore it, it works at you on a subliminal level. There are so many small details that are passed by on an individual level that conspire on a collective level to augment the experience. Now this isn't a plug for the Wick, though I know it must read like one, after all they did 'comp' us our stay, but the builder in me has to acknowledge the experience for what it is. It can't be denied.

Wick art

Roughing it!

View from the deck

Wick art

Add local art to the mix and the 'storm watching' restaurant on the point and the Wick really does become a very special place. And the 'storm watching' theme is one that I've always been skeptical of. Don't get me wrong, I love nature at work, but I'd always thought of it as nothing more than a marketing gimmick to fill empty rooms during the off season. After our tour I have to admit I was wrong. The Wick is a purpose built resort, yes, but it's a purpose built 'storm watching' resort. The idea had been there from the beginning and the fact that there are rain slickers in every room and gumboots for guests testifies to promoting the elements, and when all that has been experienced you can dine in a restaurant built on the point with waves crashing just the other side of the windows. It's as close as you can be to the sea without becoming its victim. We ended up spending two nights at the Wickininnish and if I were honest I'd have to bow to the judgement of Travel + Leisure. It's a very special place indeed. Thank you very much Charles for our stay and the incredible tour.

Thank you very much Charles!

In front of the Wickininnish


The next morning Dominik got to work at the north end of the property. He chose an angle looking north that highlighted the different hues of tree lines. He often talked about how the light changed with distance and he painted a stunning example as each successive bay gave rise to a new line of forest that sported a different hue. He was obviously enjoying himself, caught up in another Zen period no doubt.

From there it was off to see 'Feather George' at the Carving Shed. George is a carver who's been at it for years and his specialty is feathers, hence the 'Feather George' title. I am always in awe of those immersed in their passion and to watch George at his was a treat. His feathers were magnificent and as he held one up I could see the translucency of the wood at the outer edges, that's how thin they were. After listening to him for awhile and seeing the intricacies of his feathers I concluded that they reflected the carver himself, for he held a reverence for nature and the trees themselves. To him carving was not just a means to an end, it was a ways of communicating in his way with nature. There was thought, consideration given to each piece of wood and how best to use it and an acknowledgement to its beauty and in a sense, its increasing scarcity.

Feather George

His specialty

I finished the day off with a blast with the Tofino Incinerators, that's right, the Tofino Incinerators, named after that famous rock formation out at Long Beach. I'd met a guy, Tony, the day prior and when he'd seen me on my bike we got to talking. Turns out every Tuesday was ride night for the incinerators and he invited me along. Well, when in Rome...and I felt like being an incinerator for a day, so I showed up at Tony's Pizza just off Main Street and met the crew.  There was quite the turn out, there were even a couple of Ukees in the ranks. After the obligatory bike shop talk (which I can never get enough of) we fired up our beasts and hit the road. They were an enthusiastic bunch and it was great riding with the locals and before you knew it we were at Incinerator Rock. We parked the bikes as the sun set and engaged in some more animated bike talk. A while later we headed back to town and as we rode one after another of the Incinerators peeled off to return home and before you knew it the weekly ritual had dispersed. Lots of fun. Thanks for the invite Tony!

The Tofino Incinerators

We finished off our Tofino segment the next morning with a kayak trip out to Meares Island to visit the big trees. Tofino Sea Kayaking were our outfitters and Liam was our guide. He was a great guy and totally into his role as Tofino ambassador of all things nature. He kitted us up in a couple of kayaks, gave Dominik some lessons, then we were off.

The weather was moody, skies were dull, but we were on the West Coast and it somehow seemed to fit. To understand the BC coast you have to see it up close in all weather, sure sunshine is nourishing, but so is seeing mist dance in the trees. There's a whole Jekyll and Hyde quality to the West Coast that is magical if you embrace it and during our mornings adventure we got to see both sides. The kayak over was not taxing and getting sprayed in the face by the elements was a very refreshing way to start the day. We arrived at Meares Island, ditched our kayaks and headed into the forest by way of another boardwalk. Bamfield's boardwalk may have been part of the highway system and maintained by them, the one on Meares was a bit more rustic, giant slabs of red cedar nailed to cedar rails underneath. It was quite slick, literally and figuratively. The local First Nations had been doing a lot of great work on the trail and it showed.

Dominik getting lessons

Meares Island = big

Meares Island = small

We meandered through the forest and went to that special place reserved by old growth. Vancouver Island has been logged for years and I guess it's only due to some very committed people and nature's resistance to collaboration with corporate policies that there still remain a few stands of old growth forest. If ever the expression 'seeing is believing' was more appropriate elsewhere than walking among the big trees I have yet to encounter it. I am always humbled by the forest, I find its envelope acts like a vault that keeps the world at bay. Yes, I enjoy my time in and on the water a bit more perhaps, but that is from a physical front, from an emotional one the forest calms me in a way that I have yet to find anywhere else. To see trees the size and age of those on Meares Island is a very special experience, a very personal one that has to be witnessed with all ones senses. I strongly encourage you to make the trip.

We paddled back across the water and were rewarded for sticking to our plans with some glorious sunshine. It had been a morning of beautiful contrasts and for that we'd like to thank Tofino Sea Kayaking and Liam in particular for a great excursion on the water and in the forest. Very nice. Thank you Liam, heck of a guide, though it's just as well you can't control the weather too, after all rain and sun in equal measures might be the perfect recipe.

Our guide Liam