Tofino is a small village located on the north end of Esowista Peninsula in spectacular Clayoquot (Tla-o-qui-aht by Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations) Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. The area can be reached by car via Highway 4, otherwise known as the Pacific Rim Highway. The journey is scenic and takes you through some wonderful scenery, make sure you have gas in the tank and are aware that you will be out of cell phone range for a good part of your trip out to the west coast. One other important tip, if the sign says SLOW DOWN, do it; some of those corners go around much further than you think they do. Another way to get to the area is by plane (land or sea), but be aware that fog can delay you and lead to a change of plans. For those without a vehicle there is the Tofino Bus which offers daily scheduled passenger and freight service. A nice option when you just want to look at the scenery and not worry about the road conditions.
The biggest island you are going to see in Clayoquot Sound, other than the one you are standing on, will be Meares Island, named after John Meares (c 1756-1809) a Navy Lt. and entrepreneur. Tofino was named after a Spanish Read-Admiral, Vincente Tofino de San Miguel who actually never visited the area. Meares Island and the Big Trees trail are well worth the short boat ride to see. Take good footwear, as the paths and boardwalks can be wet and slippery. Also take your camera; the scenery is wonderful.
Tourism in Tofino used to be confined to the months of July and August, but the addition of the Annual Whalefest which takes place during the latter two weeks of March and overlaps the school spring break and the Oysterfest in late November, tourism has become a year round business. Then in early June there is Winefest. These three events have brought visitors to the area in what used to be slow seasons, but no more.
Whalefest celebrates the northerly migration of the Grey Whale from Baja California where the whales calve, past the west coast and on to Alaska and the rich summer feeding grounds. These creatures are magnificent, but don’t get the idea that they will stop by to visit at pre-arranged times and places. Half the adventure and fun of a trip out onto the Pacific Ocean and surrounding more protected waters is in the attempt to locate the whales. The other part of it is the wonderful, for the most part, untouched scenery. Yes, you will glimpse the scars of clear cut logging in the distance and floats marking crab traps, but the ruggedness of the shoreline makes you feel very fragile. Note how high above the waves the driftwood has been shoved by the ocean and where the vegetation feels it is safe to grow. Yes, it is a long way up some of those rocks. It really makes you appreciate the early explorers to the area. No lighthouses, no GPS, no cell phone and no Coast Guard and very limited charts. The basic shipboard amenities were not cruise ship level either, plumbing was basic, does the “poop deck” get its name from this, hmmm, one has to wonder about that. It really is an amazing feat that the area was indeed discovered, mapped and settled.
Oysterfest was the next event to hit Tofino‘s social calendar. It takes place in late November and encompasses a number of events hosted by the area restaurants and culminating in the Oysterfest itself with goodies made from locally grown oysters paired with some excellent wines.
The youngest addition to the calendar is the Winefest held in early June and hosted by the Tofino Botanical gardens. The area restaurants and BC Wineries get together and offer wine tasting and assorted tempting taste treats to help soak up all that wine. If you are lucky the weather will co-operate, but be prepared for a shower or two. The wines are from all over the BC interior and islands. An amazing selection of Reds, Whites and Rose’s, something for every wine lover and a treat for those that are looking for something not available in the liquor store, as a lot of these wines can only be purchased directly through the winery. Not into wine? Perhaps Chocolate Beer will be your thing. The food is another story all together. Loads of goodies await you made by the local restaurants. Savory and sweet morsels await to cleanse the palet before sampling another wine. If you are coming to Winefest – walk, don’t drive. There is a wonderful paved walkway that runs parallel to the highway that will get you to where you need to go. That way you won’t feel guilty about the calories you just took in, as the walk will take care of those. If you do bring your car, parking is VERY limited and remember the local RCMP do know all about the event as well.
Not into festivals? There is always the big winter storms to experience. It isn’t always stormy, sometimes it just rains for days on end. With an annual average rainfall of 12 feet (144 inches, that is 4320 cm) it has to fall at sometime. Surfing has become a year round activity and attracts loads of visitors to the area as well as some of the staff that work in the area restaurants and hotels and keep the place running. Remember the waves are far bigger in the winter and you will need a wetsuit, its cold water.
It is not difficult to find workers coming from New Zealand and Australia, USA and Quebec, some come to surf, others just to work. Quite often it is harder to find a real Tofino-ite, one that was raised in, went to school in and can find and still afford year round housing. Along with the increased tourism has come a huge increase in the cost of almost everything in the area, the biggest one being housing. A number of the houses, especially beach front, are owned by people who live out of town and rent their homes to visitors by the week or month. Some of these homes used to have rental accommodation in them for year round residents, but no more. As Tofino gets more expensive to live in and more developed, the harder it is to find affordable, year round accommodation. This is something that Tofino and other resort towns are having to deal with.
Lets all hope they achieve success with this and are still able to preserve the wildness of the area.
Enjoy your time in Tofino.