Two days in Tofino

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I’d never heard of Tofino until a few days before I went there.  Yes, that may have been due to a total lack of research.  For the uninitiated like me, it’s a small town on the west coast of Vancouver Island in Canada.  I wouldn’t have got there at all if I hadn’t been on a random road trip with blogger buddies Dustin and Aaron, taking in the scenery after the TBEX conference in Vancouver a few days earlier.

When I asked on Twitter for some advice on where to go on the island, the response was overwhelming.  TOFINO!  TOFINO!  GO TO TOFINO YOU IDIOTS OR ELSE FLYING PINK UNICORNS WILL STEAL YOUR UNDERPANTS!

I’m pretty sure that’s what they said.

Ok then, fine.  I guess we were off to Tofino.

Now as you know, nothing attracts the ladies like a hot set of wheels, right?  So like the young studs we were, we made sure that we picked up a totally sweet rental for our Road Trip of Doom.

Titanic 2

Yes, that is a granddad car.  A seriously granddad car, in fact.

It didn’t need a steering wheel, it needed a rudder.  This thing had serious boat-like qualities.  With a turning circle larger than the Earth’s orbit and suspension that resembled driving on pillows, it was perhaps no surprise that we nicknamed the beast Titanic 2 within minutes of leaving town.  Or that a few minutes later that nickname was subtitled with Ye Olde Shitter.

What certainly was more surprising was the number of times that Aaron made the acquaintance of the rumble strip.  Or the centre line.  Or drove into the gravel.  18 times on the first day, in fact.

Yes I did keep a tally.

Other vital statistics included:

  • the number of times someone lost their keys (two)
  • the number of trash cans spotted rolling down the road (also two)
  • “that’s what she said” jokes (at least six)
  • towns with names that sounded like something to do with sex (again, two), and
  • the number of times that Aaron spat soda all over Dustin’s camera (thankfully just once)

Despite our driver’s best efforts, we made it to our destination safe and sound after a leisurely few hours on the road.  I always find it reassuring when the person behind the wheel suggests that “you guys value your life a little too much”, don’t you?

Rapids, Vancouver Island

We’d stopped several times along the way – checking out waterfalls in a state park here, rock-hoping above some rapids there – and thought the scenery was highly impressive.  The best was yet to come, however, once we pulled into Tofino.

Tofino isn’t a large place – only half a dozen streets climbing up from the bay and well under 2000 permanent residents.  It’s kind of expensive, there’s not really all that much to do and even in summer it wasn’t exactly warm.  To be honest, I really shouldn’t have liked it much at all.

But I did.

A lot.

There was something about the chilled out vibe of the locals and the glorious views out over the water that made me feel instantly relaxed.  At the Tofino Travellers Guesthouse our host Nick was that endearing mix of welcoming and oddball that one often seems to find in small town hostels, and when he told us he was barbequing a local salmon on the back deck the following night, we were sold.  The fact there wasn’t much else in the way of cheap accommodation available that day also helped, I guess…

Tofino is renowned as a surf town – the best in all of Canada, we were told.  Awesome.  If only we surfed.

Fortunately I guess, there’s more to do than just ride a piece of fibreglass.  If you’re clinically insane, for instance, you could swim in the frigid waters.  We opted for the slightly (slightly) warmer option of a whale watching trip with Whale Safaris, which had all almost all of the key ingredients required for such an experience.  For instance there were face-fulls of salt water, nausea inducing swells and a bone chilling wind in abundance.

The only things that was missing, actually, were … um … whales.  We did spot a few amorphous blobs breaking the surface in the distance which we were told were grey whales, and a couple of hardy otters braving the waves as they floated past.  But you know those incredible shots you see on the nature documentaries, with those giant mammals leaping out of the water a matter of metres from screaming onlookers?

Yeah, it was nothing like that.

Bears in Tofino

The bear watching trip the following morning, however, more than made up for any lack of wildlife the day before.  Getting up at 6am wasn’t overly exciting, but the combination of beautiful surroundings and nippy temperatures woke us up rather swiftly.

The boats that Whale Safaris use are larger than most of the other tour operators in Tofino, so there was plenty of room to scramble around to find the best vantage point up top for black bear spotting.  We ended up seeing close to a dozen adults over the course of the trip, with three adorable cubs tagging along behind as well.

Despite the various islands in the bay being heavily forested the bears obliged by scrambling along the rocky shoreline in the hunt for breakfast.  The stillness of the morning air broken only by the gentle lapping of the waves on the hull and the heavy breathing of both the bears and the rotund gentleman beside me, it was an idyllic scene.  Well, until the machine-gun clatter of a DSLR on burst mode erupted in my left ear, anyway.  Thanks, mate.

I really enjoyed my morning spent bear-spotting.  Having never seen one in the wild (never mind a dozen of them), it was a real highlight – and even my North American travel companions were surprisingly impressed.  Highly recommended.

Other than the natural attractions, the other highlight of Tofino had to be dinner at Sobo.  We didn’t expect to have to wait for half an hour for a table, but once the life-changing seafood chowder turned up it wasn’t hard to see why.  Seriously, it was that good.  If you’re in town, eat here at least once.  It’s as simple as that.

Beach on Vancouver Island

Oh yeah, and the beaches?  They weren’t bad either.  In fact, they were extremely impressive.  There are several of them around town and along the highway, ranging from windswept and rugged to sheltered and scenic, and we made the most of many of them.

So yeah, that was Tofino.  Great people, scenery, food and wildlife.  What’s not to like?  If I’m ever back in town again, it won’t be for just a couple of days.  It’ll be for a whole lot longer.


Full disclosure:  Whale Safaris were nice enough to offer discounted / complimentary rates on the whale and bear watching trips, but as usual my opinions are entirely my own.

17 Responses to “Two days in Tofino

  • Nice writeup Dave! And in defense of my driving, didn’t we establish that I wasn’t licensed to drive a boat??

    • Good point Aaron … I don’t think you had your skipper’s license from memory?

  • I just want to put it out there that I wasn’t the guy machine-gunning shots with the camera! 🙂

  • I’m glad you guys got the opportunity to see one of the jewels of Vancouver Island. I lived there most of my life and it still knocks my socks off every time I go!

  • We will be in Vancouver in a few weeks – those are mouth watering photos. Very tempting!

    • You really should go – you can fly there from Vancouver, as I mentioned the other week…

  • Did you hit up Cathedral Grove along the way?? Such a magical place!

  • Hey! Welcome to my neck of the woods… If you want to check out another great place, Gabriola is an amazingly gorgeous gulf island just off of Nanaimo. Amazing kayaking, beach combing, art studios, great food, live music… it’s a happening place! Oh and my hubs and I own the best hair salon and spa in Madrona Marketplace… 😉

    • Do you do good deals on a buzz cut? 😉

      I’d love to get back there and check out some of the gulf islands too … next time I’m in the Pacific Northwest I totally will!

      • April (aka Rilla)
        12 years ago

        For intrepid travelers buzz cuts are on the house. 🙂

        (sorry it took me almost half a year to reply, I forgot to click on that handy dandy notify me button)

  • Dave, I grew up on Vancouver Island in a small town called Gold River. Black bears roaming around in our backyard was not an uncommon sight.

  • Haha crazy, I’m from Gabriola too, small world! And of all the Gulf Islands it’s definitely one not to miss, it’s nicknamed the Isle of the Arts… Not that I’m biased or anything, but it’s the best!
    And also if you’re going to go back, don’t dismiss Tofino in the Winter for storm watching. It’s beautiful in a whole different way, and much less busy!

Trackbacks & Pings

  • The Friday Photo #82 – Fun with fungus :

    […] all over the world.  This got me thinking of the last time we were together, on a fun-filled road trip around Vancouver Island back in June.On our way back to Victoria we stopped at Cathedral Grove for a while.  It is […]

    12 years ago

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