Everyone we’ve spoken to about visiting Vancouver Island has raved about Tofino. It’s a 300km round trip to reach so it’s a hell of a long detour but we couldn’t come to the island and not see what all the fuss was about. There were two forest trails on the way around Cathedral Grove which had an impressive old growth forest with giant Douglas fir trees, some up to 800 years old. But it was insanely busy and parking stretched up the entire road for the 1km trails so it wasn’t exactly our kind of thing.
It was a hot summers day so we ended up pitching up at Sproat Lake which had incredibly warm water but it resembled a pond more than a lake and it had a silty floor that I feared stepping on. The following day we drove the final stretch towards Tofino, arriving first in the Pacific Rim National Park. A ranger recommended the hike to Florencia and Half Moon beaches. We traversed through coastal rainforest with lots of creepy vines dangling from the mossy trees. Wooden steps took us right down to the sandy beach where a thin layer of water rested on the surface and reflected the forested hills. Half moon beach was a much smaller bay with nice clear water and a rocky mound to climb up. There were plenty of rock pools too, filled with green sea anemones and pink starfish. The whole coastline was lined with hundreds of washed up tree trunks from wild winter storms. It was hard to imagine the Pacific Ocean filled with whitewash and crashing waves as the weather was so calm on our visit.
Long Beach is the main hub of the park and it stretches about 15km up the coastline. A wavy section had dozens of wetsuit clad surfers, sitting on their boards waiting for Huey the surf god to send them a wave. We walked to a couple of other beaches, stopping on a headland to have a picnic and watching bald eagles swoop overhead. We could also see a seal in the water, bobbing its head up and slowly getting closer to a small child wading in the sea.
Except for surfing enthusiasts we wandered how people spent so long in the area. Once again we found the walks repetitive, it was nice to be by the sea and watch the Pacific lapping onto the sandy beaches but maybe not 300km detour nice. The park is home to black bears, wolves and cougars but we didn’t see any nor any evidence of them being in the area but I guess we were just unlucky. A ranger we spoke to said the wolves walk along the beaches, using them as wildlife highways and I overheard him warning a young family to keep their kids close as a cougar attacked a child a few years back – but with the area being so busy with humans we’d be lucky to see a common deer.
So we drove to the end of the peninsula, up to Tofino itself. I must admit the location of the town was stunning, with forested islands all around and distant snowcapped peaks. Floatplanes were constantly taking off and landing, with their rumbling engines filling the air while kayakers paddled in the calm waters below. There were some bustling eateries and shops but within an hour we’d pretty much covered everything. So we grabbed a couple of canned gin and tonics from the liquor store and headed to a nearby surfing beach to enjoy the sun.
We didn’t feel we needed much longer than a day in the area so we did another rainforest walk that afternoon and then a short trail up to a bizarrely over-forested lookout. We hadn’t seen the sun go down in so long as our roadtrip was based in the mountains, so we took an evening sunset stroll along Long Beach. There wasn’t a cloud in sight but the sea mist created the most incredible red and purple glow as the huge sun dipped towards the horizon. We had plenty of fun taking photos of us ‘holding’ the sun and me awkwardly trying to kick it – I’m not sure if Craig was a bad photographer or me a bad kicker but we really struggled with that photo.
There’s almost nowhere to free camp in the Tofino area so we ended up in the one area where it seemed to be allowed – the forest service road leading to the landfill site. It was unbelievably busy and campers were continuously driving up the road, searching for a place to camp. We ended up at the first opening, along with twenty or so others. Sadly there’s a lot of inconsiderate folks around who had actually opened up their campervan door and done a shit straight on the floor. And the worst thing is it seems to be a big problem in Canada, we’re finding so many camp spots have been ruined by people not following the leave no trace practices. If we walk into any forest near a camping area we enter a shameful mess of poo land mines and toilet paper. I don’t know why they don’t dig a hole and bury it, it’s so simple yet they just don’t seem to care and have the mindset that they are camping for one night and after that it’s not their problem. I wish there was a way to find out who did it, and then when they’re not living in a van anymore and have settled into a house or flat I’d like to just shit on their doorstep. Not that two wrongs make a right, but just to show them that that is exactly what they’ve done, that forest they pooped in is everyones backyard, it’s mine and other campers doorstep, it’s our patio where we want to sit outside and enjoy the sun. Then I’d demand they clean up all the human shit in the woods…along with mine on their doorstep.
Anyway, the following morning we happily left the grimy camping area and headed to the southern village of Ucluelet, said to be like Tofino before all the tourists arrived. It was a really foggy morning but we set off on the ‘must do’ Wild Pacific Trail which was a loop with plenty of ocean views. It wasn’t anything special though, just islands, rocky shoreline, forest and a dark and gloomy looking sea. We checked out the strange lighthouse that seemed an odd square shape and then we were bored again. I guess we really are mountain people, the coastline just doesn’t have enough to offer us unless the sea is tropical with palm tree covered islands. Maybe everyone saying how great the area was got our expectations too high, but after that hike we decided to leave.
As soon as we drove away from the coast the fog began to lift and we stopped at Kennedy Lake. A thin line of low lying cloud hung below the mountains and the water looked wonderful and tropical with aqua edges and a deep blue centre. We waded through a freezing cold stream and found a private beach area that was perfect to spend the day. The lake itself was lovely and warm but as the day went on a strong wind picked up, luckily we were protected by some bushes but it pushed all the cold creek water our way, causing a very cold entry until we swam into the deep section.
That evening we lucked out and found a dirt road that had several free camping areas right beside a river. The river narrowed into a gorge, dropping down in a series of waterfalls and that’s where we chose to stay, right above the gorge with the sound of gushing water – what I consider a lovely sound to sleep beside unlike unpredictable waves slamming onto a beach. But our spot also gave us a little access trail down to the top of the falls where the river was calm enough to swim in. It was a little late for a dip but we decided to take our chairs down onto the rocky ledge and enjoy the final rays. The next morning we plunged into the rather cold water. It was a wonderful way to wake up though and the river had carved some amazing bowls that were like natural bathtubs.
Sticking with the theme of swimming we ended up at another river that afternoon which was probably one of our favourite water holes we’ve ever dipped in. The water didn’t even look real, it was twinkling green and crystal clear like a rare gem glistening in the sun. There wasn’t a river bank to relax on as it was too steep but there was a rope swing which we used to enter the water. I told Craig we shouldn’t stick our foot in the loop of the rope as I’d seen too many people on You’ve Been Framed getting they’re legs caught and awkwardly hung upside down. So we just held on with our hands and leaped off the edge but I wasn’t quite mastering the ‘tuck my legs up’ part so as soon as I jumped my legs would slap and drag through the water. But it was a lot of fun and we enjoyed it so much that we stayed in the area and returned the following morning.
We ended up falling in love with the journey as appose to the destination. The hidden gems and tranquility we found in unexpected places along the drive far outweighed the crowded beaches and trails of Tofino.