The first time I visited Tofino I was ten years old, and barely remember a thing. This year, a decade on, I’ve had the chance to return not only once, but twice – in spring and in winter – and it’s safe to say I’ll be making the journey again in the future. Regardless of season, regardless of size, the rugged Canadian landscape beckons with excitement, escape, and the eternal outdoors.
Sitting atop of the Esowista Peninsula on Vancouver Island, Tofino is a small yet spirited community of no more than 2,000, although this number increases greatly during the summer months. Accessible by road, sea or air, it is a viable destination for all types of travellers, yet still retains a feeling of the wild. Surrounded to the north, east and west by the transcendent waters of the Clayoquot Sound, and with the great expanse of the Pacific stretching away beyond, it nestles between towering forests of cedar and pine and dramatic, endless beaches. Albeit there an increasing amount of development and construction to cater towards the growing popularity of Tofino as a summer destination for city dwellers, there remains a mellow, relaxed atmosphere to the town, as reflected in the eponymous magazine’s tagline, ‘Half the pace, twice the pleasure.’ Due to Tofino’s location, one of the main draws to the area is the abundance of magnificent scenery, surroundings and wildlife, all of which are accessible nearly the whole year round. During the spring and summer months, activities such as kayaking, birding, fishing, whale-watching and island excursions are among the most popular, accompanied by the wide choice of walking along the peninsula. Meares Island, to the north, is host to some of the largest and most ancient cedars in Western Canada, and can be reached by a short boat ride. Also accessible by boat – or seaplane – is the Hot Springs Cove, naturally occurring thermal pools located north-west of the peninsula.
Between early autumn and winter, Tofino is far quieter than in warmer months, but is no less breathtaking or opportunistic. Although the weather is significantly more unpredictable, many visitors are not at all dissuaded by this, but attracted to it. Contrary to popular belief, the temperature of the sea changes by only a few degrees between the height of summer and the depths of winter, and so throughout the year surfers flock to the rolling West Coast waves. This contributes to the omnipresent laid-back vibe of the townsfolk, and has cemented Tofino as one of the most popular surf spots in North America. At any given dawn on beaches such as Chesterman, shrouded specks can be seen bobbing amongst the spray and the gulls, waiting for the perfect crest. As is with many other locations on the same longitude as British Columbia, the weather between the months of November and March is often foul and sometimes fierce, and is usually avoided by ways of indoors. However, in Tofino, there is a hobby known as ‘storm-watching’, which can be conducted in a variety of ways, from active participation – such as braving the beaches – or passive admiration, through observing the forces of nature from behind the safety of a window. Here, people do not fear the unknown, they live alongside it, they explore, and they embrace. Nature is your neighbour.
A final prominent attraction to Tofino, especially in terms of proximity, is the prevalence of First Nation influence in the community. First Nations is the collective term for the myriad tribes and clans that existed in Canada before the arrival of the Europeans, and like what happened in many other parallel situations across the globe, they were severely marginalised during colonisation. But in the past few decades there has been a significant effort to restore recognition and pride in these individual cultures, and much of this effort has found itself occurring through a resurgence of native art forms. Galleries such as the Eagle Aerie Gallery, that displays and promotes the art of Roy Vickers, are certainly worth exploring. For somewhere so small in geographical presence, Tofino has a surprisingly expansive range on offer to the casual visitor, and even more so to the devoted enthusiast. Be it alone, with friends or with family, in sun, snow, splendour or storm, this vivacious little community can satisfy the appetite of many a traveller, and brings as many back hungry for more. The more time you spend here, the more it becomes apparent – Tofino ceases to be but a place, and more a state of mind. Freedom beckons, if only for a while…