Oh, but Vancouver Island is beautiful.
The sort of beautiful that stops you in your tracks, and makes you sigh, and think Louis was right, it really is A Wonderful World.
We took the ferry from Departure Bay in Vancouver to Nanaimo in Vancouver Island. You can make a reservation online ahead of time (important unless you’re travelling first or last thing) and then you’ll pay around $80 for a car with 2 passengers for the 2 hour crossing. It’s known as one of the most beautiful ferry journeys in the world and it’s not hard to see why.
We arrived early for our reservation and were pushed onto the 6.55pm crossing. This turned out to be the perfect sailing to catch the sunset over Vancouver Island. See what I mean about beautiful?
Planning our trip back in the UK, I imagined Vancouver Island was a small bit off land off the coast. A bit like Nantucket, maybe…
Er, not quite. Vancouver Island covers 12,000 square miles – about half the size of Scotland. Driving from Nanaimo on the East coast to Tofino on the West coast took a smidge over three hours. The drive hugs the coast for about half the journey, and the clifftop roads and hairpin turns aren’t for the faint-hearted.
But it’s worth the trek.
Tofino is a small seaside town that attracts thousands of visitors in the summer months, drawn to the area’s great surfing beaches, hiking trails, and national parks, which are home to a few thousand black bear. The area is very eco-aware – the graffiti here is chalked on the walls and pavement and most of what we saw referred to wild versus farmed salmon, loving Mother Earth, and the like. It’s pretty nice.
Our base was a cabin set deep in the woods, booked through AirBnB. The huge windows gave us views of trees, and more trees, in every direction. It was a lovely spot for a bit of work before Flea woke up…
Our first morning, we clambered through the gardens to find the property is actually on the water.
We hired paddle boards and wetsuits from the great team at Live to Surf (just a couple of minutes away on the road into town) and took them out on the sea below the cabin. The water was glass-smooth and the views mesmerising. Floating on the water, Flea watched hundreds of crabs on the ocean floor below her, fascinated.
Tofino is a small town, and easily explored on foot. We really enjoyed exploring the small cafes and restaurants. Big Daddy’s Fish Fry is perfect for a quick, fresh dinner, especially if you are the sort of person who likes to join in with a hearty “AHOY!” chorus every time someone orders a fish platter. Iam very much this sort of person.
Just across the street there’s a great gelato stand, and the Rhino Cafe is perfect for morning coffee and bagels. We had a great seafood dinner at Schooners. Puddings are a bit forgettable, but the chowder was thick and tasty, and the posh fish and chips worth the visit alone.
The town as a whole has got a friendly, indie vibe – one of my favourite moments was watching the owner’s face in one of the surf shops when a visitor asked where the nearest Starbucks was. Clue: it’s a long way from Tofino.
You can’t really come to Tofino and NOT surf – there are countless coaches and lessons available. Flea took a lesson with the Pacific Surf School and her instructor was one of the best she’s ever had. Adam was really fun, and endlessly patient at explaining where Flea could improve her technique. Certainly, it’s the first lesson I’ve seen where she’s caught pretty much every wave.
A two hour lesson cost $120, and I thought it was really good value. We were taken to Cox Beach, which was picture perfect. The water is COLD, though, so do accept the offer of a wetsuit and boots when it’s given!
The Whale Centre in town runs daily bear tours with really great guides who are sympathetic to bears and won’t get too close, or make noisy announcements over PA systems. I only took my phone, so ‘scuse the crappy photo but the trip was WELL worth the time and money.
A portion of what you spend with this tour operator is also donated to marine-related charities, which I liked. We spent a great couple of hours sailing around beaches and watching the bears foraging for crabs under rocks.
We drove back to Nanaimo after three days in Tofino.
The drive back to the port was in daylight, so a lot easier for me, and we had company. As we’d left Tofino that morning, we picked up a young, female hitchhiker who kept us entertained with stories of her travels from Montreal to Vancouver on skateboards, and her plans to head to Costa Rica for yoga training. You know you’re old when you can’t help but stop to pick up a young girl because, well, who knows who will pick her up if you don’t?
And that was that. The end of our three week, 3,000km road trip around British Columbia and the Pacific North West. This summer was a special one for us. It represented the gap between primary and secondary school, when Flea seemed to be growing up before my eyes.
I think, hand on heart, we’ve seen some of the most beautiful landscapes and places that I can imagine these past few weeks. Although the distances are long, from the 10 hour flight to the distances between towns, British Columbia is the sort of place that stops you in your tracks on a regular basis. I’m so pleased we went and you absolutely MUST get to BC (and Tofino) if you have the opportunity. If you do, please tell me how you get on!