Weekend in Tofino at the Wickaninnish
Both of us have been to Tofino in the past but not together, each staying in places much more “rustic” so we were both very excited to enjoy the prize. We looked at our calendar and with nicer weather, longer days and the chance to see bears we decided to wait until April…it was a LONG wait but boy were we glad we did. After looking forward to going for over 6 months the Wickaninnish Inn did not disappoint.
We took Friday off work so that we could enjoy the day in Tofino. With the ferry and a drive up and over the island door to door it took about 6 hours. If we had left after work on Friday the earliest we could have been there was 10:00pm. Instead we caught the 7:45am ferry, (unfortunately I thought it was a 7:00am sailing so we were REALLY early) - definitely did not need to make a reservation!!
The sun was shining on the ferry over to Nanaimo as we basked in the sun and read our books. For those who have not driven from Nanaimo to Tofino it is absolutely stunning. Driving out of Nanaimo is a bit stop and go but once you hit the island highway it’s pretty fast (120km/hr). From Nanaimo the highway heads North to Parksville and then West to Coombs. If you have time, Coombs has a bunch of really cute little stops and restaurants and an awesome country market.
The market typically has goats hanging out on on the roof (made of grass) but they weren’t up there…I was obviously bummed.
From Coombs the road continues on towards Port Alberni traversing right through Cathedral Grove, Macmillan Provincial Park. Some of the cedar trees in the park have been dated back to 1137!!! This beautiful old growth forest is a must see! The walk through it doesn’t take very long with a path that is easy to navigate and is accessible to all. A GREAT way to connect with nature.
About 20 km outside of the park is the town of Port Alberni. We only stopped to pick up some ice but it’s a pretty good sized town where you could get food, groceries, and gas en route. After Port Alberni the road starts to become windy and steep as it traverses over the Vancouver Island Ranges. The drive is stunning but be aware there isn’t much of a shoulder and there are some massive rigs that are too big to stay on their side of the median along the narrow parts. The road is being widened but won’t be complete until 2020.
Eventually you get to a T junction. Left to Ucluelet and right to Tofino. From there keep your eyes peeled to the left to get your first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean crashing against the sandy shore. We stopped, as we had lots of time before our check in, at Long Beach. With over 45 kms of sandy shoreline it definitely lives up to its name. In classic Pacific Northwest fashion fog hung low on the trees and a mist rolled in off the ocean. No matter what the weather there are ALWAYS people on the beach and surfers on the waves. If you aren’t a walker just sitting on a blanket or log watching the surfers and the waves can amusingly pass a lot of time. We walked a little way down the beach and found a cute log fort to shelter us from the wind.
After hanging out at the beach for a bit we decided to take our chances on our room being ready early-we were just to excited to wait any longer! Driving off the Pacific Northwest highway down the tree lined road I turned to Craig saying “I am going to soak in every last second of this experience because I know it's likely a once in a lifetime experience for us.” The concierge met us at the main entrance and opened the door to the most beautiful foyer with 2 storey floor to ceiling windows. Local artwork, carving and handcrafted furnisher adorned the interior while large trees framed the beach and the waves rolling onto the shore outside.
Lucky for us our room was ready! The receptionist checked us in and took us to our room on the beach level. At first I thought 'why is the receptionist showing us to our room?', but there were so many little things (the fire place, heated floors, hidden TV, automatic blinds) that she needed to tell us about in the room. Needless to say Room #13 quickly, and easily, became our home away from home.
I spent the first two hours, and many more over the weekend, staring out the window. It was the most incredible view. I had packed some snacks and pre-made food to serve as appies and lunches. Enjoying the view, wine and some food we didn’t leave the room until our dinner reservations at the Pointe Restaurant.
The restaurant is quite literally set on the rocky point at the end of Chesterman Beach with incredible 240 degree views of the ocean.The setting couldn’t be more amazing and we were sat right next to the window.
Eating out and travelling can sometimes be challenging when you have a “restricted” diet whether by choice or not. Living a plant-based lifestyle at home is not only easy, it is delicious, but when you are away from home sometimes it gets a bit tricky. I had called ahead and talked to the staff at The Pointe and they let me know they had a separate vegetarian and vegan menu, great...I thought. The plant-based menus weren't posted online like their other menu so I wasn't able to read them ahead of time. Unfortunately, the vegan menu was lacking. If we knew somewhere else to go, we would have left. Hopeful we could find something we stayed and placed our orders. Our appetizer was a sort of cold beet noodle “roll.” Although it looked nice and was platted beautifully it was essentially beets spiralized with a sprinkle of granola on the side. When asked how it was I said it was ok, a 5/10. I think they were surprised as I am sure almost every dish is well received. Entrees were marginally better but we left unsatisfied. Lesson re-confirmed ALWAYS ask to see the menu in advance, especially at a place that caters to a more traditional diet. The service and view were amazing and when we emailed feedback after our stay they were super receptive and thankful for our comments and opinions.
After, we returned to our room and had the most epic bubble bath in our giant two person soaker tub with ocean view. Candles lit and music playing it was the perfect way to end the night.
We woke up around 7:00am to the sound of waves crashing and rain falling. We drank coffee in bed and when were were ready we braved the rain and head out for a walk along Chesterman beach.
A rainy day was not something we worried about as we brought decent rain clothes but for fun we opted to use the Wickaninnish’s gear which was completely rain proof and awesomely bright orange. We took our time watching people, dogs, surfers and sea life as we went. It was absolutely pouring so we decided to head back indoors to once again enjoy the view from our cozy, fireplace warmed, room.
Our only other plan that weekend was a bear viewing tour with Jaime’s Whaling Station. Jaime’s is one of the most reputable companies in Tofino with a 100% guarantee of seeing wildlife (if you don’t see something on your tour they give you a complementary tour the next time you are available but sightings are 98% the 1st time). Jaime’s also makes a huge commitment to marine wildlife research, rescue & education. With $3.00 from every person’s tour close to $1,000,000 has been raised and donated to a variety of local non-profit organizations since 1977!! Jaime’s Whaling Station has also been awarded a green certificate from VIGBC to their commitment to reducing their environmental impact and for being socially responsible in their endeavours, as well as having their business registered as an Ocean Friendly business through the Surfrider Foundation. When we read that about Jaime’s tours we knew they were the type of business we wanted to support.
As we walked down the dock towards our covered boat we were met by our captain, Scott and our two tour guides. Even though it was pouring rain we still had a great time! The staff were both knowledgeable and friendly. After our safety talk we headed up the inlet in search of bears. Along the way we saw a number of small porpoises and a couple male sea lions playing. Coastal black bears search for food at low tides under rocks and along the shoreline. 75% vegetarian, black bears are content hunting for crabs, mussels and barnacles, but if they come across an animal carcass they will take the opportunity to feast on it. Well-fed and with milder winter these bears don’t tend to hibernate long. In the spring mother bears emerge with between 1 and 5 baby bear cubs.
The first bear Scott sighted was a big male black bear who was enjoying eating barnacles off branches along the shore, below the tree line. He was magnificent. Balancing on two legs he reached up and grabbed the branches between his paws and chowed down. We ended up watching him for some time as he didn't seem fussed with us there.
Captain Scott got word from another boat that a mother and cub were spotted back down the inlet. Having spent a long time with the male he decided to head back to see if we could see her. As we arrived we saw momma and baby rolling over large rocks with ease. The baby mimicked mom only choosing slightly smaller rocks to overturn. It was absolutely adorable. Mom, busily searched for food as baby cautiously decided to head up a nearby tree.
Once safely half way up I was certain we wouldn’t see baby again but after about 10 minutes they came back down to join mom in her exploration for tasty food. It was such an amazing opportunity to see bears in their natural environment doing their bear thing, living their best life.
Seeing nature IN nature is the only way to view it. Many people have the fortune of seeing animals in the wild without having to go on a tour but if not choose to support a company with ethical and environmental commitments and NEVER pay to see animals caged in zoos or aquariums-it’s just not right.
After getting back from the tour it was about 8:00. Having taking the time earlier to research places to eat in Tofino I came across Shelter Restaurant's website. The food looked amazing and it was conveniently situated right across the street from the tour. The place did not disappoint! With a seafood centred focus we were able to navigate the menu to vegan-ish some of the menu items. Eating out, as I mentioned earlier, is one of the most challenging parts of travel for us. Lots of times restaurants are able to sub out meats for either more veg or something different. Shelter had a tofu appy as well as a brussel sprout dish which was both excellent and delicious.
When we walked into our room when we got back music was playing. I thought did we leave the music on? quickly realizing we wouldn’t have put on Michael Buble!! That's when I noticed we had had the “turn down service” (which we had declined the night before). If you are ever staying somewhere that offers “turn down service” take it! It is a little luxury that just makes you feel cared for. The blankets were folded down on either side, the curtains drawn, and music playing. Once again we capped off the night with a nice candle lit soak in the tub this time even nicer as the boat tour in the rain had chilled us to the core.
I set my alarm for 7:00 in the morning because I didn’t want to sleep in and miss precious time on our final day. After breakfast and coffee in bed we decided to go for our final jaunt down the beach.
We had seen other guests with bikes so we called the front desk to check if they had any available. All they had were 2 cruiser bikes left. Perfect!! We picked them up and headed to the beach. The tide was low so we were able to ride the bikes over to Frank Island which is not accessible at high tide.
We covered so much more ground on our sweet bikes. Riding along the beach, taking pictures we had the best time soaking it all in.
After getting back from our ride we still had a couple hours before we had to check out. Check out was at 12:00 and we finally left the room at 11:59! I can’t recommend the Wickaninnish Inn more, if we ever get the opportunity to go again or if you get the opportunity to go DO IT!! It is absolutely worth it.
Ferry reservations home was the only oversight of the trip. By the time we were nearing Nanaimo we figured we’d be early for the 5:45pm sailing. As we drove under the ferry information sign we were shocked to see it already 100% full. I quickly pulled up the BC Ferries website and made a reservation for the next sailing (8:15pm). Instead of just heading right to the terminal and waiting for 4 and a half hours we did a 6 km loop hike at Westwood Lake and had dinner at Cactus Club before arriving 30 minutes before the sailing. Upon arrival we learned the ferry was 20 minutes late due to an earlier medical emergency. After finally boarding late the boat sat in the terminal until 9:00 until it finally left!! Lesson learned-never again will we not make a reservation. Instead of being home around 8:00pm we arrived closer to 11:30pm.
Regardless BC ferries did not wreck our trip. Our weekend in Tofino at The Wickaninnish Inn was a weekend I will not soon forget. Spectacular views and amazing experiences with the best person I could ever hope to share it with.