Canada — Vancouver Island — luxury in the Rugged Outdoors
I took my honeymoon on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We
- Watched black bears by boat
- Hiked through dense cloud forest to pristine beaches
- Stayed at a luxury Inn perched on the coast
This part of the world still feels a little rugged with its remoteness and unpredictable weather. And a little pre-historic with it’s forested peaks dropping dramatically into lakes and rivers, all wrapped in mysterious fog.
My Zen Experience
The drive from Seattle ended up being longer than we anticipated — 10 hours in total, including the border crossing and 2 ferries — so we arrived tired, hungry, and in the dark. I was underwhelmed. But we woke up the next morning to an amazing view of cheery sunshine, tall pine trees, and a big stretch of sandy yellow beach. That was my favorite moment of the entire trip. The wedding craziness was behind us, the drive was behind us. There was no schedule to keep, no place we needed to be. We slipped into our fuzzy white robes, ordered room-service for breakfast, brewed a pot of coffee, put on a jazz CD in the in-room stereo (CDs! So quaint!), and lounged for hours in the Adirondack chairs on our private outdoor deck.
In the midst of this dramatic and impressive landscape is the perfect slice of luxury. The Wickaninnish Inn feels really special. All of the rooms overlook the ocean and the main dining room is perched on top of boulders right next to the beach. While not cheap, this hotel is what made our honeymoon amazing. Every room has a gas fireplace, balcony, and soaking tub. The only thing we didn’t like was The Pointe restaurant; it was overpriced and a little bland, so after trying it once, we ate in town the rest of the stay.
Town of Tofino
The main downtown is small, only occupying a few square blocks. Most of it is taken up with restaurants, coffee, ice cream, art galleries, a couple so-so shops, and surfing outfitters. I was surprised at how much of the town’s identity centered around surfing. There’s a hardware store and grocery store if you need it. Our best experience eating delicious seafood at Wolf in the Fog. Also go down to the dock at sunset.
My wife’s mom highly recommended we go bear watching, so it was the one activity I booked ahead of time. After all, where else in the world can you get a bear tour? After researching a bunch of tour operators, we chose West Coast Aquatic Safaris. It was really fun to spend 2.5 hours on a small boat, exploring the inlets and forests of the vast estuary network around Tofino. We saw 10 adult blackbears and two cubs and had a great time. They come down to the water’s edge during low tide, to feed.
We didn’t do it, but we heard it’s also popular to take boats to see whales and visit a natural hot spring.
Being surrounded by so much natural beauty, we knew we had to spend a day immersing ourselves in it. The concierge gave us a map and pointed us to some of her favorite trails, although this Tofino hiking website has great suggestions too. We elected to “trail hop”, sampling a number of shorter jaunts along the coast. The forests were very beautiful, with their towering trees and mossy limbs. And since we hiked on an overcast weekday, we found ourselves usually alone on the trails, wrapped in mystery.
Being from San Francisco, we’re used to chillier beach experiences. Most people sit on the beach, wearing jeans, a sweatshirt and sunglasses, while only kids and brave adults do a quick dip in the ocean. Vancouver Island is much the same: you go to the beach for the natural beauty, not to get a suntan. But the natural beauty did not disappoint. the coastline is indeed gorgeous and rugged. The Tofino tourism website posts some great beach ideas.
Surfing is very popular in the town, but if you go definitely rent a full wetsuit.
The area boasts a number of artists rooted in traditional indigenous aesthetics. Roy Henry Vickers is the most famous local artist and you can check out his works at his large gallery in downtown Tofino. We luckily stumbled on the little carving shack on the beach next to the Wickaninnish. The artist in residence, Mike, will happily teach you about his craft of making beautiful wood sculptures. We got inspired and commissioned a gorgeous cedar and redwood box, to commemorate our trip. Mike happily shipped it to us and it’s now one of our favorite souvenirs of all time.
We had sun and warmth for 3.5 of the 4 days. But from what I learned from the bear tour operator, local weather can be highly variable. Mid June to mid August is mostly likely to give you sun; the rest of the year is liable to be cloudy and often drizzly. So you’ll probably want a warm, cozy place to head back to. Winter storm watching is very popular — you can sit in your warm robe, viewing lightening crash all over the ocean.
If you go
Make a ferry reservation online ahead of your trip. There are multiple ferries leaving from the Olympic Peninsula in the U.S. and from south and north of Vancouver, Canada. The popularity of the ferries caught us by surprise and we almost missed our ferry on that long day of 10 hours of driving. We luckily squeaked by as one of the last 10 cars without a reservation, but it would’ve ruined our mood if the ferry had been full.
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