All Roads Lead to Tofino
It started out like all of our well planned road trips with no real plan as to where we would end up. The initial thought was to wander the temperate rainforest of Cathedral Grove. Little did we know but this was the first cold day of autumn after a summer that seemed never to end.
We followed the curving road along Cameron Lake and couldn’t help but be impressed by the Cameron Lake Trestle on the far shore. Built of old growth cedar in 1911 the trestle is a relic of our old industrial logging practices.
The sky was overcast as we parked and entered Cathedral Grove. The sun peered over the shoulders of 800 year old trees as the temperature dropped in the freshening wind. At times the sun would break through the canopy giving faint hope for warmth to reach the forest floor. In a short period of time we realized that we were not dressed adequately enough to enjoy this wilderness trek and instead headed for Wal-Mart in Port Alberni to find warmer jackets.
Protected from the elements in our Wal-Mart finery we headed for Port Alberni’s harbour at the end of Argyle Street. This active harbour is the terminal for passenger ferry traffic to Bamfield, Kildonan and Ucluelet and is a bustling destination replete with marinas, coffee shops, restaurants, fish stores and charter companies.
Fortified with a couple of coffees we decided to visit the water bombers in Sproat Lake. How magnificent these awkward birds are and what a godsend when the forests are ablaze.The rain was holding off so we walked around the park enjoying the turning of the leaves as fall was slowly taking hold.
We’d come this far so why not head for the coast. Luckily we were able to book the last room at the Best Western. The road to Kennedy Lake twists and turns along the Kennedy River like a serpent possessed. About half way to the lake there is a pull out right beside the river. A stairway has been built allowing for easy access to a dynamic waterway. Watch your step as there are shear drops into the river or rocks below. Then off we went twisting along the riverside until being deposited beside Kennedy Lake. All in all an entertaining roadway which certainly demands your attention.
Finally you come over a rise to get your first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean and the ‘Entering Tsunami Hazard Zone’ sign. Sometimes I forget that we are entering a coastal wilderness. The beaches are unsupervised and can be dangerous. Slippery rocks and tidal surges, storms and tides that move logs about the beach, rip tides pulling from shore to sea are just a part of the Wild West Coast. This may also explain why most locals are healthy and wearing a permanent smile.
We pulled into the Best Western in time to wander MacKenzie Beach before heading into the Calm Waters Restaurant for dinner. The meal was satisfying but the service from Serena, Krista and Janelle was superlative.
Morning arrived with high overcast skies but no rain or fog. After breakfast and the obligatory beach walk we went over to Tofino. In amongst the restaurants, adventure charters and artisan galleries are some of the best examples of First Nations art you will find anywhere. Most impressive was the House of Himwitsa Native Art Gallery with high quality art works everywhere you looked.
As usual we conducted an informal survey asking the locals what they considered to be the best restaurants in Tofino. For sit down dining most suggested Sobo, Shelter or Schooner, food on the go was favoured at Wildside Grill and the TacoFino food truck and the favorite breakfast place was Vincentes. We managed to eat at Wildside Grill and the next day TacoFino, both of which were surprisingly good.
After a less than impressive breakfast at the hotel we decided to visit Ucluelet. I couldn’t remember the last time I was in Ucluelet but it was so far in the distant past we decided it was time to make a visit. Although Ucluelet has many of the tourist attractions found in Tofino, it gave me the impression of a working harbour surrounded by a more rugged environment than found further north.
After a delightful lunch at Ukee Dog we walked down to the Ucluelet Aquarium and were so impressed with the friendly and informed staff that we decided to sponsor a ‘touch tank’ where visitors can get up close and personal with various marine species.
As usual we ran out of time and had to scramble back home. Our next visit to the Wild West Coast will start in Ucluelet. We were told that one of the best places to watch winter storms is at the Amphitrite point lighthouse. The storm season runs from November to March and is one of the most invigorating experiences you can have. I think I’ll start planning the road trip now. Hope to see you at the lighthouse – Elmhill Road Trippers