Rock Pools in Tofino

Rock Pools in Tofino

Starfish

The ocean’s largest inhabitants, such as whales, sharks and dolphins, are often the creatures that capture our imagination when we think of that vast mysterious body of water. Its smallest indwellers, though, are more than worthy of investigation. They will provide you with a nature experience steeped in diversity, wonder and almost as many colours as the rainbow.

 

Take a wander to the rock pools in Chesterman beach, Tofino, kneel down, get close, watch for a while and enjoy a whole world in a tiny puddle of water. Little fish may swim by, a crab may suddenly appear from under the sand and disappear again. And if you see a conical shell with protruding legs scuttle by, it is probably a hermit crab. They take over abandoned shells as portable dwellings to protect their vulnerable bodies.

 

Clinging to the sides of the rocks you will find tightly packed rows of adaptible blue-purple mussels, who are quite happy to remain there whether the tide is in or out – just imagine spending half your day baking in the sun and dry air and the other half with waves breaking over your head! Barnacles are there too, little craggy white shell-like edifices that are actually related to crabs. Watch where you put your feet around them, though, they are sharp!

 

Prettiest and most colourful, probably what most of us hope to see, are anenomes, sea urchins and sea stars. Thankfully, these are all usually plentiful in Tofino. Sea urchins’ empty green round shells are sometimes seen lying on the beach, with their spines long gone. If you see one with pretty red spines still on it, be sure not to stand on it, as it may still be alive and its spines will hurt your foot like a barnacle will. If you very gently touch one of the spines with your finger, though, you will do one another no harm.

 

Another interesting interaction could be to very gently touch a beautiful waving green sea anenome. Feel how soft its tentacles are to a human hand. To be kind to them, though, only do this once or twice because when you touch them, they think they are about to get some food and will contract their tentacles to eat.

 

And lastly, there is no need to worry about finding the most loved rock pool dweller of them all. You are sure to see an orange, purple, red or pink sea star in Tofino as its rock pools are home to forty different species of starfish. And if you see one with a limb missing, there is no cause for sadness, they are blessed with an ability to regenerate their limbs.

 

Have fun seeing how many different and wonderful creatures you can find in Tofino’s rock pools. Can you find one we haven’t mentioned here? We left some out on purpose, as a surprise.

 

Dawn Chorus

Dawn Chorus

songbird

The best healing is found in nature and nature’s sounds can bring profound healing.

 

Do you like music? If you like to rise after the sun does, then enrich your life by setting your alarm for the pre-dawn, even if that means around 5:00 am in the spring and summer and your treat will be to hear a whole bunch of symphonies played at the same time – arising from the miniature voice boxes of our small yet powerful friends, the birds. Their sweet, enthusiastic and vibrant dawn chorus is a most soul-cheering way to start your morning. The chorus lasts several hours so you might still catch some of it if you rise a little later.

 

If you are at Tofino Hummingbird Cottage you will probably not need an alarm as the dawn chorus is loud enough to sing you awake.

 

Songbirds sing as part of their breeding process, so the most complete version of the chorus is heard in Spring, when all of them join in. The reason they sing so early in the morning is that it is still too dark for them to find food and too early for predators to see them, so it matters not how loudly they sing.

 

As you tumble out of bed onto the deck of Tofino Hummingbird Cottage in the chilly air before the sun’s rise, the first ‘bugle’ of the chorus you will hear is the robin, singing its piercing, long and short-noted song. In the next half hour it will be joined by many species. Song sparrows belt out a particularly cheery many-noted melody and if you manage to catch sight of one, observe how much effort it puts into its song; head thrown back, trembling throat and vibrating body. The ratio of large volume to small body size is astonishing and delightful.

 

Make your day! Get up to hear the dawn chorus.

Retreat and Reunion with Nature

Retreat and Reunion with Nature

I often refer to Tofino Hummingbird Cottage as a place of retreat. ‘Retreat’ is an interesting word. To retreat from something can imply withdrawing from it or even a type of surrender.

Considering how we were originally created to live, perhaps city dwellers have long ago retreated to live life in a city – succumbing to disconnect from the trees, water, sunshine and fresh air that have embraced and nurtured humans for all but the last few of our 200,000 years on this planet.

So if, as urban peoples, we want to reconnect with the things we are no longer close to, instead of ‘retreat,’ maybe we should use the word ‘reunion.’

Spending time in Tofino Hummingbird Cottage and Tofino brings us reunion – with our inner selves, with nature, with our loved ones, with our purpose, and with the peace and renewal that form the foundation of everything that makes us truly happy.

When you’re sitting on the beach, feeling the warm sun in your face and maybe watching a sand crab or oyster catcher scuttle by, past and future tend to disappear. There is only now, and now is good. This is where you need to be. This is where we all belong.

Tofino’s Best Beaches and Trails

Tofino’s Best Beaches and Trails

Wickaninnish Beach, Tofino

There are dozens of great beaches (and walks) within a short distance of Tofino Hummingbird Cottage. Here are some of the most popular ones, ordered north to south.

 

Chesterman Beach

The closest – and one of the most famous – is Chesterman Beach, just a couple of minutes from here on foot. The surfers are what make Chesterman so popular and there are lots of them here, young and old, expert and novice, flying and flailing. Be aware of the powerful rip currents if you’re thinking of joining the fray, and choose the spots with the smaller waves if you’re a noob.

If you’re disinclined to surf, there are enough crabs and starfish in the tidepools on this 2.7 km long expanse of white sand to keep you entertained. And when the tide is low enough, you can actually walk out to Frank Island at the southern end of the beach and grab some spectacular shots of the whole beach and its framework of nearby mountains.

 

Cox Bay Beach

Just south of Chesterman, this one might be a bit more challenging for beginners with its large waves and sideways riptides. There are two parking and entrance areas, a northern one that leads to Cox Bay Beach Resort with washrooms and showers and a path to the beach. For the second entrance, take the Maltby Road turnoff. Parking here is also free but there are no facilities. And of course, when the seas are calm, this saddle-shaped bay is a fabulous place to kayak. You can rent a craft in town or even join a group lesson first to learn the skills you’ll need.

 

Radar Hill

Radar Hill was a radar station used to detect air strikes to North America during WWII. Drive (or cycle) down the well-treed Radar Hill Road to get to the former station area and its beautiful vistas that include panoramas of Clayoquot Sound. There’s a second parking lot at the end of the road for the less mobile.

 

Schooner Cove

With its easy one km hike from the parking lot, and consequent inaccessibility by large vehicles, Schooner Cove used to be the favourite of free-spirited beach campers. Now that it’s become part of Pacific Rim National Park, there’s no more open air camping. But it’s as beautiful as ever, and still a 1 km walk from parking to reward the relatively fit. Located at the northernmost end of the famous Long Beach, Schooner Cove’s sheltered south-facing location also makes it a good choice for beach walks on windy days.

 

Long Beach

The most famous beach in the area is also, at 16 km from Schooner Beach on the north to Wickaninnish Beach on its south end, the longest sandy beach on Vancouver Island’s west coast. There’s something here for everyone – dog walkers, Frisbee throwers, boogie boarders, surfers, kayakers, or anyone who simply loves water and nature. Do remember that it’s part of Pacific Rim National Park, so you’ll have to pay to park your vehicle in one of the three lots. There is camping available at Green Point for those astute and keen enough to book well in advance. And the upscale Pointe Restaurant in the Wickaninnish Inn (reviewed elsewhere in this blog) is perfect for those special evenings out.

 

Rain Forest Trail

This is a moderate 2 km stroll along a figure 8 boardwalk that straddles the highway near Wickaninnish Beach. With its giant cedars, salmon streams, hanging moss and lush ferns, it’s classic west coast ancient rainforest, delightful for locals and an exotic treat for those from out of province.

 

Shorepine Bog Trail

To get to Shorepine Bog, take Wick Road off Pacific Rim Highway and drive 2 km (bearing right) to the parking lot. This flat 800-metre loop boardwalk is an easy 20-30 minute stroll for almost anyone, including those in wheelchairs or walking their pooch. Glacier-carved, the bog is covered in sphagnum moss along with odd-looking stunted and deformed trees and bushes cause by the overly acidic soil. Definitely worth a visit, and a good example of the region’s rich biodiversity.

 

Nuu-chah-nulth Trail

Formerly known as the Wickaninnish Trail, the 3.8 km-long Nuu-chah-nulth Trail is the longest hiking trail in Pacific Rim National Park. The trail gives you access to four different beaches: Wickaninnish, Lismer, South Beach and Florencia Bay. It’s mostly boardwalk and nice and flat, though there is a steep climb to a viewpoint overlooking Long Beach. You could easily spend a whole day here exploring and taking photos.

You access it the same way as the Shorepine Bog Trail – by taking a right on Wick Road off the Pacific Rim Highway. If you want to start your walk at the north end, keep going past the Shorepine Bog parking until you get to the Kwisitis Visitor Centre at Wikaninnish Beach. Or, if you’d prefer to start at the south end, bear left at the fork 200 m before the Shorepine Bog parking and drive south for about a kilometre. Or hey, just follow your GPS. This U-shaped trail is not a loop, so be prepared to retrace your steps over the roughly 8 km total distance.

 

Willowbrae/Halfmoon Bay Trail

This 2.8 km loop with 173 stairs includes one of the original corduroy roads used for travel between Tofino And Ucluelet. You can still see the notches made by the axes of pioneer homesteaders. From the dirt parking lot accessed by turning off at Willowbrae Road, walk through a wooden gate and along a wide, gravel path as it heads almost straight to a boardwalk followed by a long stretch of stairs leading to a beautiful, secluded beach area. A left fork about 200m from the end of the Willowbrae Trail diverts you to the Halfmoon Bay Trail, with its hairpin descending turns, stairs and wooden ramps to the beach.

 

Wild Pacific Trail Lighthouse Loop

If you don’t mind driving (or biking) all the way south to Ucluelet, this trail is definitely worth a visit. An easy and relatively flat 2.6 km, it’s a beautifully laid out and maintained loop circumscribing the perimeter of a rugged peninsula projecting out into the ocean – and still home to an active lighthouse. Lots of places to take classic photos of the massive rock formations along the Pacific Ocean coastline. It’s especially popular with storm watchers who don’t mind bundling up on those blustery weather days to observe nature’s fury from the relative shelter of this tree-covered pathway.

Love birds? We have 350 species

Love birds? We have 350 species

Tofino is one of the most biodiverse areas you will ever see, and our bird population is no exception. You can explore on your own or hire a professional guide. Adrian Dorst is the person I reach out to when I want to do a tour. A published photographer and nature lover, he has lived on the coast since 1972, and knows the best places to spot some of the 350 species populating the west coast of Vancouver Island – from sandpipers to owls, Marbled Godwits, Black-Headed Grosbeaks, Townsend’s Warblers and more. He’ll escort you to view the birds of your choice – or his if you’re open to it. Of course birds come and go, so he can’t guarantee any sightings. But you’ll at least get a good walk and a good helping of intelligence about our local feathered friends. Check out his credentials and rates at https://www.tofinobirding.com/.

 

Right here at Tofino Hummingbird Cottage we see robins, osprey, eagles, tanagers, chickadees, thrushes, cow birds (which lay eggs in other birds’ nests) and, of course, lots of Rufous hummingbirds.

 

Closer to the water you’ll likely see oyster catchers, seagulls, grebes, sandpipers, cormorants and many more.

 

Bring your SLR camera with telephoto lens, some good waterproof walking shoes and maybe a guide book to identify what you’re seeing.

chickadee on branch
Local, natural and 100% yummy, these are my favourite Tofino Restaurants

Local, natural and 100% yummy, these are my favourite Tofino Restaurants

plate of vegetables and salad

Wickaninnish Inn  

 I have to confess that for years I shied away from the Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn. Tofino’s highest-profile and most renowned establishment was too expensive and fancy for me, I always thought. Then one evening a friend took me there for dinner and I was blown away. The service, the friendliness and the quality of the food were all fantastic. It was an amazing experience, worth every penny – though definitely priced in the fine dining range. And as you’d expect the setting is amazing, right on Chesterman Beach, complete with surf, seabirds and the ocean’s eternal thrum. Wine lovers will also know right away that they’ve come to the right place. The Pointe’s very capable sommelier will take you through their long list of exceptional wines to make sure you won’t be disappointed. The locally caught seafood is a favourite, of course. In fact, almost all the ingredients, including meat, game and produce, are locally sourced and lovingly prepared. Also just a five-minute walk from Tofino Hummingbird Cottage via Chesterman beach. Highly recommended for those special occasions.

 

Driftwood Café/On The Rocks bar

These two sub-establishments at the Wickaninnish have the same seaside cachet and excellent service as The Pointe. The Driftwood is right on the beach and offers excellent cappuccinos, lattes or other caffeinated (or non-caffeinated) beverages of your choice. And they have an area for dogs, so I can bring my Jack Russell terrier, Kando. Great place to have a coffee! For a glass of wine, craft brew or creative cocktail, the Wickaninnish’s On The Rocks licensed lounge is a classy retreat for appies and reconnecting.

 

Tacofino         

As you might guess, the Tacofino name – so well known today in Vancouver and the BC Lower Mainland – started right here in Tofino. Their original food truck is still the spot for tacos, burritos and gringas filled with seared albacore, beans, tempura ling cod and pork. The food is delicious, and the company’s success is well deserved. On the other hand, it also means they simply can’t keep up with the strong demand in most busy seasons – mainly summer – when the lineups can be up to two hours long. But if you’re hungry enough or patient or both, the food is consistently great, and the truck is only five minutes’ walk from Tofino Hummingbird Cottage. In the off-season, I typically phone in my orders and pick them up 10 or 15 minutes later.

 

Tofitian

When I’m looking for a light breakfast with top-quality coffee (voted best in Tofino, many times), loose-leaf tea, Matcha or “gourmet chocolate frothy delight” as their website calls it, I head for the Tofitian. Located right on the Pacific Rim Hwy, next to Beaches Grocery and Wildside Grill. Gluten-free and vegan options are available in the array of breakfast sandwiches, sausage rolls, cookies, muffins, cakes and other treats that emerge daily from their in-house bakery.

 

Wildside Grill

Another place I frequent is the Wildside Grill, also five minutes’ walk from the Cottage, and located in the same complex as the Tacofino truck. Its two partners, Jeff Mikus and Jesse Blake, are a commercial fisherman and chef respectively. Seating is outdoor or takeout (my usual choice), and while the emphasis is on seafood, they also offer yummy pulled pork, chicken and even poutine. Even the salads (green and Caesar) are good. And if you’re not into deep-fried, they will happily grill your fish for you instead. The ingredients are carefully selected from local suppliers – beef, pork and elk from an ethical farm in Pemberton, BC, MSC-certified tuna from a supplier near Parksville, MSC-certified ling cod from a fisherman in Port Alberni, and chicken from an award-winning, fourth-generation farm in nearby Duncan, BC.

 

Wolf in the Fog

A fine dining establishment with a casual twist is the relatively new (2013) Wolf in the Fog. With what it calls its ‘hip-meets-chill vibe,’ and located right in town, it specializes in local, naturally sourced ingredients – salmon, chanterelle mushrooms harvested from nearby forests, squid, tuna, halibut. Lots of cocktails, local brews and BC wines to choose from as well. Chef Nicholas Nutting has a simple approach which he says honours local ingredients from the Island’s fishers and farmers, as well as foraged goods from Tofino’s forests and shores. Says the website: ‘We’re proud to be a part of this culinary community in such a quirky corner of Canada, right at the end of the road.’ The prices lean toward the haute side of cuisine, but if you can afford them and want to treat yourself to a classic Tofino lunch or dinner, the Wolf is calling.

 

1909 Kitchen

Tofino’s only waterfront resort and marina has its own restaurant, and it’s a good one. Situated right on the inner harbour with a postcard backdrop of forested mountains, scrap-scrounging eagles and the occasional departing float plane or schooner, the 1909 Kitchen is a great choice for breakfast or dinner. I’d recommend the 1909 for atmosphere alone, but the meals, designed by executive chef Terry Somerville, earn equal billing, with such seafood delights as bouillabaisse (fish stew) and escabeche (side stripe prawns in chili and basil) –– or non-seafood dishes ranging from a 7 oz. burger with Monterey Jack cheese, to a juicy half chicken with oregano, patatas bravas and root vegetables. Ingredients are mostly sourced and foraged from Tofino’s oceans, shoreline and forests, or you can bring your own catch and have them prepare and cook it for you in their 1000-degree wood-fired Mugnaini oven.

 

SoBo

According to its website, SoBo started as a humble mom-and-pop food truck in 2003 and has since risen to the award-winning full service restaurant that it is today. Situated proudly in Tofino’s downtown core, and short for ‘sophisticated Bohemian,’ SoBo embodies the grassroots gourmet cuisine of Chef Lisa Ahier, who previously worked at the upscale Wickaninnish Inn. Her dishes highlight wild, foraged, and local seasonal ingredients, and are complemented by the region’s best biodynamic wines and craft brews. The ethic of local, organic, wild foraged sourcing has become a huge part of SoBo’s identity. If you like to support local, this is the restaurant to visit. We are all looking forward to the day when sufficient staffing means they can open again for dinners. Prices are reasonable – just $12 for a bowl of yummy smoked salmon chowder, for example, or $15 for a serving of buckwheat soba (Japanese noodle) salad, or $18 for a Margherita pizza with San Marzano sauce and fresh basil. Let’s hope the end of the pandemic will bring a new beginning for SoBo. If you’d rather eat in to enjoy their cuisine, there’s a copy of SoBo’s recipe book in the Cottage just waiting to challenge your cooking skills.