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A beginner's guide to Tofino, Vancouver Island

I try to avoid making sweeping generalisations about whole nations of people, but I’m willing to stand by this one; Canadians love being outdoors. They do. Every Canadian I’ve ever met has had good things to say about this ‘great outdoors’ I keep hearing so much about.

Whatever the weather, Canadians will find a way to be close to nature; skiing, surfing, hiking, fishing, anything to get out into the beautiful landscape they call home. City folk are just as spoiled as the more rural communities as even the grittiest, traffic-congested, rain-washed cityscapes are bordered by nature reserves, overlooked by breath-taking mountains and surrounded by peaceful, sparkling lakes.

Just a short ferry trip from Vancouver, the eighth largest city in Canada, is the small town of Tofino notable for its perfect, and I mean perfect beach. You’re probably thinking that my perfect isn’t necessarily your perfect but consider this, the beach is long and sandy and surrounded by towering cedar trees. Eagles fly overhead and whales swim freely not too far from the shore. You can kayak, surf, fish or just lie on the beach and breathe in the sharp, clean sea air. Only around 1,400 people live in Tofino, so if you explore enough you may even get a small slice of all this to yourself.

You wouldn’t believe somewhere this wild and natural could exist so close to a metropolitan centre like Vancouver and retain its character, and yet there are no Starbucks in Tofino, nope, not even a Tim Hortons. In its rejection of the sort of chain restaurants and franchise coffee shops that plague every tourist destination on the globe, Tofino is a safe haven, an oasis of laid back lifestyle and small town charm.

The weather in Tofino is generally defined as temperate. What this basically means is that the winters don’t cause the blood in your veins to freeze solid and the summers don’t boil it until it evaporates. The winters are quite warm and the summers are quite cool. It’s just nice.

The combination of this temperate weather and the sea around Tofino draws people from all over the world. Even in the winter, there is a large and welcoming community of surfers keen to ‘ride the waves’ as surfer-types say. Whale-watchers too flock to Tofino year-round to catch a glimpse of the Grey and Humpback whales native to the area. People go fishing, camping, hiking, kayaking and bear watching in Tofino, it really is a nature-lovers paradise.

The easiest and fastest way to get to Tofino is by taking a small charter flight, available daily during the summer. Prices vary and are said to be reasonable. A much more realistic option for most is travelling to Tofino by ferry and bus. You can also drive, including a ferry trip of course, but it does take around nine hours so probably only one to tackle with at least two drivers sharing the load. Don’t let the long drive put you off though, they couldn’t make it too easy to get there – too many tourists might just break the spell.


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