At the end of September I wrote part 1 of this post with a promise to get the sequel out as soon as possible; then life happened. But I am back and what better way to start the new year than with a continuation on beautiful British Columbia?! From Vancouver we hopped over to Vancouver Island which could be a holiday destination in and of itself complete with sweeping beaches, untouched ancient forest and amazing wildlife. Moving around is essential here so hiring a car is a must!
(A) Tofino -
Characterised by its wild Pacific scenery and avid surfing community, Tofino sits on the west coast of Vancouver Island, just a 45 min flight from Vancouver proper.
(i) Eating & Drinking -
When eating in Tofino, it was immediately obvious that menus were inspired by the surrounding forests and ocean, and it was here that we ate the best food of our entire trip. Standout eateries included:
The Wolf in the Fog on the main strip is a rustic gastro-pub serving top seasonal dishes using only locally-sourced ingredients. Having won awards, this restaurant has made a great name for itself and if you were to have only one meal in Tofino, make sure it is here!
Shed Tofino sits exactly opposite the Wolf in the Fog and was a perfect pit stop for lunch. They have a great selection of salads and bowl dishes that can be enjoyed on their front sun-smothered porch and the general vibe is light and easy.
The Tofino Brewing Company takes up one lot in an unassuming industrial estate off of the main road leading into Tofino. With a line up of staple craft brews alongside an ever-revolving selection of the weird and wacky, this is a must stop for beer enthusiasts!
Top tip - just beside the brewery is a spirits distillery too and their gin was gooood!
Ice House Oyster Bar can be found on Tofino's historic waterfront and if you can bag an outside table ahead of time, there is no better place to watch the vibrant sunset over a dozen fresh oysters and a spicy bloody mary!
(ii) Hiking & Nature in Tofino/Ucluelet
As I mentioned previously, British Columbia, and Vancouver Island in particular, is rampant with wild coastline and dense, ancient and moss-caked forest. We found some of the best examples of this in the 35 min drive between Tofino and Ucluelet, including:
The Wild Pacific Trail is called wild for good reason! A series of hiking trails through forest overlooking sheer drops to craggy coves below is considered one of the best if you want to really experience the true nature of the Pacific coastline. The weather there could change from intense sun and heat to foggy and humid in only minutes and was really quite fascinating!
Schooner Cove Trail is an easy peasy 2km trail that leads through lush rainforest before reaching a Pacific Ocean beach with incredible rocky outcrops and crystal clear waters.
(B) Cathedral Grove, Cameron Lake & the Coombs Country Market
En route to the East coast of Vancouver Island, we stopped to admire Cathedral Grove, part of the MacMillan Provincial Park. This patch is a rare and endangered remnant of an ancient Douglas fir ecosystem, much of which is 700+ years old. Walking under these towering giant trees amidst the dense ferns and thick wispy moss was really very humbling. I honestly could have spent hours in what was perhaps the most serene and magical place I’ve ever visited!
When you’re wandering through the temperate rainforest and happen upon a crystal clear, mountain clad lake. Yes we went swimming, and yes it was freezing! Worth every second! What we didn't know at time of swimming is that following a number of sightings over the years, scientists are convinced a 'cryptid', or yet unidentified creature (monster), is known to lurk at the bottom of this stunning lake...argh!!!
And finally...Coombs Country Market once started as a roadside fruit stand on the East-West route across the island. Over the years it has evolved into a landmark complete with a mixture of shops and eateries selling everything from deli foods to cakes, flowers to toys. And did I mention the roof is covered in grass and the home to a family of goats?!
(C) Victoria -
Passing by Nanaimo, where we would eventually return to catch the ferry back to the mainland, we town hopped south til we reached British Columbia's capital, Victoria. Sitting on the southern most point of the island, Victoria is awash with Victorian architecture, an echo of its colonial British past.
(i) Whale Watching -
The Eagle Wing Tours crew did an amazing job but when we hit a patch of thick fog there was no telling that within minutes we’d have waves crashing down on the boat...to say it was rocky would be a huge understatement! That said, soaked through, terrified and having lost a few to severe sea sickness, we made it through just in time to see a significant pod of orcas (killer whales) hunting.
And we learnt so much...did you know that orcas are the most extensively spread mammal around the globe after humans? Or that they are a matriarchal species? Or that whilst there is only one species, there are 12 ecotypes classified by things like culture, language and diet? It was really fascinating and hugely humbling, to see these sadly endangered animals in the wild!
We caught the whale watching boat from Fisherman's Wharf which is well worth a visit if only to see its colourful floating home village!
(ii) Eating & (mainly) Drinking -
Red Fish Blue Fish may just be a small hut on the dock, but the quality of its food is mighty, a testament to the hordes of people queuing for a taste! These are their wild salmon tacos that we had alongside one of their chipotle coconut chowders.
Victoria Public Market has a reach history dating back to 1909. Since then it's been repurposed a fair few times but most recently into a food market, selling farm fresh produce, locally sourced street food and crafts, all to an everchanging roster of live entertainment.
The Canoe Brew Pub is a microbrewery located on the waterfront in a historic timber and brick warehouse. Grab a pint of one of their onsite brews in their pub or enjoy a flavoursome meal on their scenic patio.
Craft beer is all over British Columbia, but on Vancouver Island you won't find more than in Victoria. Starting from the Canoe Brew Pub and heading north on Government Street, enjoy pint after pint (or flight after flight) of craft beer from Phillips Brewing, Vancouver Island Brewing, Hoyne Brewing Co, Driftwood Brewery and Moon Under Water.
Top tip: for the beer enthusiasts out there, grab yourself a copy of the latest Growler Craft Beer Guide which is teeming with all the top drinking holes in the entirety of the province!
Bonus - A Whistlestop Visit to Whistler
With our Vancouver Island tour done, we ferried it back over to the mainland and drove up the coast to Whistler. Centered around a small chalet style pedestrian village and famous for the Blackcomb ski resort, Whistler is an outdoorsy person's dream; perfect for skiiing in the winter and hiking in the summer.
Whilst we had no where near enough time to see all that Whistler has to offer, the time we did have there was truly mesmerising.
Hike to Panorama Ridge -
We braved and conquered the 32km (20 mile) Panorama Ridge hike in Whistler’s bear country. Armed with our bear bell and spray (real things) we traversed dense hardwood forest,
meadows smattered with wild flowers and finally, a loose rock cliff face complete with snow and thick fog. It was hard! Distance aside, the incline up and down was an absolute killer AND because of the fog we didn’t even get our aerial view of the pristine blue Garibaldi Lake at the top...but en route back we made a detour and saw it from its shores instead.
And that is finally that! An unforgettable trip to an unforgettable nook of the world. I struggle to imagine how anywhere could compete in terms of natural beauty and very much hope I get the chance to travel back again soon!
On to the next adventure!