LONG Beach has such an entrancing reputation that it’s one of those destinations you put off visiting until all the right elements are in place.
As a result, I had never been to the area until last June, when the allure of the Tofino Food and Wine Festival and the prospect of a two-bedroom rainforest cottage at Long Beach Resort (which is actually on Cox Bay beach) made it too compelling to resist. But what would the children do there, as the grownups got slowly tipsier and, if the area’s reputation proved true, it started to rain? It turned out there was plenty to occupy a couple of 12-year-old boys, not to mention three rambunctious dogs, and we left the area vowing to return. The hot weather was the cherry on top.
First, the journey — a painless ferry ride to Nanaimo from Horseshoe Bay, then a few hours’ drive to the resort. On the way there, we paused for a mango smoothie in Port Alberni; on the way back, we demolished lip-smacking cod and chips at the city’s waterfront, and stopped on the highway for a leafy stroll through Cathedral Grove, some of whose giant trees date back 800 years.
The cottage itself could not have been more welcoming, decorated with lodge-y elements like wood and stone, and supplied with a generous kitchen-dining-living room for dogs and boys to sprawl in. The beasts were supplied with their own floor pillows, dishes and towels. The boys took over the master bedroom and had their own private hot tub just outside the French doors. Deep soaker tubs in both bathrooms made
staying in almost as inviting for the adults as exploring outdoors.
At the foot of the resort’s driveway, Long Beach Lodge offers hotel rooms for those who don’t want a cottage, and everybody is welcome in its airy Great Room, which not only has a spectacular three-
sided view, but also a fireplace and board games.
It’s the beach, though, that cries out to you. One glimpse of its broad, silken sands, bracketed by rocky outcrops topped with bravely coping conifers, and staying indoors seems ludicrous. We dashed out to glory in the crashing waves and enjoy the driftwood seating so thoughtfully provided by nature. The boys danced in the surf while we shivered just watching them and we all tossed sticks, seaweed and even mussels for
leash-free mutts who thought they were in paradise. Another day, at low tide, the small pools at one end of the beach were jeweled with anemones and starfish while crabs scuttled to safety as the dogs splashed
When, eventually, the chill set in, we headed off by car on a 10 km. trek north to Tofino, where the Tuff City outdoor skateboard park beckoned the boys and we adults could hit the Consumers Co-op for snacks and food essentials. (Adults more than children appreciate the sophisticated culinary stylings of chef Jeffery Young in the Lodge’s restaurant.)
Art lovers of any age will also find distractions in Tofino, where the Eagle Art Gallery features the work of such well-known First Nations artists as Roy Henry Vickers. Afterward, wander over to the Common Bake Shop for a blondie or a piece of its fabulous carrot cake.
Between Tofino and the resort is a funky enclave of shops along the highway, featuring the Groovy Movie
shop, which happily rents DVDs to visitors and also sells granola and hand-dipped candles. (Presumably “dinner and a movie” in this neck of the woods always includes a granola amuse bouche.) In this rustic strip mall there’s a chocolate and ice cream store called Chocolate Tofino, where for $15 you can buy a chocolate bear stuffed with chocolate fish, and a tiny grocery store that, unexpectedly, sells artisanal breads and an assortment of interesting cheeses. Live to Surf is the surf and skateboard store here (there are several
in town); for the youngsters with me, pawing through the merchandise and chatting with the cool dudes who staff such establishments was a bonus.
The highlight of the boys’ and my weekend was our whale watch with Ocean Outfitters. Outfitted in hideous red snowmobile-like suits that had a life preserver inside, we climbed aboard a Zodiac piloted by Graeme Ashby. Despite the fact that we had a “calm” ocean, the Zodiac bounced up and down on the waves like an amusement park ride. The boys were as delighted by this as they would have been at Disneyland. Just as fulfilling was the fact that every so often, Ashby slowed down and pointed out such sights as a couple of eagle chicks in their nest, explaining that it takes months for them to learn to fly. Their parents demonstrate the appropriate moves, he said, and when they’re just about ready, the chicks will stand on the edge of the nest, wings spread, waiting for a gust of wind on which to soar. They’ll experiment with how that feels,always with the nest close by to fall into. It’s sort-of like going on a whale watch with your mother — a safe adventure.
Along the route, Ashby also showed us a well-populated seabird preserve while discussing the pelagic
birds, like puffins, that show up there. He identified the creature the boys spotted as a California sea lion, one of the many males (no females) who come this way in the winter and then return to warmer climes to mate. Then, finally, we saw a spout in the distance. Over the course of our couple of hours on the water Ashby got us fairly close to five or more massive humpback whales who were surfacing, then flipping their tails our way as they “sounded,” diving deep.
Ashby told us about the humpback’s song and how it can travel up to 150 km., how the males hang upside down and croon during mating season, how each group has its own peculiar ditty, and how that refrain evolves over decades. We returned to shore tired, hungry, educated and infinitely pleased with Ashby,
the Zodiac, the whales and ourselves.
It’s probably for the best that the Tofino Food and Wine Festival’s central celebration, which takes place at the Tofino Botanical Gardens, is for adults only, given the fact that your $75 ticket gets you all the glasses of B.C. wine (meted out modestly) that you can drink, and swishy canapes from assorted local restaurants. It’s
also a no-drive event, so people walk or get to its location by shuttle. It’s a lovely Saturday afternoon bash, set in wild-looking gardens sparked with whimsical sculptures and other installations. (The 12 acres of
shoreline, forest and pocket gardens featuring 60 percent of Clayoquot Sound’s native flora are ordinarily kid-friendly and certainly merit a visit; there’s even a boat for the small fry to climb upon.)
Among the best offerings at the Gardens this particular time was the morel and asparagus tart offered by
SoBo, which for years cooked outrageously good food out of a purple van at the Botanical Gardens. SoBo’s bohos have now moved into town; if you’re anywhere near Tofino, their polenta fries, fish tacos, and tofu pockets stuffed with wild salmon are all must-tries.
Still, Tofitians, as you start calling yourself after one dazzled afternoon in the area, cannot live by food and
wine alone. The beach forever beckons. One day, it was Chesterman — over which the legendary Wickaninnish Inn hovers like a divine mirage — that could not be put off. Kids, dogs and adults spilled
out over the landscape to investigate this vast shank of sand with its unearthly mists.
“The Wick” is a phenomenon unto itself, wonderfully designed to fit in with the rainforest beachscape
it overlooks. The hotel is so devoted to displaying local art that it has a carving hut on its property, where Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations artist Joe Martin works. Every aspect of this independently owned Relais
& Chateaux inn is intended to celebrate the west coast, to the extent that speakers outside the restaurant are sometimes used to feed the pounding of the surf into the classical music on the sound system. Foodie
alert: There’s a kids’ menu in the Pointe Restaurant, if you’re up for a family splurge.
At this point in our weekend, it was time to depart and we realized we hadn’t yet seen the legendary Long
Beach. The kids didn’t care — they were beached out — but we insisted on stopping en route to the other side of the island and our ferry home. So we beetled down the road, and there we finally were, crammed into the parking lot with a crowd of shaggy-haired surfers in wetsuits, all bent on exploring this famous swath of coastline, with its outrageous breakers. But despite the fact that we’d had sunny skies 20 minutes up the road at our hotel, fog now shrouded the beach, so only the pile of driftwood in front of us was visible. Weird.
As we clambered back into the car, we decided this was just Tofino’s way of making sure we came back. No worries there. We’re already booked for 2008.
If you go:
Long Beach Lodge, 1441
Pacific Rim Highway,
Vancouver Island; 1-877-844-
Ocean Outfitters, Tofino,
Tofino Botanical Gardens,
Tofino Food and Wine
Festival, June 6-8,
SoBo, 311 Neill Street,
Tofino Time Magazine,
for information about local