My bonus daughter (and offspring of ATB#1) was working on Vancouver Island and was able to extend her visit a few days. She was keen to see some of the wild Pacific Coast and spend time in nature. We made a plan for me to pick her up in Victoria on Monday morning, spend a few days in Tofino on the west coast. We would camp in Wanda, walk trails, and immerse ourselves in the area before making the return trip to Victoria on Friday. I gave her the task of making decisions regarding stops along the way with a reminder that daylight was short, with sunset before 17:00.
My day started by catching the 09:00 am ferry from Tsawassen (BC Ferry terminal south of Vancouver). Since Wanda is over-height, I pay more but I am much more likely to avoid waits during prime sailings. I choose not to reserve my space and save the surcharge.
My morning ferry ride was glorious! The route across the Salish Sea through Active Pass winds through some of the Gulf Islands to Swartz Bay, south of the capital city of Victoria. For about 10 minutes, a large school of dolphins swam along the port side. I cursed myself for not taking my big camera lens when I left the car deck. It was already past noon. With only a few hours of daylight we needed to do some grocery shopping and there were a couple of stops along the way on the list so we decided that we would be stopping somewhere around Nanaimo before crossing the island. We followed the Malahat Highway north, enjoying quick stops at a couple of the viewpoints along the way.
Duncan, BC Totem Walk
Our first stop was in The City of Totems, Duncan BC which has created a self-guided Totem Tour through the town center. This is a project that has developed (and continues to develop) one of the world's largest outdoor collection of totem poles.
A map of the walk and all the 41 totems can be found on their webpage but the walk is clearly marked by yellow footprints on the sidewalks. Each totem is accompanied by a sign with a transcription of interviews and a bio of each carver.
The peoples of the Northwest coast designed house posts or totem poles which told the family history. The designs include family crests and traditional symbols of the Coast Salish and Kwskwska'wakw people.
Totems are intended to be viewed as a whole, with each carving representing a different part of the story. The first totem we came across was made from a 750 year old log and is the world's widest totem (1.8m). The Cedar Man wears a shield showing wealth; the talking stick includes family crests; and the killer whale represents the spirits of the Great Chiefs.
Richard Hunt: Cedar Man Walking Out of The Log
Another totem I enjoyed was a replica of a memorial pole that told the story of Dzunuk'wa (Wild Woman), a figure of terror, power, and wealth.
Ned Matilpi: Thunderbird With Dzunuk'wa
Ladysmith We stopped for famous cinnamon buns but the Old Time Bakery is closed on Mondays. We were at a higher elevation with snow on the ground. We had only planned to get cinnamon buns, so it was a quick walk to the bakery and back on the road.
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park
After a stop for groceries, the light was fading fast so we decided to spend the night at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, a familiar campground that I knew from previous trips. We set up camp and headed down to the beach.
The following day we had a good ramble on the beach as the tide was going out, enjoying watching the waves and the birds and soaking up the sunshine.
On our way to Tofino, we stopped in Coombs. Coombs is really tiny but a stop at the Coombs Country Market is an absolute must. Their big claim to fame is the herd of goats which graze on the grassy roof of the market. They are open from 09:00 - 18:00 every day but are closed in January and February.
It is still worth a stop even in the colder weather when the goats go to their cozy warm barns. The market includes a farm market, café, coffee bar, a bakery, gift shop, home boutique and garden center. The store sells everything from groceries to wet suits.
Qualicum Falls Provincial Park
Then we made another stop at Qualicum Falls Provincial Park for an easy trail walk on the Little Qualicum Falls Trail Loop. This 2km trail goes through an old-growth forested area from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls.
Our last stop before our campsite was at Cathedral Grove at McMillan Provincial Park, which is an area of temperate rainforest with 800 year old trees. These trees are amongst the oldest and tallest in Canada.
The indigenous people of the area have long considered these trees to be sacred and there is a true spirituality standing amongst these giants.
Each side of the road offers a different experience. On one side, there is a boardwalk. On the opposite side, the "Big Tree" area, the path is a dirt trail. There are some excellent signs that describe the biodiversity and history of the forest.
The biggest tree is truly enormous. This Douglas Fir is estimated to be over 800 years old. Its trunk is more than 9 meters (29.5 ft) wide!
We arrived at Cox Beach in Tofino just as the sun was setting. We had chosen the Surf Grove campsite to have access to the beach as well as power, bathrooms and showers. The sun was fading so we didn't bother setting up camp but headed straight down to the beach to enjoy a truly magnificent sunset. There were surfers right up until the last glimmer of daylight faded.
The campground's amenities were excellent. The bathrooms and showers were clean. The showers are free but are not fully enclosed. A strategy for getting dressed quickly is needed. The hot water was plentiful and the WiFi was adequate. The office includes a small shop to pick up essentials. There is a surf school that runs out of the campground during the summer season.
We explored the little town of Tofino. The harbour is so pretty. It was a crisp fall morning and we enjoyed the warmth of the sun (on our many layers of warmth). There's lots of surf, fishing, and adventure tourism available... including this hotel of domes. The harbour is busy with seaplanes and boats.
Later in the day, we would go to the Tofino Brewing Company to sample their beers and to grab a plate of Japanese food from the food truck that is part of the Brewery. With a wide selection of beers and ciders, we both found a brew we liked.
We followed the recommendation of a local and had a cup of coffee at the Savary Island Pie Company before heading off to walk the Tonquin trail. Parts of the trail are closed but we were able to complete the 3.2 km out and back route.
After checking the route and warnings, we headed along the trail and were delighted by the views from the lookouts and small coves. The trail leads through forested sections, up onto cliffs and back down onto sandy beaches and rocky coves.
Due to an exciting career opportunity for my travel partner, we cut our journey a day short so it was time to hit the road and head back to Victoria but first we wanted to make time to hit one more trail; the Lighthouse Loop of the Wild Pacific Trail.
This a fairly easy 2.6 km loop trail, with a few trail extensions including the Bog Interpretative Loop, the Spring Cove mud flats and several small beaches. The trail goes rainforest and along the rocky headlands with dramatic views of Barkley Sound and the Amphitrite Lighthouse. We enjoyed watching the sea lions playing in the waves.
There are frequent viewpoints with benches for sitting and enjoying the vistas. We found some of the trail markers confusing but the paths are wide and clear and we made our way around successfully.
The trail is named for the Amphitrite Lighthouse that was first built in 1906 after a shipwreck. The original wooden lighthouse was replaced a few years later by the current building which is much better able to withstand the tremendous storms this area faces.
It was time to hit the road. We had enjoyed a marvellous time but there was a fairly long trip ahead of us with at least 4 hours to Victoria and a couple more for me with the ferry back to the mainland. This area is full of stunning beauty and small towns to explore. My personal preference would be to spend time in the area during the warmer months of summer but Wanda's heater kept us cozy at night and we dressed appropriately in layers. It was a great "sampler" of the area which made both of us eager to return.
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