Every year we use my partner’s birthday as the spring board into road trip season. Early May the sun is out and it is the perfect time to do some exploring in super natural British Columbia! This year we decided on Tofino as our destination. It’s been three years since our last visit and the memory of our time there long ago is still vivid. We went back planning on revisiting the places we remembered, and hoping to discover a few more to add to the list for next rime.
Our vehicle of choice for our little excursion was the Infiniti QX80. A SUV with the room and features to guarantee you a comfortable ride. It proved especially useful on our hour and 40 minute ferry ride there, then back again the day after. Having ridden the ferry numerous times, the magic of being on the deck has long lost its charm. So we spent the travel time in the QX80. Once reclined its front seats made for a comfortable napping place. The cabin of the car kept the warmth in and the noise out. It even did its best to muffle the sounds of the car alarms that went off when the ferry rocked a little more against the waves we were travelling on.
If we had the energy to stay up we could have taken advantage of the entertainment system, sneaking to the back to watch one of two screens attached to the head rests up front.
Admittedly, the reason why we don’t visit Tofino as often as we could, given the proximity of it to Vancouver, is because of the ferry rates. A reservation isn’t necessary, but the guarantee sure is reassuring. This will set you back $21 with the need to check in at least 30 minutes before. The ride itself for two in one vehicle is around $89. And at those prices you still haven’t covered your actual stay in Tofino.
If you are looking for something on the cheaper side you loose that water front view. We opted for this and found ourselves in a laneway Airbnb. It was a studio space with the narrowest washroom. I couldn’t urinate or brush my teeth without banging my elbow against the shower stall. A stall that serves it purpose, but the weight of your full body standing under the facet caused the bottom to give way in a bubble.
Though the rest of the suite was nice. No television, but a couch that pulled out. It functioned as another bed next to the queen tucked into the nook by the window. This was worth staying the night for at $147 a night, although that price was at a discount and the cleaning fee was also as much as the rental itself.
My partner enjoys driving off the beaten path, which allows us to explore more, to discover view points unseen by those less daring. And the utility-ness of the QX80 allowed for this with ease. Given its height, speed bumps and rockier terrain didn’t stop us. From gravel roads to fresh pavement our drive was a pleasant one.
The only hurdle were the more windy roads with 90 degrees turns. The length of the Infiniti QX80 meant turning wasn’t on a dime. It required more motion and more forethought in order to keep the SUV on track. But even at higher speeds the ride was smooth, you didn’t hear the wind hit against the vehicle or the other cars whipping past. Just the sound of insects as they went splat on the windshield.
Our ferry ride took us to Nanaimo. There we drove a little before stopping in Parksville for lunch. Here we stumbled upon “Rod & Gun”, a bar with a long history in Nanaimo. They have served Parksville and the community as one of the longest running bar and restaurant. It has since been declared a historic site. Thanks to the warming sun we were able to sit out on their court yard patio. Plastic chairs and tables partnered with a stone fountain of lion heads spitting water.
There we had a pound of their “Legendary wings”. Panko breaded chicken wings tossed in your choice of sauce. We went for the tried and true honey garlic, taking the menu’s suggestion to pair it with a sleeve of Kokanee beer.
I also got the local burger upon recommendation from out server. Their house made ground chuck beef patty, charbroiled and topped with melted cheese and their “Gun” aioli.
Next came a stop in Port Alberni for some ice cream. I usually get a treat during road trips. I can sleep anywhere, but one of my favourite places for a nap is in a moving car with the sun hitting me. So in order to keep me up as a driving companion, my partner typically bribes me. Today it was a single scoop of ice cream that looked and ate like a double.
We stopped at Coombs country candy for the reason above. Here they make their own homemade sweets, chocolates, and ice creams. My partner would pick up some fudge for himself. The young clerk offered to create a pack of four in any flavour combination he wanted. He got a quarter of caramel, chocolate, vanilla, and maple.
I was having a hard time deciding between their soft serves, vegan friendly gelatos made with coconut milk, or traditional ice cream in some creative and traditional flavours. I was offered samples to make the picking process easier. I was considering the chai and caramel apple before taking the clerk up on her offer of splitting the one scoop into two flavours. I went with rainbow and cotton candy given their bright colours. They weren’t too sweet, more milky than sugar.
There we checked out some future potential camp grounds, deciding that we wanted to return when the weather was better and a lot more stable. On the drive to we were caught in a lot of rain sprinkled with patches of sun. And the Infiniti QX80 helps with such inconsistencies. The wipers have a feature that intuitively starts the swishing as soon as moisture touches the windshield. Although even with a light sprinkle they don’t let up. And it’s a fast swish or none at all. So you find yourself eventually turning off that function.
We eventually hit the Pacific Rim, passing the 49th parallel. From here we would stop by each beach we passed. I found each unique it its view, wildlife, and sand. During our stay, we explored many of the rain forest paths and these beaches, accessible to the public. The following are a few photos of what I found interesting and all that I want to remember.
The first was Florencia Bay beach, which turned out to be a popular stop for surfers. And more so this weekend as Tofino was hosting the Rip Curl surf tournament. More on that later.
Here the tides were receding. Pulling along shells, rock, and bits of marine life in fragments. They reminded me of meteors flying through the sky with their “tails”.
With all the debris, these water droplets washed a shore in throes. These ”little blobs of jelly are a jellyfish-like animal called a sea gooseberry”. As a group, sea gooseberries are called ‘comb jellies’ (Ctenophora) because they swim using rows of pulsating, comb-like ‘hairs’ along their bodies. This would be the only place we would see them.
The next beach too had jellyfish, like all the other beaches to come. It seemed the sand was over run off with an excessive amount of these blue jellyfishes with a “sail”. Closer to the water your found most of them alive. The further you got their dead and dried bodies were stack together like lawn clipping and fallen leaves waiting for disposal. They are the “Velella velella”, also known as the By-the-Wind-Sailors. They are carnivorous animals, related to jellyfish. They do sting, but not enough to harm people. Here they are at varied forms of rest at Wickaninnish beach.
What made this beach stop memorable was the sand, it, the wind, and the heat gave you the feeling of being in a dessert. You needed to cover your nose and mouth during larger gusts. The blowing of the steady wind caused very defined ridges in the sand and knots in my hair.
Long beach was long, like what one might assume given its name. I remembered it by the large earth formation in the middle of the water. During low tide this would be accessible by walking.
Chesterman beach was the first beach that we first watched the sunset in Tofino on, so we found our way back there again.
During our first Tofino visit the tide was so low that we were able to walk to the island home that normally would only be accessible by boat. On this night we didn’t get as much clearance. But we still had a spectacular view. Although it didn’t engulf you as much, given the increased distance between you and the sun that seemed to fall of the edge of the earth.
We would return to Chesterman beach the next day, to be able to enjoy low tide in the day time.
Here we were able to fully experience the wonder of the sea in how it shapes the world. The boulders sculpted by crashing waves and the canals created by running water.
Rocks covered with barnacles and pools teeming with bright green and neon pink sea anemones.
I was most ecstatic to find sand dollars washed ashore. I have seen them dried up in washroom dishes before; but never live, large, and fibrous.
I was also captivated by the starfish clinging under the shade of a rock. It was large, orange, and veiny.
During all our time running around the beach, and me exploring the shore line looking for “treasures” in the form of smooth rounded rocks and shiny ridged shells, we lost track of the waves, and as a result our shoes got soaked. We were doomed to squish around, until my partner decided to utilize one of the added features of our Infiniti QX80. We cranked the rear seat’s heating. Dual vents by your feet, typically used to warm toes on cold days. Now, a dryer set at 32 degrees. Fast forward, an hour later of driving and exploring, and my shoes were dry for a comfortable wear.
From there we also utilized the QX80 as our dining room. The arm rest became a table when we did drive through. And its tailgate a picnic bench we parked ourselves for lunch at the popular “Tacofino” food truck.
But first our patience was tested as we waited in the ever growing line to order and again to pick up. It made us hungrier and the food all the more better.
The chicken and pork gringa. And the tuna, beef, and fish taco. The crispy cheesy tortilla shell had the gooeyness of a quesadilla, but with the crunch of melted cheese over nachos. As for their regular tacos the fresh fish was the best. I have had the same tacos in Vancouver, but for some reason it is just tastes better here. Maybe the fish they use is a whole lot fresher? I also got one of their diablo cookies, but sadly it was burnt to the point that it gave off an acrid taste.
But if the line is too long at “Tacofino”, and you need to satisfy your taco cravings, there are a few you can grab from another nearby concession. “Wild Side Grill” also offers burgers, salads, and poutine. Admittedly their tacos aren’t as memorable, but it served its purpose in our case.
These three “Carnitas Tacos” featured pulled pork, jack cheese, salsa roja, salsa crude, avotillo, and a lime wedge. They were on the watery side and could have used more pop in flavour, and some spice.
Comparatively I much preferred the Baja burger, although retrospectively it too was fairly bland. “Baja beef burger” with jack cheese, pickled jalapeños, crude, lettuce, chipotle mayo, and avotillo. Served with their house punched fries.
My pattern for burgers would not end there, the next day we would head to “Rhino Coffee House” for a breakfast burger of sorts. Seeing @foodology cover it in her latest trip to Tofino, I made sure to swing by during mine.
The goal was the the “Bro Nut”, a great hangover breakfast sandwich that is basically a burger made from a doughnut. Fried egg, mayo, and your choice of bacon, ham, or sausage; tomato, aged cheddar, and lettuce on a homemade savoury doughnut. The doughnut gave the burger a sweet and salty combination, with fresh vegetables to brighten up each bite.
For dessert it was more doughnuts. Another one that was recommended by @foodology was the “Sour cream beer glazed”. There was a foamy quality to the doughnut, reminiscent of beer. A little bitter, to balance all the sweet. The “Cinnamon and sugar beer” doughnut used the same type of dough, just coated in a crunchy layer of cinnamon and sugar. And the “Boston cream” came with an icing smiley and a fillin of custard cream. The use of dark chocolate gave the doughnut a slight bitter quality, equalized by the eggy custard cream filling.
During our visit, we were also be able to catch the first day of three of the “Rip Curl” sponsored surf competition. This is the first time I got to witness professional surfers riding a wave. Or rather squint at them from a far. There was an announcer giving the audience a play by play to help those follow along. There is no fee to watch you just claim an empty space and face the water. Similarly, beach goers, not here to watch the comparison, can similarly walk across the beach and block your view of the match up.
In short, our trip to Tofino was too short. One sun set isn’t enough, you need at least two to three to remotely feel satiated. I look forward to visiting the island again, and hopefully in a vehicle as comfortable and as accommodating as the Infiniti QX80.