Storm Watching - Long Beach and Tofino
Activity:"I've got an idea; why don't we go to Tofino this spring break for some storm-watching." My husband has a reputation for coming up with wacky ideas, but this one took the cake. I mean, who really wants the rain pelting against your face and the wind jostling you around the beach? As it turns out-all five of us. Although I have to admit it was a little touch-and-go getting there. Our trek included a one-and-a-half hour ferryboat ride across the Strait of Georgia, which tested everyone's sense of balance. My youngest thought it was funny walking like a drunk person, but I could tell my husband, who is prone to seasickness, was not amused. The road up was snowy in parts as well, but despite everything, we were having lunch at Port Alberni's one-and-only McDonalds before 12:00 PM, and arrived in Tofino around 3:00 in the afternoon
Our home away from home for three nights was a small gothic shaped cabin on McKenzie Beach. Jen said it was like a wooden tent because there was nothing between the top and the bottom. There was also nothing separating us from the humongous crashing waves but 25 feet of shoreline. The weather when we arrived was precisely what we came for-rain and wind. We put on our water repellant gear and set out into the storm. We all had a laugh at Nathan's boots: size 14 "rubber boats" as Coleman called them. Not only were Nathan's boots big, they weighed a ton. I kidded with him saying, "Now you know what it's like to have a ball-and-chain around your ankles." He didn't find it as funny as I did.
Coleman, honestly thought he was going to lift off the beach at any moment. He couldn't stop laughing. Even Nathan, our teenage son, was having a blast buzzing around like an airplane. Literally you didn't have to put any effort into suspending your arms into the air. The wind was hurrying all of us along the beach. The way back was another matter. The rain was beating down on our unprotected faces and I felt like I was walking on a high-power treadmill. After a couple of hours we needed a rest. That night the wind howled about our cabin. Coleman asked in bed if we'd be in the Land of Oz when we woke up.
The next morning was totally different-0 wind factor, but weird weather. We had rain, hail, snow, and sun all in the same day-same morning to be exact. No exaggeration, the weather changed from sun to snow in a matter of ten minutes. I know because we started a mini-golf game in the sun and finished with two inches of snow. I remember Jen carving little runways out of the snow so she could get her golf ball into the hole. Needless to say nobody got under par that day. By the time we got to Chesterman Beach it was sunny again. We got there just as the tide was way out. This enabled us to walk out to Frank's Island. From the beach Frank's Island looks like a bunch of volcanic rock with some windswept trees. I was surprised to learn it has a handful of small cottages-I still don't know where those could be. Jen and Coleman had fun looking for seashells, while Kelvin and Nathan stood on the rough side and watched the waves smash against the rocks.
Before going home that day we spent an hour in Tofino looking around. I bought some food at the Co-op so we could eat-in. There actually wasn't a whole lot to see otherwise, mostly restaurants with a few gift shops-ideal if you don't want to spend a bunch of money. Coleman spotted a playground on the outskirts, but it was too wet to play on the equipment. Jen went into a shop called Surf Sister, which had lessons and rented surfing gear to girls. My niece, Jaclyn, tried it last year when they were in Tofino and she said it was awesome. Unfortunately, Jen wasn't quite ready for Surf Sister, so we put the idea on hold till next time. That night we played Disney's version of Trivial Pursuit-something we don't do as a family very often. To my surprise (and everybody elses') Nathan won. His memory must be better than his report card suggests.
Friday morning was the coldest. My husband spent five minutes scraping ice from our car windows. He and I ventured out to Cox Bay and left Nathan in charge. I was wearing two layers on the bottom, four layers on the top, toque, scarf and gloves. We got to Cox Bay around 8:00 AM. It was about 8:30 when we spotted two children, one wearing a bikini and the other a short-style bathing suit playing in the surf. Suddenly our interpretation of breaking out and doing something different seemed pale in comparison. I felt old and fuddy-duddy. I can only guess Kelvin felt the same because he was dressed like me.
Ucluelet was our destination that morning. We found a really cool trinket shop where everyone found at least on item they wanted to buy. My choice were napkins with the inscription, "She could no longer pretend he was not an idiot,"-don't worry; it was my husband's idea. After our shopping spree we had lunch at a burrito restaurant which reminded me of Hawaii. The food was delicious. Then it was back to Tofino so Nathan and Kelvin could live their dream of surfing the west coast. They rented some wetsuits at Live to Surf and we headed back to Chesterman Beach. The rest of us laughed so hard when they appeared in their painted on black skins covering everything except their face. Coleman thought Kelvin looked like a black widow Spiderman. While they surfed, Coleman, Jen, and I nosed around Frank's Island for a bit, and then dived into some water ourselves-heated pool style. We rendezvoused back at our cabin around 5:00 PM. Luckily we were all there at 6:00 because something very special happened-an incredible sunset. So incredible about six couples were standing on the beach hugging and kissing while the sun was going down. Even Kelvin felt moved to join them (along with me); and for him holding hands in public is a big deal.
Saturday we said our good-byes to Tofino. This apparently was the first day of the Whale Festival. You see Tofino is famous for whale-spotting. That would have to wait until next time as well. Nathan was already making plans for summer surfing, but Kelvin said the waves wouldn't be as awesome. We left exactly at check-out time, 11:00 AM, and made it to Port Alberni by 1:30 PM. We knew exactly where we wanted to have lunch, J & L's drive-in. The kids never ate in a drive-in before, plus Jen liked the idea because JL are her initials. I've never seen Kelvin enjoy a meal so much. I think it must've been the Chips & Gravy, or was it the Mushroom Burger? No, I found out later, it was the Coke Float with the ice-cream served separately in a Dixie cup. After driving about ¾ of an hour we reached Cathedral Grove, which made a perfect spot for us to get out and stretch our legs. I love the sight of sun peaking through a canopy of towering evergreen trees. This is what awaited us at Cathedral Grove. Another 20 minutes we were already at Nanaimo. For some reason I thought it would take longer. I had my Starbucks Chai Latte, which my husband and kids couldn't resist kidding me about. I have to be honest with you, my day is never complete without one, and there are no Starbuck in Tofino. We caught the 5:00 PM ferry back, and arrived home around 8:30 PM (we stopped at Boston Pizza for dinner).
As an aside, I asked everyone over dinner what they liked best about our mid-week getaway. We each said something different: Coleman liked the French fries at Finns, a delectable little eating place right beside Live to Surf; Jen liked the dips in the road near Tofino which made her feel like she was riding on a roller coaster; Nathe liked the surf and play lifestyle (he openly admits his dream is never having to work); Kelvin enjoyed taking the road less traveled-storm watching in Tofino rather than sun-tanning in Hawaii; and me, I suppose I liked that romantic moment we had when the sun was going down. It reminded me of the first time Kelvin and I went to Kauai (before the gang came along) and the unbelievable sunset we watched while drinking Long Island Tea at the Beach House. Those were the days.
Age group:Long Beach and Tofino has something for everyone.
Expense rating:We found that reasonably priced accommodation was difficult to find.
:Have you ever seen those really cool Hawaiian postcards of surf with a rider tucked inside the wave? You probably didn't realize Tofino's surf rivals that of Hawaii. Even the sand is fantastic. I've never seen it so clean and perfect. What's not the same is the temperature of the air and water in Tofino. The hottest it gets in Tofino is 20 degrees Celsius, and that's only in the summer. You definitely don't want to surf with just your bathing suit on. Thank goodness for wetsuits. These make it all possible for you to catch waves any time of year, which is good, because the big waves happen in the winter. Just think, you could be surfing in the snow!
Aside from the surf, Tofino is a beautiful spot. Miles of sand line the shore. There's Long Beach National Park setting aside miles of trails you can hike along. If hiking isn't your cup of tea, a designated bike path follows the road into town. One thing we didn't try, but I know a lot of people do, is fish. Tofino is a real hotspot for catching fish. Kayaking is popular too. Clayquot Sound is the perfect place to explore by boat. What my husband particularly appreciated is that our adventure didn't involve hopping on a plane and spending a day to get there.
:Tofino is fairly pricey. My girlfriend figured out that in general the hotels were cheaper in Hawaii (and that included the exchange rate). We went out-of-season and stayed in a modest place for less than $200 a night (remember there are 5 of us). There are however a bunch of bed-&-breakfast places which may offer more reasonable rates. I also found eating out for the five of us a luxury. Let's put it this way-there's no such thing as Red Robin or Boston Pizza. We did discover some fabulous lunch places like Finns and the Common Loaf Bake Shop downtown. Our kids biggest beef was our hotel didn't have a T.V. or telephone. Yippee!
Details:Long Beach - Tofino is on the west coast of Vancouver Island. About a 4 ½ hour trip from Vancouver (includes Ferry time). Check out this website for more information, www.longbeachmaps.com
Area:West Coast of Vancouver Island.
Season:All year round.
Educational highlights:Did you know the Gray whale's migration starts in Baja California, Mexico and ends in the Arctic? They travel a total of 10,000 miles, the most of any marine mammal. The best time to see the Gray whales in Tofino is mid-March to mid-April.
Fun for the adult?:Tofino is a little piece of paradise we're lucky enough to have on the west coast. It's the epitome of a romantic getaway. I have several friends who've dared to do this without their children. A weekend at the Wickininnish Inn sounds pretty good to me too.