Having spent a few days on the Olympic Peninsula hiking in the mountains and coast it was time to head to Vancouver Island. Taking the late evening ferry from Port Angeles we arrived into Victoria tired and, personally, feeling the need to get into my room alone. After an unceremonious parting of ways with my hiking “buddy”, I hit the shower and then straight to the task of figuring out where in the hell i was going to stay next. I’d heard that Tofino was rather beautiful, and not being much of a tourist (or spent any time researching my trip) had no idea how insanely busy it is over the summer months. Nor had I realised that the drive up there would take over 4 hours from Victoria! I suppose I should have checked this before dropping my laundry in to get washed…
The journey up through the mountains mid Vancouver Island was really spectacular. Winding roads, river valleys, mountain lakes, all adding to the sense of how few people there are on the island, and just how beautifully remote it all is. The only thing that distracted me, almost to the point of being overpowered, was the stench from the hitchhiker I had picked up on the main highway about an hour outside of Victoria. I really felt like retching for most of the journey… At one point I’d seriously considered finding a reason to drop him off early. Given the scarcity of cars around my better nature didn’t allow me to be so mean… thankfully there’s a bounty of fresh air and I managed to breath easier…
I had fully expected to be able to get a campsite in Tofino, or a hotel if I had to. Nope, and nope… there was literally only 2 beds left in a hostel room. In the whole town. As I stood at the reception of the hostel in dismay, with more cars pulling up behind me, the rather helpful receptionist checked on the local tourism site and found one room for me… at $200/night I felt a little cornered but with the prospect of a 2hr return trip to the nearest town with even a camp ground free I agreed. It was actually a beautiful place, if not for the unwelcoming name. Having said that it feels like the hotels there very much cash in on the summer rush, and didn’t quite feel the value of a $200 room (other than the hot tub bath…).
So I settled in, and found The Schooner, a rather tasty place to eat. It also served a pretty awesome breakfast, where I ate before heading out on a little outing to the hot springs. While I was waiting to be seated I was reading their guest book. Lots of entertaining comments, and quite a few from guys that seemed quite enamoured by one particular server. A few minutes later, waiting at my table to order I found out what all the fuss was about. Not only would her smile set you up for the rest of the week but she was very lovely to chat to.
The trip to the hot springs started in the fog. And as we emerged into the open ocean, after dodging in and out of the bay’s islands, we got to do some whale spotting. Or rather, the promise of whales… the fog was so thick any breaches were too far away to see. An hour later we landed in brilliant sunlight, opposite the Indian reserve of Refuge Cove and a short hike out to the spring. The walk was beautiful and lined with old growth trees. The Cyprus boardwalk planks decorated by 100’s of contributors, some ornate, some more matter of fact in who they were from. I wouldn’t really rate the hot springs. They were crowded, small, and a little underwhelming. The view, however, was not. As the sun shone the fog rolled back and reviled the tree covered banks of the opposite shore line and the gentle swell in the inlet.
While waiting for the boat to return (late) I got chatting to a guy who’d figured out that you can camp on the island (if only I’d spent more time researching). He was chatty and seemed to have been on his own for a bit. Interesting enough to begin with but I was glad when the Zodiac finally rocked up and I had a reason to leave. The journey back was a lot more fruitful for fauna. Sea otters, that are much bigger than I’d understood to be and can live their entire lives at sea, were plentiful. As we turned back behind the islands we finally saw a whale… a beautiful Gray Whale.
Day two was a little sea kayak and a nature walk in the old growth forest. The guides were great, knowledgable, skilled, and friendly. The kayaking was more aimed at the beginner but it was nice to chat to the guides and get to know more about the area. A trip to do if you’re happy to splash around and for an hour or so, and learn about the forest. Just don’t expect anything too adventurous. I’d packed my bags at the hotel and had no plans or reservations.
As I thought of the guy camping at the hot springs, and having passed a stunning beach on our return from the spring complete with kayakers pulled up and preparing camp, I decided that this is how I would spend the third and final night in Tofino. Camping… so how to do it. Water taxi’s were really expensive for one, with a minimum of two people per trip. At $160 return to where I wanted to go (Vargas) I felt a little derailed in my plan. The campground on the mainland were still full. So I headed down to a jetty to see if anyone was heading out on a boat that I could tag along in. Nothing… but what I did find, serendipitously, was a couple having just come off the water in rented kayaks. With their fingers pointing towards a hut on the main road I did as they said and asked there if I could take a kayak out for the night. They really wanted to know if I’d been kayaking on the ocean before, or if I had a least some self-rescue skills. As it turns out I have… even if they are somewhat rusty.
After getting myself packed and ready, and having been briefed on the local currents, use of the marine radio, emergency telephone numbers, and other safety equipment (for which I was definitely impressed by their comprehensive nature), I hit the water at just after 6pm. So I had 2hrs to paddle the 8km to the nearest beach on the northern side of Vargas. I’d been advised not to hit the easterly beach due to the large surf (I was very glad I didn’t, as entering and exiting in surf is quite the skill). The paddle out was breath-taking. The water was almost flat calm and the tide slack. The whale spotting boats roared past quite frequently, creating quite big wake, but nothing too frightening. The evening light made the surrounding mountains glow in a serene golden hue. With the sun low in the waining summer sky I started to get a little concerned I would get to my primary destination in the dark. Fortunately, I had enough time to get the boat all the way up the beach, the tent up (using logs instead of pegs, the fire going, and get some photos of the sunset. It did feel a little rushed but it was SO worth the effort. I had the entire beach to myself and a view of the setting sun hitting the lip of the watery planet. What more could I have asked for?!
I managed to get my little flask of rum stuck under the lid of my bear can and so I couldn’t open the damned thing for ages. Not without considerable consternation I managed to force it open (smarter than the average bear Booboo), and relaxed in the final throws of daylight and a warm cedar drift wood fire. Sleep, however, was not to be found so peacefully. Three snippets from the rental company had stuck in my mind… the first being the gale warning for that evening (and to think I just went out anyway!). The second being that there were smart wolves on the island capable of getting into the hatches of the kayak to find food. To top it off, there was a particularly high tide due the next day… so the currents would be strong for my return if I didn’t time my departure well. So my dreams were fraught with the kayak drifting off to sea in the middle of the night, lightening fast (for some reason) wolves dashing up and down the beach attempting to eat me, and the thought I’d be blown away by a savage storm during the night. So no, I didn’t sleep wonderfully well.
The next morning I found my kayak where I left it, my food still there, and nothing but a calm sea and a beautiful sunrise gracing my morning routine. So much for the apocalyptic visions. My tiredness didn’t last long as I had much to do to get back on the water before the tide turned, as well as the 8km paddle back. It was beautiful… peaceful and not only did I get chatting to some other paddlers, I also spotted a dolphin right off my stern as I crossed the channel between Vargas and Meares Island.
Pulling up on the jetty I felt a deep satisfaction in having done something that I love on my own. I’ve held back too long in the hope of sharing such experiences with someone special. Having said that I’d spent a couple of nights in Georgian Bay with a close friend having paddled around the islands there the month before. Still… it was liberating to do such things on my own (even if that sounds somewhat trivial to those intrepid solo travellers out there).
Some info about this trip you might like to know:
- I did both my excursions with Remote Passages Marine Excursions http://www.remotepassages.com
- I rented the kayak from the super helpful and friendly people at Paddle West Kayaking http://www.paddlewestkayaking.com
- I stayed at The Inn at Tough City http://toughcity.com
- I ate yummy food at The Schooner http://www.schoonerrestaurant.ca
- Camping on Vargas (the non Provincial Park area) is free (it’s a First Nations reserve) but will be $10 a day from 2017 season (which is nothing considering) and needs to be arranged prior to your trip.
- I camped at this beach https://goo.gl/maps/XTYQqcQBnw72 but I hope not to find you there when I return 😛