Vancouver Island is a great add-on to any Whistler ski holiday and the tranquillity of the area perfectly complements bustling Vancouver. We recommend basing yourself on the west coast in Tofino, surrounded by roaring surf and ancient forests.
I stayed in Tofino in October 2015 and managed to experience most of what makes the area special. Here are 10 things you shouldn't miss when staying there...
1. Grey Whales
Time your visit for March to early April to catch the grey whale migration, when thousands of grey whales make the long journey back from Mexico to the Arctic, passing right along the coastline of Vancouver Island. The shallow bays and inlets make ideal feeding grounds for the whales on their journey and are the perfect place to see them.
2. Black Bears
If you’re planning a late season ski trip to Whistler, you may just be able to catch the black bears coming out of hibernation along the coast in Tofino. April is the perfect time to spot mothers with their cubs - they'll still be tiny having just emerged from their dens. The trip around Clayoquot Sound is stunning too and even if you miss the bears you’ll usually see harbour seals, otters and bald eagles along the way.
3. Pacific Rim National Park
Long sandy beaches, great surf and one of the world’s last areas of temperate rainforest, Pacific Rim National Park is the perfect place to unwind. For an insight into the rainforest, walk one of the boardwalk trails just off the main road or tackle the Wild Pacific Trail that winds along the coast through coves and beaches. Make sure you chat as you walk though - bears and cougars are very much present in the area and don't like to be startled!
4. Storm Watching
Book a room in one of the beachfront hotels and watch the Pacific storms roll in as you warm yourself by the fire with a glass of wine.
5. Hot Springs Cove
27 miles north of Tofino you’ll find a unique set of hot springs which are only accessed by boat or floatplane and a 1.5 km boardwalk through old growth rainforest. The seven different geothermal rock pools all vary in size and temperature, with some right on the edge close to the sea. Be warned, the facilities here are very rustic!
6. Sea Kayaking
You can rent your own kayak and explore the coastline yourself but many of the islands are protected as part of the National Park or First Nations reserves. I would recommend kayaking with a guide to Meares Island to walk the Big Tree Trail, where you will find some of the oldest cedars in the world - some over 1,500 years old! Tours are also available in traditional cedar dugout canoes.
7. Float Plane
Book a sightseeing trip with a local floatplane company for a bird’s eye view of the stunning coastline with its remote bays and inlets, it really does give you a perspective of just how isolated the communities on this coast are.
Some of the best sunsets I have ever seen are along the Tofino coast. Settle yourself into one of the hotel terraces with a drink as the sky turns red, or even better take a bottle down to sit on the beach. My favourite spot is Tonquin Beach, only accessible by foot, for a peaceful place to watch the sunset.
A thirty-minute drive south through the National Park, you'll find this small town that's a great alternative to Tofino. Home to Canada's only catch and release aquarium with all profits going into environmental marine research, as well as great restaurants and a lighthouse, it's definitely a hidden gem.
10. The Food
A highlight of any trip to Tofino is the food. For such a small town you are spoilt for choice with restaurants. Personal highlights are Common Loaf for breakfast on the go (their cinnamon rolls are incredible!), Japanese fusion restaurant Kuma for a warming ramen after a morning on the water and then either Wolf in the Fog, Sobo or Schooner for dinner where it has to be any fish or seafood brought in by the local fisherman that morning. For more casual food, try the Tacofino truck for amazing fish tacos and Wildside Grill for the freshest fish and chips or seafood gumbo.