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A WEST COAST GATEWAY - KNOCKING AT HEAVEN\'S DOOR
 
(2012 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: CECE M. SCOTT



From the tip of Tofino on Vancouver Island’s West Coast to Sidney-by-the-Sea to the south, this British Columbia stretch of real estate knocks spectacularly at heaven’s door.

A 90-minute ferry ride on BC Ferries from Vancouver’s Tsawwassen Terminal to Victoria whets the palate for the extravagant buffet of scenery your eyes will feast on as you travel this 450-kilometre-long island. 

Tradition Reigns

Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, feels smashingly like a town in grand old England. Afternoon tea, a century-old institution, is a world-renowned tradition at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Chintz, antique tapestries, formal wingback chairs and a stiff upper lip all make for the quintessential experience.  

Famous guests, dahling, include Rudyard Kipling, Shirley Temple, Queen Elizabeth and the inimitable Barbra Streisand.

Artistic Nooks

Butchart Gardens is a must-visit for avid gardeners or really anyone who loves flowers. The 22 hectares of floral finery is an alphabet of blooms, shrubs and trees. In July and August, everything from the acanthus to the zinnias are in full-colour bloom. There is nightly entertainment throughout the summer, capped off by dazzling fireworks Saturday evenings.

Sidney-by-the-Sea, the gateway to the Gulf Islands, is a haven for literature and the esteemed traditional bookseller. Renowned as Canada’s first book town, a bibliophile will experience palpitations of joyful anticipation strolling about the town’s eight independent book establishments. Art, design, the classics and specialty topics are all genres to be discovered and poured over while sipping a beverage at one of the many cafés that dot Sidney’s sunny streets.

The Summer Sounds Concert Series at the Beacon Park Pavilion is a perfect way to while away a Sidney Sunday afternoon listening to a bevy of musical talent.

Impossibly Stunning

A pit stop is a must at Cathedral Grove, a centuries-old rainforest that houses ancient Douglas firs and western red cedars, some of which measure nine metres in circumference. The moss, a verdant green, drapes the trees in magical outfits, making for stunning photography.

Insist on being the driver when you head to Tofino. The narrow roller-coaster Pacific Rim Highway features Andretti-like twists and turns as it weaves through the Pacific Rim National Park on down to the end of the road and the impossibly beautiful vista of mountain-fringed, eye-popping ocean waters that is Tofino Harbour.

Over the years, I have stayed at cottages so close to the ocean that the wild waves of the Pacific jolted me right out of a sound sleep. I have now found a home away from home at Vista Hermosa. The one-bedroom suite or three-bedroom Captain’s Quarters both serve up spectacular views of the harbour, the town dock and the awe-inspiring Coastal Mountains, all from your own bubbling hot tub.

Tofino’s surfing culture claims the rare phenomenon of attracting an equal mix of women and men. In 2010, Tofino’s first all-women Queen of the Peak surfing contest was held with 50 female participants. That year, Outside magazine rated Tofino “North America’s best surf town.” Four-metre-high swells are not uncommon on Chesterman Beach’s rugged shoreline.

Delectable Dining

Shelter Restaurant, just a few minutes from the town of Tofino, is a personal favourite. There is a large menu, however I never seem to get past the kosher salt, cracked pepper, lime-chipotle mayo dip, yam fries. They’re a piece of heaven that negates calories. Many of the servers are young, rosy-cheeked surfers who take orders with genuine enthusiasm. 

Long Beach Lodge Resort on Cox Bay is a must, not only for their culinary delights, but also for the privilege of nestling by their floor-to-ceiling windows to watch the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean smack the shore with thunderous applause, all to the background sound of the crackling fireplace. Much of the cuisine features offerings from the local area, including fresh seafood and forest mushrooms.

Tofino’s aura exudes creativity, so it is no surprise the area is home to many artists. On Saturdays, from 10–2 at the Village Market, locals sell their fresh produce, metaphoric aboriginal art, cedar baskets and jewellery. Monday night is movie night at Tofino’s Community Theatre. Seeing a movie here is a good old-fashioned treat where piping-hot popcorn is served up in brown lunch bags; green tea tastes remarkably smashing with salted popcorn.

Up the Creek With One Paddle

The paddle to Meares Island and the 90-minute hike on Big Tree Trail nurtures a spiritual communion with Mother Nature. My friend, who is afraid of both boats and water, couldn’t resist the promise of bald eagle sightings, seals and porpoises; she climbed into the back of my rented two-person kayak and paddled over to the island with me. Meares Island cedars are historical giants, both in their 18-metre circumference as well as their ages, which range between 1,000 and 1,500 years old. We were dwarfed and swallowed whole as we slid into their giant concave hollows, silent and respectful as we listened for the whispers in the wind of voices past.  Unless you are an expert at kayaking, you must be accompanied by a guide, which an outfitter such as Tofino Sea Kayaking provides. The four-hour tour allows for time to hike and savour the poignant gift that is Meares Island.

Vancouver Island: a slice of Canada, a gateway to heaven. Prepare to be awed.

Travel Panner

For more information, visit:

Tourism British Columbia: hellobc.com

Tourism Vancouver Island: vancouverisland.travel

British Columbia Ferry Services Inc.: bcferries.com

Butchart Gardens: butchartgardens.com

Summer Sounds Concert Series: summersounds.ca

Vista Hermosa: vistahermosa.ca

Tofino Sea Kayaking: tofinoseakayaking.com

 
 
 
 
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