Super Storm Watching on Vancouver Island’s “Wild Side”

Tofino Sunset
I have a split personality when it comes to winter getaways. One part of me longs for the warm surf and sands of Maui, while the other craves the cool activities of the enchanting Quebec Winter Carnival.

Then there’s any place that specializes in winter storm watching. That means the Pacific Ocean in Canada’s British Columbia, where it’s all about big wind, big rain and big waves.

One of my favorite places to hang out is Tofino, located on the west side or “wild side” of Vancouver Island. I traveled there in early November one year, and it was a totally different experience than my previous summer encounters. Once a logging and fishing village, the economy in this town on Clayoquot Sound is now based on aquaculture and tourism. Tofino’s normal population of 1,700 swells by the tens of thousands in the high season.

Getting to Tofino is a journey in itself. In order to get an early start the next day, I spent the night in Victoria at one of the Pacific Northwest’s finest inns, Fairholme Manor, owned and operated by the charming Sylvia Main. Much too early the next morning, I joined a friend for the five hour drive to the end of the road destination called Tofino. We were surprised to hit snow at the top of Summit Pass and delighted to spot pumpkins lining part of the route.

Our home for the next two nights was the Long Beach Lodge Resort. Located on Cox Bay Beach, the board and batten shingled inn features 40 rooms in the main lodge and 20-two bedroom cottages nestled in the woods. The Great Room is just that…great. Its massive stone fireplace, high ceilings and cozy furniture make it a welcome spot for a late afternoon glass of Quail’s Gate wine or a casual dinner by the fire. My room was on the second floor of the main lodge, with a private balcony and view to the ocean.

That evening, I enjoyed Chef Rob Wheaton’s dinner menu that included Fanny Bay oyster bisque, grilled sablefish with a smoked oyster and mandarin orange cream sauce, tarragon risotto and an Anjou pear almond tartlet with house made ice cream for dessert.

I went to bed early, leaving my balcony door cracked open to sleep to the sound of the ocean. That’s nightlife in Tofino.

As much as I would have loved to take to the waters (the lodge can set you up with Pacific Surf School for a three-hour lesson), I opted to hang out in Tofino and do more sedate stuff. Always high on my list is a treatment or two at a spa, and there’s a dandy one located on Main Street. Sacred Stone Wellness Studio is a former dental office that has been transformed into a haven for happy bodies. I succumbed to the magic of a hot stone massage by owner and licensed massage therapist Kelly Rettinger. If you’ve never had one, it’s sublime…the combination of heat and pressure will soothe your weary muscles and joints. There are a mélange of services on Sacred Stone’s spa menu, from a salt glow exfoliation and several facials to a pedicure for tired toes. You can even try out a new hair style or color here. Don’t forget to check out the unique shops nearby (Plus and Enchanted are highlights), along with galleries featuring local art and coffee shops.

Oh, did I mention the rain? Wear your wet weather gear and pack an umbrella… then hit the beach for a walk while watching those mega waves. Rain slickers are also provided in the rooms.

My favorite spot for fine food is SOBO, short for Sophisticated Bohemian. Located at the Tofino Botanical Gardens, owners Lisa and Artie Ahler have created a destination restaurant for lunch or dinner. With whimsical folk art by local Pete Clarkson on the walls (made from found beach items) and music by Canadian chanteuse Sarah McLachlan (she owns a beach house nearby), winter worries were washed away.

I dined with a group of people who ordered “killer” fish tacos (wild salmon or halibut), cornmeal crusted oysters, polenta fries, crispy shrimp cakes and homemade cornbread. And you don’t need to be in Mexico to enjoy a margarita. SOBO’s are awesome…described by Lisa as “hand squeezed proper margaritas.”

Who needs a palm tree, anyway?

Long Beach Lodge Resort is offering an Oh, So Cozy storm watching package through March 22, 2007. It includes one-night accommodation in the room of your choice; a gourmet three-course dinner for two; deluxe home-backed continental breakfast for two each morning; Helly Hansen rain gear to use. Rates begin at $249 CDN per night (approximately $215 US).

Photo by Sue Frause: Winter storm watching from Long Beach Lodge Resort in Tofino is a popular activity.

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