Making the Most of Your Time
Making the Most of Your Time
Three full days are about the minimum: once you've made the five-hour trek from Vancouver, it takes a day to unwind and allow the place get into your consciousness. A quick conversation with your host will help you hit the highlights—the best spots to view wildlife, the top trails (some get washed out in stormy weather), when to browse the galleries (some close Monday), and what musicians are playing (if nightlife is on your list).
The Pacific Rim has various festivals throughout the year.
MAR.: The Pacific Rim Whale Festival (www.pacificrimwhalefestival.com) marks the spring migration of as many as 22,000 Pacific gray whales between Mexico and the Arctic with crafts, food, and cultural events for the whole family. You can try everything from building sand-sculptures to decorating sea creature-cookies.
APR.-MAY: The Tofino Shorebird Festival (www.tourismtofino.com) celebrates the thousands of shorebirds that migrate north from Central and South America to tundra breeding grounds in Alaska. The date changes annually, so check with Tourism Tofino.
JUNE: Area lodges and food and wine producers sponsor the three-day Tofino Food and Wine Festival (www.tofinofoodandwinefestival.com) at Tofino Botanical Gardens.
JULY: The Pacific Rim Summer Festival (www.pacificrimarts.ca) is a celebration of music, dance, and the arts during the first two weeks of July.
AUG.: Hundreds of imaginatively crafted lanterns make the Tofino Lantern Festival (www.tourismtofino.com) a sight to behold. It's usually held around Labor Day weekend.
NOV.: The humble bivalve is celebrated during the Oyster Festival (www.oystergala.com), a three-day gastronomic adventure.
The major airports on Vancouver Island are Victoria International Airport (YYJ), Nanaimo Airport (YCD), and Comox Valley Airport (YQQ); you can fly into one of these, then rent a car (or take a bus) to Tofino-Ucluelet. Only Orca flies regular scheduled flights (on 10- to 18-seat passenger planes) into the tiny Tofino-Ucluelet Airport (YAZ) from Vancouver, Victoria, and Qualicum Beach.
Note that weather can delay and cancel flights; when flights are diverted to other regional airports, alternative transportation is provided. A Tofino shuttle service delivers passengers to major resorts. Pacific Coastal Airlines runs charters to Tofino from Vancouver's South Terminal in summer. Seattle-based Kenmore flies from Washington State to several B.C. communities.
Northwest Seaplanes runs charter flights from its terminal at Renton, near Seattle, to Tofino and Ucluelet. West Coast Air runs seaplane charters from Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, and other B.C. destinations.
West Coast Air (800/347–2222. www.westcoastair.com.)
Kenmore Air Harbor (866/435–9524. www.kenmoreair.com.)
Orca Air (604/270–6722. www.flyorcaair.com.)
Pacific Coastal Airlines (604/273–8666 or 800/663–2872. www.pacific-coastal.com.)
Northwest Seaplanes (425/277–1590 or 800/690–0086. www.nwseaplanes.com.)
Boat and Ferry Travel
BC Ferries has frequent, year-round passenger and vehicle service to Vancouver Island: it's a 1½-hour crossing from Horseshoe Bay (a 30-minute drive north of Vancouver) to Departure Bay, 3 km (2 miles) north of Nanaimo. From here it's a two- to three-hour drive, via Port Alberni, to Ucluelet, and on to Tofino. There's also a two-hour crossing from Tsawwassen (about a 40-minute drive south of Vancouver) to Duke Point, 15 km (9 miles) south of Nanaimo; or a 1½-hour crossing from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay (a 30-minute drive north of Victoria). Vehicle reservations can be made for any of these ferry routes.
Lady Rose Marine Services takes passengers on a packet freighter from Port Alberni to various points on Vancouver Island's west coast. The MV Francis Barkley sails from Port Alberni to the Broken Group Islands and Ucluelet on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between early June and late September, and to Bamfield and waypoints on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Sunday stops are Bamfield and the Broken Group Islands, where the company operates Sechart Lodge, a floating base for kayakers. Round-trip fares are C$74 to Ucluelet, and C$70 to Bamfield or the Broken Group Islands.
BC Ferries (250/381–1401; 888/223–3779 in B.C. www.bcferries.com.)
Lady Rose Marine Services (250/723–8313 or 800/663–7192. www.ladyrosemarine.com.)
Tofino Bus (connecting with Greyhound) provides daily service between Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo (Departure Bay ferry terminal), and Port Alberni, Ucluelet, and Tofino. It also runs between Ucluelet and Tofino throughout the year, and provides scheduled summer service to major resorts and beaches to and from Tofino only. One-way fares to Tofino are C$45 from Nanaimo, C$68 from Victoria. Greyhound travels between Vancouver and Victoria to Nanaimo, where it connects with the Tofino Bus.
Greyhound (800/661–8747. www.greyhound.ca.)
Tofino Bus (250/725–2871 or 866/986–3466. www.tofinobus.com.)
Tofino is 314 km (195 miles) from Victoria, about a four-hour drive. If you're coming from Vancouver by ferry (to Victoria or Nanaimo), head north to Parksville via the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) and the Island Highway (Highway 19). From there pick up Highway 4, which crosses the island from Parksville to Port Alberni, Ucluelet, and Tofino. Break up the trip with a lunch or ice-cream break at the Coombs Old Country Market, about 15 km (9 miles) west of Parksville. It's a good stop for picnic supplies.
Budget Car and Truck Rental and Tofino Car Rental rent vehicles at Tofino-Ucluelet Airport.
Budget Car (250/725–2060. www.bcbudget.com.)
Tofino Airport Car Rental (www.tofinoairportcarrental.com.)
Tofino West Coast Taxi provides service to Tofino, including airport pickup. Book in advance for night or off-hours service. The Tofino Water Taxi is a boat shuttle to Meares Island, Hot Springs Cove, and other remote offshore sites.
Tofino West Coast Taxi (250/725–3333.)
Tofino Water Taxi (250/726–5485 or 877/726–5485. www.tofinowatertaxi.com.)
Thinking about some side trips? Then why not hop onto a boat or floatplane and explore the surrounding roadless wilderness? The most popular day trip is to Hot Springs Cove, where you can soak in natural rock pools. On Meares Island, an easy 20-minute boardwalk trail leads to trees up to 1,600 years old. The remote sand beaches of Vargas Island are popular in warm weather. On Flores Island, a challenging five-hour hike called Walk on the Wild Side leads through the old growth cedar, hemlock, and spruce. These destinations can be reached on various adventure tours.
For boat trips, several companies conduct multiday sea-kayaking trips to the coastal areas of Vancouver Island. Some excursions are suitable for beginners, and many trips are an excellent chance to view orcas, sea lions, and other marine wildlife. Gabriola Sea Kayaking has trips to the Broken Group Islands in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and other areas off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Majestic Ocean Kayaking offers guided half-day harbor tours, day trips, and multiday camping trips to the Broken Group Islands.
Remote Passages provides half-day whale-watching excursions as well as trips to Meares Island and to Clayoquot. For hiking and parks information, visit the B.C. Parks website. For West Coast Trail information and reservations, contact Hello BC.
British Columbia Parks (604/660–2421. www.bcparks.ca.)
Gabriola Sea Kayaking (250/247–0189. www.kayaktoursbc.com.)
Tourism BC (800/435–5622. www.hellobc.com.)
Majestic Ocean Kayaking (250/726–2860 or 800/889–7644. www.oceankayaking.com.)
Remote Passages (800/666–9833. www.remotepassages.com.)
Tla-ook Cultural Adventures (250/725–2656. www.tlaook.com.)
The Pacific Rim Visitors Centre sells park permits and provides free information and maps on the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and Tofino-Ucluelet area.
Pacific Rim Visitors Center (250/726–4212. www.pacificrimvisitor.ca.)
Tofino Visitor Info Center (1426 Pacific Rim Hwy., Tofino, BC, V0R 2Z0. 250/725–3414 or 888/720–3414. www.tourismtofino.com.)
Vancouver Islanders are often credited with starting the "locavore" movement. Wild salmon, Pacific oysters, locally made artisanal cheeses, forest-foraged mushrooms, organic vegetables, local microbrews, and even wines and spirits from the island's family-run wineries and distilleries can all be sampled here. Restaurants are generally casual and few are "late night."
Prices for lodging and dining are relatively high for such a remote destination. Rates vary widely through the seasons, winter being the lowest: luxury lodge stays during the winter storm-watching season can cost as little as a third of summer rates.
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