If, like us, you're not into surfing, you can get onto the water by boat. You can take a Marine Adventure from Long Beach Lodge. We saw a sea otter or two and, strangely, cows grazing on seaweed. At the small village of Ahousaht on Flores Island, we met a crinkly, crusty woman who had once worked the commercial fisheries. She told us, “I like that Harper. He has good hair. I voted for him.”
Or you can get out in the waves by kayak. The next day, I got up early and returned to Tofino Sea Kayaking (the operator also runs a café called End of the Road, plus a well-curated book spot – everyone seems to work three gigs). Our guide Tim patiently coached five of us (a mother-daughter from Kerrisdale; a young German couple from Cologne) through the workings of the double kayak. Then we made our way under glorious sun through channels filled with bull kelp and kelp crabs, chittering kinglets, starfish, a luminous red-eyed medusa or two. The channel was busy: One of the original native dugout canoes – heavy, but impressively carved – carries tourists who paddle, 10 to a boat, giving them a hint of what transportation was like many years ago.
We were making our way to Meares Island, the site of the famous Clayoquot Sound clear-cut logging protest, which seems to have defined the residents. The mantra “the most biomass per square metre” in the temperate rain forest was repeated endlessly; the fact that the protest seemed to put Tofino on the map, while Ucluelet appeared to languish as a logging town, was also a point of pride. The Big Tree Trail boardwalk through Meares Island took us to the real old-growth cedars: Trees so big you can stand six or seven people inside; tree tops with multiple spires called “candelabra” and “cake-fork”; trees 1,000 years old or more called “Hanging Garden” or “Old Mother” (which sadly was felled by winds a few years ago). With hemlock growing right through the cedar “nurse logs” that fall and decay, it is a dizzying brocade of monster roots and twisted limbs – trees entwined and soaring, vine-like, up other trunks, everything searching for light. Layer in lush moss, the strange “witch's broom” wheeled form of branches, and Old Man's Beard lichen, and it's impossible not to think in fairy-tale terms.
Once I got my tree curiosity out of my system, it was all about the beach. We returned to the park and had a pair of wide-handled cruiser bikes delivered, from Tof Cycle, to the parking lot at Incinerator Rock. From there we cycled for two hours over a stretch of sand untrammelled by development any more sophisticated than the raggedy driftwood huts the surfers erect for shelter.
Everything is in motion. The surfers, the kite-fliers, dogs, kids (this seemed to be the land of the three-child family). Skimboards and boogie boards, all backlit by diamante water and sunshine. Freshwater streams run down from the thick Sitka spruce that stand like green wallpaper where the beach just stops. It is the most magnificent unspoiled 22 kilometres anywhere.
We ate our last meal in The Great Room at the lodge, and watched an elf-like two-year-old in white dance from the hotel straight to the water's edge. She couldn't keep away, her older brothers whirling around, her parents keeping close. We rose the next day and hopped on the Navajo. It drove up through a fog bank, Pacific Rim hidden again, the white cloud like cotton batting nudging the mountains.
IF YOU GO
Tonquin Beach: Find this magical little beach away from the main action in Tofino. If a beach can be cozy, this one is. Check out the boardwalk stairs: Each has the name of a local but in a different font, turning this municipal endeavour into an eye-catching example of community spirit.
Tacofino Cantina: Delicious and affordable Mexican cuisine served out of a big orange truck at the back of the Live to Surf parking lot. Tacos, burritos, salads, fresh drink and more. Buen provecho! (1184 Pacific Rim Highway; 250-726-8288)
Where to sleep
Long Beach Lodge Resort: A beachfront lodge with oceanview rooms and 21 cottages set back from Cox Bay. 877-844-7873; longbeachlodgeresort.com. From $169 a night.
Wickaninnish Inn: A Relais & Châteaux property on Chesterman Beach. 800-333-4604; wickinn.com. From $460 a night.
Pacific Rim National Park
Sandy beaches, towering rain forest, an archipelago of more than 100 islands. And wildlife: The swim beach at Kennedy Lake is closed because of recent cougar activity. pc.gc.ca/pacificrim
The Globe travelled as a guest of Tourism B.C.