Long Beach Getaway
July 2, 2008
There was a time on Vancouver Island when Tofino and Ucluelet, the bookends on Long Beach’s famed stretch of sand, were almost impossible to differentiate and practically nameless to all except those who lived there. But just over a decade ago, the 42-kilometre ribbon of road that joins them began to look more like a closed border than a scenic drive, dotted with protesters, anti-logging plywood signs, and pro-logging yellow ribbons. Clayoquot Sound had caught the world’s attention for better or worse, and the two fishing villages were pinned under the spotlight, and pitted against each other.
But this tale of two towns begins further back, when war was raging in Vietnam and British Columbia’s west coast was absorbing American draft dodgers. Many of them were well-educated, well-heeled kids who set up shacks by Wreck Bay and Long Beach. When the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve was established in 1970, the squatter community relocated to Tofino, where Chesterman Beach’s sandy kilometres were ideal for hippie encampments. With the artsy influx came an alternative vibe that nurtured a budding environmental movement. Meanwhile Ucluelet, then the bigger of the two townships, burgeoned on the strength of tourism. Standard summertime attractions included whale watching and wilderness tours on the Lady Rose around Barclay Sound. Both towns were in bed with the logging industry, but Ucluelet’s population was far more dependent upon it—for long-time locals, felling trees put food on the table. Ucluetians were pigeonholed as insensitive blue-collar rednecks while Tofitians were revered as valiant protectors of Mother Nature.
Throughout the ’80s, the subject of Clayoquot Sound became as sensitive as the wilderness itself. Locals suggest that the logging companies played up the schism between Tofitians and Ucluetians; others blame the media. Wherever the blame may land (on consultants, tree sitters, spin doctors, what have you), Ucluelet was labelled an example of what not to do (shear Mount Ozzard to the point of baldness, for instance), while Tofino was placed on a pedestal (Meares Island shined pristine and preserved as the backdrop). It made for a hell of a good story.
In the early ’90s, international activist groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club joined the fracas, and in the summer of ’93 the province intervened and put an end to the road blockades and business boycotts. By 1994, more than ten percent of Clayoquot’s rain forest was safely ensconced behind legislation, and “light logging” practices had been implemented. Tofino was firmly on the map while Ucluelet was left to pick up the pieces.
The villages have reconciled, but it’s still an issue that locals don’t care to rehash. These days, Ucluelet’s permanent population of 1,900 is slightly larger than Tofino’s, but weekends are a different story. Thanks to an aggressive tourism push (think storm watching), Tofino’s streets swell with unfamiliar faces come Friday night. It isn’t the artsy utopia it once was, but you can still find a shot of wheat grass, and large chains like Subway and Cactus Club have remained conspicuously absent. As for development, condominiums are popping up like skunk cabbage in spring. (The repercussions of which are beginning to surface—remember the Labour Day weekend in 2006, when Tofino ran out of water?) Homes on nearby Chesterman Beach developed in the mid 1960s (“Who would pay $1,600 for an acre lot with such a high water table?”) are today multimillion-dollar properties.
Ukee (as Ucluelet is called) may still be known as the cheap sibling of Tofino, but she’s hot on the heels of her sister to the north. Property prices are almost on par, and Ucluelet has hired a town planner who will build LEED standards into all community development. The downtown is evolving to keep pace—witness the arrival of the posh Black Rock Hotel, opening in September. Jack Nicklaus’s Wyndham Sea golf course (slated to open in 2011) will be accepting reservations in its resort hotel soon afterwards. And Ukee has greened up significantly; Mount Ozzard is no longer an eyesore.
There’s a fair way to go before the buzz reaches the fevered tourism pitch that Tofino maintains, but that might ultimately work to Ucluelet’s advantage. In any case, the question is not whether Ukee is stepping up, but whether Tofino will one day be left behind.
Where to Stay
Long Beach Lodge Resort
1441 Pacific Rim Hwy, 250-725-2442
Dreamily step from your room, with its two-person soaker tub and Craftsman-like fir furniture, right onto Long Beach for some of the most dependable surfing in this neck of the woods. Set on Cox Bay, the six-year-old retreat sprawls over eight acres of oceanfront property. With two staff for every three guests, the focus here is on comfort (and being family/pet-friendly). To boot, there's a backup generator, so when the power goes out, it's business as usual. Room to Book For an extra $40-90, Beachfront rooms have better views and better bathrooms than Oceanviews. Make sure you put in a request for direct beach access. From $199 a night
500 Osprey Lane, 250-725-3100
The Wick is a Relais & Châteaux property, which means it's high-end, but the vibe is anything but pretentious. Driftwood finishes, gnarled-wood furnishings, and adzed beams take their cue from the rugged surroundings. With floor-to-ceiling windows, every room has spectacular views. In addition to a first-rate restaurant, the site boasts an Aveda spa that demands an afternoon's indulgence. (Go for the hot rock massage.) Room to Book With four oversize windows, a Corner Premier will give Pacific Ocean views in two directions. From $480 a night, high season
Tofino Vacation Rentals
405-430 Campbell St., 877-799-2779
These fully equipped properties include all manner of suites and homes, from custom-built beachside cedar homes to quaint forest cottages. Some are pet-friendly and include hot tubs, barbecues, fire pits, and gourmet kitchens for cooking meals at home. $100-450 nightly (low season) ; $195-650 nightly (high season)
Where to Play
Bruhwiler Surf School/Westside Surf School
250-726-5481 and 250-725-2404
Brothers Raph and Sepp Bruhwiler know the local breaks like the back of their hands. Dyed-in-the-wool Tofitians, they also happen to be Canada's first pro surfers (sponsored by Quiksilver and Billabong). For newbie private sessions (about $100 per hour), one of them will likely take you to Chesterman's with a nine-foot soft-top board. (Plan on donning a thick wetsuit.)
Weigh West Fishing
634 Campbell St., 800-665-8922
Weigh West's veteran guides have a reputation for sniffing out the big catches. Deep-sea anglers can charter a 25-footer with a skipper/guide (from $110 per hour). Or hire a 17-foot centre console for fly-fishing in protected waters and navigate yourself (from $425 per day).
Tofino Sea Kayaking Company
320 Main St., 250-725-4222
Kayak to Meares Island and check out the forest ecosystem or over to Borgas Island's mud flats for the grebes and puffins (from $57). Soon to come: a food-oriented paddle with oysters and shellfish in Lemmens Inlet. (The guide has worked with the chefs at the Wickaninnish Inn.)
Jamie's Whaling Station
606 Campbell St., Tofino, 800-667-9913 and 168 Fraser Lane, Ucluelet, 877-726-7444
For 26 years, Jamie's has been shuttling visitors on 65-foot cruisers to catch glimpses of Pacific grey whales migrating up the coast, as well as humpbacks and the occasional transient orca ($99 per person). Zodiacs are on hand for zipping around to get up close and personal with bears, seals, and sea lions.
Where to Eat
430 Campbell St., 250-725-2558
For picnickers on the go, Breakers has the village’s best selection of quality cheeses (Salt Spring Island goat cheese, Natural Pastures Pacific pepper verdelait) and the Lesley Stowe Raincoast Crisps to put them on, not to mention organic and specialty coffee, fresh salads like roasted cashew and bocconcini, and whole-wheat pizza ($25). All their takeout products are biodegradable and compostable to put your eco-conscience at ease, even when you’re on holiday. Breakersdeli.com
601 Campbell St., 250-725-3353
This cedar-sided mainstay for surf ’n’ turf is Tofino’s answer to the Cactus Club (sans slushy drinks and nubile waitstaff). This former residence still feels comfy, with an open kitchen, exposed beams, and a cedar-mantled stone fireplace. Chef Rob Wheaton’s Angus rib-eye with panko onion rings and steamed Dungeness crab, a local specialty, is highly recommended. Entrées start at $18.
311 Neill St., 250-725-2341
Last year, chef-owner Lisa Ahier traded a tiny purple catering truck for the earth-toned Neill Street storefront bedecked with driftwood tables and slate floors. For sophisticated bohemians (which encapsulates Ahiers’s style, as well as the joint’s name), the seasonal menu has retained the
Killer Fish Tacos, for which Sobo has received national acclaim, and added tempting newer items, including oysters encrusted with hemp seed and frozen fish chowder for takeout. Entrées start at $20.
Trilogy Fish Co.
630 Campbell St., 250-725-2233
Known for its hot and cold smoked fish (try the sablefish), this polished fish shop buys its fresh catch from a dozen local fishermen and shellfish growers. Beyond the prawns, Dungeness crabs, mussels, oysters, and rockfish, Trilogy also has well-stocked shelves filled with paprika rubs and tequila-lime marinades for the grillers and barbecuers who would prefer to self-
cater. (Just ask for cooking instructions for any fillet.)
1180 Pacific Rim Hwy, 250-725-9453
On the way to downtown Tofino, there’s a small cluster of buildings just off the highway. Stop there if takeout is on your agenda, and let this tiny boho fry shack tickle your tummy. Fish is pulled from the ocean and served tempura-style with a panko crust, and the salmon burger is a perennial. The pulled-pork sandwich might be the best meal you’ll have while on the coast. Sit on the driftwood patio or chow down five minutes away on Chesterman Beach. Sandwiches start at $10.
1180 Pacific Rim Hwy
Next to Wildside, this computer café with free wireless serves up the area’s finest espresso (Lavazza) and teas (Herbal Republic). Should you be forced to check in with the real world, it’s the place to be and be seen—surf pros gather here to discuss the day’s ride. Reggae pumps out to the sunny, south-facing patio, and everyone chills out on “Tofino time.”
Where to Stay
Terrace Beach Resort
1002 Peninsula Rd., 250-726-2901
This cove-side hideaway was constructed to resemble a 1920s West Coast fishing village, but the sheltered cedar resort feels more like an overgrown adult treehouse, and because of the waveless waters, it’s ideal for young tots. Boardwalks wind around the 350-year-old evergreens that lead to beachfront cottages, all equipped with a kitchenette, deck, and barbecue. From the velvety-brown walls to flickering tea lights and country-chic furnishings, this feels like high-end camping. Terrace Beach is adjacent to the Wild Pacific Trail (accessible via a staircase), which meanders down to Amphitrite Point and its lighthouse. And don’t miss the eagles’ nest (if you can stop staring at owner Jason Priestley). Room to Book Cabin 2 Morning Mist feels like a romantic bungalow, with a double hot tub on the deck and direct access to the beach.
A Snug Harbour B&B
460 Marine Dr., 250-726-2686
Between Big and Little beaches, this 12-year-old mansion, perched on top of an 85-foot cliff, is a truly luxurious retreat. All four inn rooms have a view of the water, plus a fireplace, a jet tub, and a lounging deck. Take advantage of the in-room spa services. Each morning, innkeeper Sue starts a three-course breakfast with a fresh-fruit smoothie in the great room, the centrepiece of Snug Harbour (custom-built harvest table, stone fireplace, and hardwood floors milled from felled-on-site trees). At low tide, 75 stairs lead you down to the private pebbly beach for starfish and tide-pool explorations. Late-night dips in the hot tub are encouraged; with no light pollution, the stargazing is unparalleled. Room to Book The third-floor Lighthouse—the bedroom is at the B&B’s highest point.
Where to Play
Long Beach Nature Tours
855 Barclay Crescent, 250-726-7099
Bill McIntyre, a biologist, leads nature walks, tide-pool explorations, beach hikes, and storm-watching outings. Ask him about the time he coaxed Martha Stewart to nibble on sea lettuce straight from the beach. $225 per person for a half-day tour.
1559 Imperial Lane, 250-726-2453
Next to Ukee Dogs, this 1940s converted garage is packed to the hilt with bikes, boards, and kites. Its Trek rental fleet is brand-new and trailers and tandem bikes are well-stocked for your tots. Hit the old logging roads on a mountain bike ($25 per day, and they’ll lend you a backroad map), or hire a cruiser (also $25) and cycle along the hard-packed sand to Wickaninnish Beach. If you’re a kiteboarding fanatic, this shop is also B.C.’s only dealer for MBS mountain boards.
Where to Eat
1682 Peninsula Rd., 250-726-2200
The tiny restaurant, residing in a bright-yellow historic home, should not be overlooked. The fresh scallop and prawn skewers are delicious, and prices are highly competitive compared to those at some of the area’s revered eateries. Entrées start at $18.
1576 Imperial Lane, 250-726-2103
You can’t visit Ucluelet without stopping by this spot. Everything on the menu is $5, and each meat item has a vegetarian counterpart. Owner-chef Stephanie Deering makes a wicked tourtière; the Canuck dog topped with Cheddar, bacon, and fried onion rings is a bestseller.
Tofino & Ucluelet
What $1 Million (Or Less) Will Buy You…
SOUTH CHESTERMAN BEACH, TOFINO – $569,000
Tofino is only a five-minute drive away from this coastal two-bedroom, one-bath tri-level condo with direct access to Chesterman Beach. Stainless-steel appliances, custom cabinetry, fir flooring, and no yard to maintain-ideal for weekend getaways. The third floor has an ocean-facing deck. Linda Pettinger, Tofino Realty, 800-316-0130
CHESTERMAN BEACH, TOFINO – $869,000
Steps from Chesterman Beach, this three-bedroom, two-bath, 2,000-square-foot home has an open-concept floor plan with two decks. But know that the beach across from your front door sees a steady flow of surfer traffic, particularly on weekends. Linda Pettinger, Tofino Realty, 800-316-0130
UCLEULET INLET, UCLUELET – $927,000
This two-bed, two-bath home in the highly coveted inlet-front 'hood has harbour and mountain views, and two large decks. A serious renovation 10 years ago means that wiring, roof, flooring, and decks have recently been addressed-good news, considering a lipstick makeover is in order. Judy Gray, RE/MAX Mid-Island Realty, 800-600-1718
THE EDGE SUBDIVISION, UCLUELET – $649,000
This three-year-old custom-built home is ready for moving in, although at a whopping 4,465 square feet with six bedrooms and five bathrooms, you might well need to rent out the two built-in suites just to cover the cost of your cleaning staff. Judy Gray, RE/MAX Mid-Island Realty, 800-600-1718