Picturesque islands and forests and a thriving, sophisticated food scene live side-by-side on this vast Pacific-coast island.

By Elaine Glusac
February 12, 2009
Radius Images/Jupiterimages

Canada’s vast Vancouver Island evokes a Tasmanian vibe on a budget, particularly on its wild west coast, where the towns of Ucluelet and Tofino bookend Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The park, which extends both on land and out to sea, protects pristine Broken Islands offshore, old-growth inland forests, and the rich intertidal zone between. Combining adventure and refinement, the coast offers a lively food scene, centered on salmon, oysters, and British Columbia wines; picturesque hiking trails through temperate rainforests to driftwood-stacked beaches; plentiful wildlife watching for black bears, eagles, whales, and seals; and cozy, rustic-chic lodges.

Eat smart: Chef Lisa Ahier and husband Artie run the popular SOBO. Short for “sophisticated bohemian,” the Tofino restaurant specializes in healthful global fare, often featuring local foodstuffs, such as fresh oysters or seared halibut in carrot-orange sauce, along with wood-fired pizzas, smoked fish chowders, and homemade sorbets. In Ucluelet, dine at the Boat Basin Restaurant at Tauca Lea Resort & Spa, where chef Richard Norwood favors close-to-the-kitchen ingredients from island-farmed produce to regionally harvested scallops and mussels.

Be fit: Get out on the water with Tofino Sea Kayaking Company, which offers a range of tours from introductory harbor paddles to a full day of fishing and floating in Clayoquot Sound. Take an oar to a 22-foot Voyageur canoe in search of eagles, hawks, and woodpeckers with birding guide George Bradd of Just Birding. For more extensive wildlife watching, board a 27-foot inflatable with Subtidal Adventures out of Ucluelet to cruise the uninhabited Broken Islands offshore, spying gray whales, and Steller sea lions.

Live well: For a cultural perspective on nature, stroll the 12-acre Tofino Botanical Gardens, where cultivated beds pay homage to the range of regional inhabitants from native North Americans to Japanese settlers. Tofino is also home to several galleries featuring the art of Pacific Northwest First Peoples, including Eagle Aerie Gallery, which exhibits the colorful landscapes and stylized animals of artist Roy Henry Vickers. Treat yourself to a hydrotherapy session at the Ancient Cedars Spa at the Wickinninnish Inn, where 144 jets do the massaging.

Where to stay: Reserve a cabin just steps from the shore at Terrace Beach Resort, set on a quiet cove in Ucluelet. Though owned by actor Jason Priestley, there’s nothing Hollywood about the nature-focused resort where rooms come with kitchenettes and many have hot tubs outdoors. In Tofino, two timbered buildings at Middle Beach Lodge host adults and families separately, the former on a headland above the ocean and the latter overlooking mile-long MacKenzie Beach. Wood floors, ceiling beams, and dining room harvest tables were fashioned of recycled lumber.