There are two approaches to the 200 km drive from the Departure Bay ferry terminal at Nanaimo to Tofino…
Option 1: The Hare – Put your foot on the gas as soon as you leave the BC Ferries’ ramp and race the other long weekenders to Tofino in about 2 hours. Given that this is the preferred option of the masses you will probably spend the mountain pass section of the drive between Port Alberni and the Ucluelet / Tofino turn junction getting increasingly frustrated as you sit behind an impassable RV doing 20kph. There is another way…
Option 2: The Tortoise – Our preferred option is to take our time, make a day of it and stop at some magical places on route. Here are a few places you might want to consider hitting the brakes for:
Located off Highway 4 just before Parksville, Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park features a wide, shallow beach that recedes over a kilometer at low tide combined with walking trails through old-growth forest. There is also a camp site there if you want to stay a little longer. A nice place to wake up to in the early morning sunshine, especially if you have caught the first ferry of the day!
This is a popular tourist spot signposted by slow down signs and cars waiting for a parking spot. If you are lucky enough to find a space, you will be rewarded with a beautiful walk through an ancient forest of giant Douglas fir trees.
A note of caution – despite its coastal location on an inlet and being surrounded by a stunning mountains, there is very little here in the way of local authentic eateries – your only real options are the fast food chains you see from the highway.
This is a nice spot to stop for lunch, and to have a paddle in the relatively warm waters. If you are lucky you might get chance to watch one of the famous water bombers take off or land on the lake. There are also a few camping spots around if you want to stay longer.
Rocks & Mini Waterfall
As you start your drive through the mountains you will pass by a pull out next to a river and a large mass of smoothed rocks. Take a few moments to pull over and explore the waterfall, and admire the power of the river – don’t get too close though!
Often this lake is mistaken for the Pacific Ocean by the weary traveler as they descend from the mountain pass. However, with its pristine calm waters, surrounded by mountain peaks, disappointment will be quickly replaced by the clicking of the camera lens.
Situated in the majestic Pacific Rim National Park a few kilometers before Tofino, Long Beach is the jewel that draws visitors to this westerly point on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. With miles of sandy beach, predictable swell to surf and a rainforest backdrop you may never want to leave.
A relaxing beachside lodge overlooking Cox Bay was our accommodation of choice for a long weekend trip to Canada’s surfing capital, Tofino. A conservative 3 hour drive from the BC Ferries dock at Nanaimo, the Long Beach Lodge offers visitors a luxurious yet relaxed break surrounded by lush temperate rainforest on one side, and the vast Pacific Ocean on the other.
Reasons to stay at Long Beach Lodge
– The view from the Great Room over Cox Bay at any time of the day is great, but during sunset it is spectacular, especially with an evening cocktail in hand!
– The food served in the Great Room is excellent as evidenced by the 45 minute wait for a table with a reservation – the smoked albacore tuna & island scallops were sensational on the taste buds.
– The newly built and bear proofed hot tub (apparently they like the smell of hot tub cover) is open to 11pm every night for all guests to enjoy. This was a welcome surprise usually reserved for ski resorts and was well needed after a day of getting worked by the Pacific Ocean waves!
– The Cox Bay beach front location makes access to the waves very easy and there is storage for your surf gear. Just remember though that you need the full wet suit and boots to go surfing as the water is a balmy 6 degrees (something to do with currents and proximity to Alaska we guess!)
– The young staff are extremely friendly and helpful – nothing is too much trouble!
– The resort has some magical cottages hidden in the trees which would be perfect for a family / group get away. Alternatively, you can stay in the spacious, relaxing and very comfortable Lodge rooms which have luxurious bathrooms.
– The Great Room is a nice place to chill out on a comfy sofa with a drink and enjoy a good book.
Things to watch out for:
– It’s not easy to rent surf gear from the Lodge unless you book a lesson with them. Your best bet is to head into town early (to avoid the weekend crowds) and rent from 6 hours to 3 days from establishments such as the Long Beach Surf Shop (630 Campbell Street)
– Watch out for rooms near the Great Room – Breakfast starts at 7.30am and so does the unwelcome wake up call of other guests moving in for their complimentary continental offering!
– It’s about 7km to get to Tofino – if heading out for dinner you will need to grab a cab or appoint a designated driver, walking back in the dark on the busy main road is not recommended!
– Not that you come to Tofino to watch TV, but don’t expect crystal clear pictures in your room…nothing to do with the quality of the machinery provided, probably more location of the Resort on the edge of the Pacific Ocean surrounded by mountains! We think Usain Bolt won the 100m at the London Olympics but it was a bit fuzzy!
– Grabbing a bite at lunch while in your wetsuit can be a bit tricky as there is no surf shack on Cox Bay Beach and the surf club café only serves coffee! Our solution was to order takeaway lunch from the Great Room which was a bit of a hassle but was achievable with the help of a friendly receptionist who delayed her trip home after her shift to make sure we got our fish and chips!
Facts you may want to know before you arrive:
– A standard room was $299 before tax on the August Long weekend (Tofino is often noted as being the most expensive place to stay in Canada)
– 2 course dinner for 2 with a bottle of wine with tip and tax was $150
– A yummy continental breakfast is included with your stay but upgrading to a hot breakfast is $4 per item. Smoothies are $6 each
– A fish and chip lunch will set you back $26 including tax and tip
– Check in is at 4pm (we checked in at 1.30pm without issue), check out is 11am (we made it 11.30 given how comfy the bed is)
– Parking is free and fairly secure
– Surfing lessons cost $189 for 2.5 hours for 2. Wet suit and board rental is $39 per person (but only if you are having a lesson)
– If you’re a pro surfer ask Mike at the bar about his secret spot…..you’d better be good though, this place is for pros (unlike us)!!