The small coastal communities of Tofino and Ucluelet on Vancouver Island’s west coast, exposed to the full fury of the Pacific Ocean, are perfect for storm-watching in the winter months.
No roughing it here, though: luxury resorts serve gourmet food as waves beat on the long sandy beaches and dramatic tree-topped cliffs. March and April here see the migration of upwards of 20,000 grey whales from the warm waters of Mexico to their summer feeding grounds in Alaska’s Bering Strait.
Tofino is widely considered one of the best surf spots in North America. The waves that pound the beaches year-round attract wet-suited surfers, while those of a more relaxed disposition, such as myself, check out Hot Springs Cove, a boat ride up the coast. Here, a gentle boardwalk through dense rainforest leads to a steaming hot spring right at the water’s edge which I share with tired kayakers soothing their aching muscles. “You cannot fight the currents,” says Clark, an accountant in Vancouver City in real life. “You have to learn how to work with them.”
After hearing more such stories, I head for the heartbreaking beauty of the Broken Group islands. This cluster of islands in the nearby Barkley Sound is a maze of pocket-size beaches, calm lagoons, starfish-draped reefs and craggy rocks. Even better, the water of the inner islands is usually blissfully calm, making it a superb place to try open water kayaking for the first time. I join a small group tour of the islands, although I see more experienced paddlers loading their boats on the MV Frances Barkley in Port Alberni. This 1950s-era (naturally) freighter was originally commissioned in Norway and now potters sedately through the Broken Group, resupplying isolated fishing communities and doing a brisk tourist trade in the summer months.
On the long drive back to Victoria, I stop in on the ridiculously fun town of Coombs, just before Highway 1. I was told I would know it by the goats on the roof of Old Country Market and, sure enough, that’s exactly what I see. “It all started in 1971, when the store’s first owner wanted a grass roof for his hamburger stand,” says Arthur Urie, the current manager and owner of its three penthouse goats. “Local students needed somewhere to graze their goats for the weekend – and in those three days he sold more burgers than ever before.”
In the years since then, the burger stand has grown into a supermarket and the goats have become accustomed to gawping customers. Hold up an ice cream cone and they might take a nibble but don’t park your open-top car too close to the eaves – one Jaguar car owner returned from lunch to find an unpleasant surprise on his expensive leather interior.
Take me west!