After the second heat wave hit Nanaimo, we craved much lower temperatures and a cool, windy location…Even for a day!
Our choices were to drive 4 + hours (350 + km) northwest up Vancouver Island to seek temperature refuge in much cooler Port McNeill, Port Hardy, Port Alice or other tiny northern communities. Or, we could head due west 201 km to Tofino. The estimated time for this trip, according to several online sources, was about 3 hours. Today, Tofino won out as the destination of choice!
Temperatures in Nanaimo had been hitting 32-38 degrees C most days for a second stretch this summer. In some areas of the globe, this is normal or possibly mild, but for us in Canada, this is quite extreme and people were getting hospitalized with heat stroke and trying to cope by staying indoors or swimming in the cool ocean. In contrast, the weather forecast in Tofino was listed at 19-20 degrees C! We packed a cooler with picnic supplies, beach mat, hiking and swimming gear, and headed off to Highway B.C. 4 W.
There are so many amazing natural wonders and tourist attractions along this journey, so you need to decide whether to take a leisurely trip and investigate locations, or to push through directly to Pacific Rim National Park and Tofino. The choice is yours!
Thirty-five minutes (44 km) after departing from Nanaimo, you drive past Coombs. It is difficult to miss the line ups of parked cars near the Old Country Market. Look up and you will usually spot the goats eating grass on the roof of the market.
Coombs is a fun and funky place to spend time sauntering, eating, shopping, and exploring. Coombs Old Country Market is usually open every day from March to December.
If you enjoy hiking and exploring the beautiful natural coastal rainforest, check out Little Qualicum Falls, and the famous Old Growth Douglas Fir Trees and giant Cedars in MacMillan Provincial Park at Cathedral Grove.
The largest trees in this protected park are over 800 years old, 9 metres (29.6 feet) in circumference, and 75 meters (246 feet) tall. Bring your camera….The old growth trees along the trails are impressive and majestic! Here is a link to a practical guide for the Cathedral Grove Trail Area.
Once you arrive in Port Alberni make certain you have fuel and food as the next section of the road is twisty and services are limited until you arrive at Ucluelet or Tofino.
23 km from Port Alberni the road curves around the edges of gorgeous Sproat Lake. This 25 km long, deep, fresh water lake is known as Kleecoot by the Indigenous peoples. It is a local favorite location for swimming, fishing, waterskiing, kayaking, windsurfing, picnics, hiking or camping. https://bcparks.ca/explore/parkpgs/sproat_lk/
Continue about 30 km from Sproat Lake and you will discover another natural treasure at the junction of Wally Creek and Kennedy River.
Check out the natural “Potholes“, climb boulders, or relax on the rocks adjacent to the creek.
This is such a fascinating area to explore and appreciate. Natural erosion at its most intricate, exposes crystal clear turquoise waters and orange, green veins of color within rock layers.
This pristine area needs to be appreciated and preserved. If visiting here, please be respectful of the area and take any trash with you when you depart.
While my husband and I took a break from driving and explored this natural wonder, a friendly local also exploring the boulders with his family, questioned whether we were heading to Tofino. He informed us about the daily road closure between 11 am and 3 pm weekdays at Kennedy Hill due to major road construction! As it was after 11:30 am, we had missed the opening and now faced a road closure for another 3 + hours!
We always check DriveBC.ca road status and conditions prior to any travel. But, for some unexplained reason, today we had not checked ahead! Murphy’s Law!
As we had several hours to wait, we delved into our picnic from the car cooler, then explored the boulders and rugged creek area.
Cars continued to arrive as people joined us exploring Wally Creek, relaxing on the rocks, or swimming in the eroded “Potholes“. We wondered how many of these new arrivals were aware of the Kennedy Hill road closure?
At 2:30 p.m. we departed and drove to Kennedy Hill. We joined the incredibly lengthy line of vehicles waiting in the cue. There were “Black Bear in Area” warning signs posted.
Most people remained in their vehicles with windows down. But the heat, boredom, and enticement of huckleberries on the side of the road drew me outside. I started picking wild Huckleberries and some Thimbleberries. Before long, I had taught 3 young men from the car ahead of us about wild berries, and they were also having a berry feast.
The time passed, the road opened, and soon we were meandering through construction zone areas.
It is a 14 km drive from Kennedy Hill to the Tofino-Ucluelet Highway 4 Junction. Before planning a trip to Tofino or Ucluelet check road conditions. Here is a useful link created by Tofino Tourism. https://tourismtofino.com/
Later than planned, at 4pm (and 19 degrees) we were finally enjoying the beautiful main street of Tofino. We observed tourists, decked in matching life jackets, returning rental kayaks and gear; while another group (possibly exiting a whale watching tour) chugging up the hill at Jamie’s Whaling Station.
Directly across Campbell Street, we relaxed with beers and delicious meals at the popular Shelter Restaurant. My husband thoroughly enjoyed his burger and I was very impressed with the delectable gluten free Surf Bowl. This experience was so welcomed and appreciated after the unexpected, lengthy road closure. We will definitely return to Shelter Restaurant.
Finally, we were off to explore Tofino! During a previous trip here we visited with the famous Indigenous Artist, Roy Henry Vickers, at his Big House Gallery. We were lucky enough to catch Roy creating art and even listened to his story telling session. Later that evening while walking on Chesterman Beach we also caught Roy carrying his surf board emerging from the waves. I purchased his print entitled “The two of us” which is reflective of stunning Chesterman Beach.
We were not successful sighting many kayakers at the downtown seaside park and Tofino Air location this afternoon.
We drove to Tonquin Beach for a little wander through local nature trails leading to one of the many beaches around Tofino.
Warning signs remind locals and visitors that waves can appear unexpectedly and the weather/ocean conditions are tumultuous in Tofino. Today was calm and both the trails and ocean were pristine and stunning.
Tonquin beach is quite small, but very pretty and appears to be a bit sheltered.
By 6:30 pm the sun had disappeared and the fog was rolling into Tofino. The temperature was dropping quite quickly and was now sitting at 16 degrees C. Tofino has many quirky shops and unique features. There were hundreds of shoes (mainly runners) draped over cable lines around a downtown skatepark.
After a quick tour around town, we decided to drive to Pacific Rim Park and walk along stunning Chesterman Beach. We noticed that Parking lots were emptying as surfers, in full neoprene suits, loaded their surf boards on their vehicles and departed for the day. Two of the favorite cold water surf beaches in this area are Cox Bay and Chesterman Beach.
I found the enthusiasm of the surfers a bit surprising as huge signs lit up messages near the beach trails indicating the water temperature was “Very Cold”. Hmmm? What does this mean?
After researching, I discovered that the ocean water temperature at Tofino does not rise above 20 degrees Celsius. Apparently in winter the average water temperature in Tofino hits about 8 degrees C, while in summer the average temperature is about 13 degrees C. Brrr…. Those are dedicated cold water surfers!
By 7 p.m. we had arrived at Chesterman Beach. The fog had really rolled in making the trees and landscapes quite mystical and eerie. In addition, the winds had increased and the gusts were getting powerful.
We walked toward Frank Island along the tombolo which is a sandy isthmus connecting Frank Island to Chesterman beaches during low tides.
We battled the winds as we observed a handful of keen surfers still playing in the frigid waves. Without toques and warm weather clothing, we were unprepared for this. When we departed from Nanaimo this morning it was 28 degrees. When we started the vehicle, it was a balmy 13.5 degrees C in Tofino.
Our goals of having an adventure and locating cool temperatures were achieved.
It was time to commence the 3 hour trip home to Nanaimo. Hopefully there would be no construction hold ups during the homeward trip.
What did we learn? Always check the weather forecast and road conditions prior to any trip. Be grateful for new experiences.
Keep safe and have fun my friends. The next blog post will be about the B.C. Ferry trip up the Inside Passage from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert.