Life on the Edge

In Tofino, where the Pacific meets Vancouver Island, there's drama to spare

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EAGLES AND ILLUSIONS

As we walk past storm-twisted spruce along a wide gravel path, McIntyre and I are greeted at every turn by new views of the Pacific, its churning whitecaps bright in the sunlight. Next to me, McIntyre is explaining why the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada is such a special place. As former chief naturalist here, McIntyre has been guiding visitors among the ancient cedars and spruce of these coastal headlands since 1973, almost as long as the reserve has existed.

"It's truly the cornerstone of eco-tourism in this region," he says of the 124,000-acre reserve. To prove his point, he stops us often to call attention to striking details. He explains how the Sitka spruce, which forms a narrow fringe zone along the shoreline, has adapted to withstand ferocious storms through its long, fibrous root system. And he points out a gimlet-eyed eagle perched in a tree. Normally this eagle sits here with its mate, McIntyre tells us, in a scenic area known as Wedding Point ― for a reason we could guess. "The eagles were the first couple to be married there," McIntyre jokes, "more than a decade ago."

This is a savage place too, I learn when McIntyre points out the site of a 1905 shipwreck that killed every man on board even though it happened just 100 feet from shore. As I gaze out to sea, imagining the tragedy, I'm struck by the illusory nature of this landscape. Out on the horizon, a distant surfer might be mistaken for a seal, mink, or bald eagle. In the forest, massive cedars draped with thread moss and lichen change shape in the breeze.

Not only do the vistas constantly change, so does the weather: On our hike, the morning's pelting rain gives way to sunny skies. McIntyre assures me that unpredictable weather is the norm. It explains why the region gets twice as much rain as Vancouver, about 130 inches per year, but also twice as many hours of sun.

Luxury resorts such as the Wickaninnish Inn and the newer Long Beach Lodge Resort wisely market themselves as jumping-off points for outdoor adventures. At the Long Beach Lodge, every room is equipped with a guidebook ― subjects range from hiking to bird identification ― and raincoats. But there's another reason to visit these resorts: the food.

For such a small town, Tofino has a disproportionate number of noteworthy places to eat ― everything from a purple truck serving top-notch fish tacos to the swanky Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn. Chefs here benefit from Pacific Rim influences as well as a bounty of local ingredients. No fewer than five species of salmon are found here, along with wild chanterelles, blackberries, and huckleberries.

 

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