At least at one point, during your visit to Tofino or Ucluelet (Ukee) in late July or early August, the clouds or fog will roll in. The breeze from the North will become a strong and steady wind. The sun will disappear beneath a steady stream of low level fog rolling off the Pacific like a factory assembly line of summer vacation-ruining robots hell-bent on destroying any hope of a tan. The midday temperature will drop to 12.5C and as you scramble to throw on whatever layers of cold weather clothing you may have thought to pack you will inevitably ask yourself “Why am I here?”, as you reminisce of warmer temperatures.
You may even recall a large number of camper vans and SUVs with bike racks and surf boards tied to the roof on the winding drive from Port Alberni where you left a very warm, sunny day of +35C. There seemed to be the promise of a tropical haven on the sea akin to Puerto Vallarta or Honolulu at the end of the road. You almost envisioned palm trees swaying in the breeze next to the evergreens that dominate much of the Pacific North-West coast. Yet here you are on a spectacular stretch of beach at the end of July, longing for that winter jacket currently in your storage locker. That one with the double layer down-filling and water-proof layers. Oh, Canada. Lest we forget that even in June, July or August…the weather gods may also be vacationing. And in Ukee – they may not visit at all.
We chose to base ourselves in Ukee, which is approximately 40km from the village of Tofino. Unlike Tofino, Ukee isn’t adjacent to the famously beautiful beaches and doesn’t offer the same number of accommodation options. Instead it’s a lower-key village on a rugged point of rocky coastline, which can be seen from the Wild Pacific Trail. Our choice of hotel for this visit is the Black Rock Resort – a very large hotel for the area, who’s design manages to embrace the surrounding natural beauty without overwhelming it.
Stepping out onto the terrace the air is so clear, clean and crisp, you wonder why the hotel hasn’t figured out a way to charge an extra fee to breathe it in. You almost feel a bit guilty each time you take a deep breath to absorb as much as possible. I wouldn’t be surprised to see jars of UkeeAir (™) on the shelves at Whole Foods in the future. With that being said, the Black Rock’s Oneka cedar and sage bath products come very close to emanating the scent of the forest that surrounds you.
The next morning, while waiting in line for coffee (and a slice of “tropical” carrot cake at Zoe’s), I ask a group of surfers if wearing a wetsuit actually helps. It works, they say, but not for that long and the parts of your body that are exposed can still experience hypothermia. At one point you may brave the cold Pacific ocean for a quick swim and if you do, the water at Tonquin Beach feels about 5 degrees warmer than at Long Beach or MacKenzie Beach. Much like a pilgrimage or religious experience, a quick dash into the cold water to honor nature feels right.
Life here can be tough, even with modern conveniences. Simple things taken for granted back in the big city are often not so simple in these remote pacific coast villages. A Saturday evening call to the local pizza place went unanswered several times. We later drove-by (in search of other provisions) and realized that it was indeed open, although the wait time for a pizza was currently 1.5 hours wait (give or take). Our ingenious plan to show up prior to opening to beat the crowds at the ever-famous Tacofino food truck was also to no avail. However long the wait, the fish tacos never disappoint.
In the early evening, after a round of South Swell IPAs from the local brewer, Ucluelet Brewing, we head back to the rugged coastline. The Wild Pacific Trail is a constantly changing experience. Over the course of a single hike it can feel as though you’ve experienced all four seasons in an hour. Large clouds hang over the pacific still, but as the sun continues its fall towards the ocean it sporadically breaks through, illuminating the shimmering blue water, dark volcanic rock, and thick rainforest trees in a golden glow. There is no sound except that of the wind and waves. Eventually, we break free of this surreally beautiful scene and begin the walk back. The toque I bought earlier at Zoe’s comes in handy.
Back at the hotel, as the final glimmers of sun disappear below the cloud banks and the temperature quickly finds its way back to 12.5C, I retreat to the comfort of a fireplace, a warm shower or bath, and a pillow-top mattress with silky sheets. I drift off to sleep to the sound of the whistle-buoy humming alongside crashing waves. What an amazing place to be.