The Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations have made Clayoquot Sound their home for thousands of years. The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations village of Opitsaht (across the water from Tofino on Meares Island) is thought to have been continuously inhabited for at least the past 5,000 years, according to carbon dating of a long-buried stash of discarded clamshells. The word Clayoquot comes from Tla-o- qui-aht, and is said to mean "people who are different from who they used to be."
The earliest recorded European contact with Vancouver Island's First Nations residents occurred just north of Clayoquot Sound, between Estevan Point and the Escalante River. In 1774 Captain Juan Pérez was sent north to reassert the long standing Spanish claim on the west coast of North America. Pérez reached the Queen Charlotte Islands in July, 1774. After some trading with the Haida people from aboard the Santiago, Pérez turned south and made contact with Hesquiaht people near what are now called Perez Rocks, approximately 40 km north of Tofino. Pérez preceded the more celebrated Captain James Cook, who arrived three years later at Nootka Island, in the spring of 1778.
During the 1792 exploration of Vancouver Island by Captains Galiano and Valdez, Clayoquot Sound's southernmost inlet gained the name Tofino Inlet honouring Vincente Tofiño, a Spanish hydrographer who taught Galiano cartography.
By the late 1890s, a scattering of homesteads had appeared on the Esowista Peninsula, across the water from Clayoquot. Gradually, the new townsite of Tofino took shape here, as more settlers arrived, mostly Norwegian, Scots, and English.
In 1959, a long-awaited logging road was punched through the mountains between Port Alberni and the coast and Tofino became an increasingly popular destination. In 1970, the Pacific Rim National Park was created, the road was paved and Tofino became the official western terminus of the Trans Canada Highway.
Tofino is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island and is the offical western terminus of the Trans Canada Highway. Accessed via Highway 19 north and Highway 4 west from Nanaimo, Tofino is 40 km (25 mi) north of Ucluelet, 126 km (78 mi) west of Port Alberni and 207 km (128 mi) northwest of Nanaimo. Flights to Tofino are available from Vancouver International, Victoria International and Seattle-Tacoma International Airports.
The Rainforest Interpretive Centre houses some excellent displays about the temperate rainforest and the creatures that inhabit it. At the Whale Centre Museum there is a fascinating collection of marine artifacts and whale skeletons.
Tsimshian Native artist Roy Henry Vickers invites you to enjoy his northwest coast longhouse style art gallery, located in the heart of Tofino. We exhibit Roy's carvings, original prints and paintings, reproductions, books and jewelry.
The Tofino Botanical Gardens were selected as one of the best gardens in the world by Jane Perrone, the gardening editor for the UK's Guardian newspaper for their whimsical and inspiring nature. These 12 acres of gardens, forest, and shoreline explore the relationship between culture and nature. Tofino Botanical Gardens Foundation, a non-profit registered Canadian charity operates educational programs and provides information about temperate rainforest conservation. A network of paths and boardwalks will take you from Darwin's Café and Visitor Centre around the flower, herb and kitchen gardens, the duck pond, and Children's Garden into the forest, where clearings have been transformed into a series of pocket gardens, art installations and garden buildings. Some of the pocket gardens display plants that once thrived in other coastal temperate rainforests around the world. Garden buildings include the "historic" Bernardo O'Higgins homestead, the storytelling hut made by acclaimed local artist, Jan Janzen and two bird blinds overlooking the Tofino Mudflats Wildlife Management Area. Featuring the work of internationally renowned sculptor Michael Dennis, art installations are all made to survive or weather in the rain, and provide a cultural counterpoint to the surrounding natural beauty.
A one-hour boat ride or 20 minutes by air will take you to Hot Springs Cove. Walk the 1.5 km (1 mi) boardwalk and soak in seven successive (hot to cooler) geothermal hot spring pools. You will also enjoy the stunning views and surrounding waterfalls.
The Tofino/Clayoquot Sound area has a long history of fishing, and now plays host to world class sport fishing opportunities. Chinook and Coho Salmon, Halibut and various bottomfish make up the bounty for both guided and unguided sports anglers from around the world. Unique and somewhat remote freshwater opportunities for Steelhead and trout are a great option. Fishing in Tofino is incredible, with salmon, halibut, cod and crab being the catches of the day.
Kayakers have long been fond of the Tofino area. The numerous inlets and bays offer sheltered paddling, while the more adventurous can tackle the open ocean. Novice paddlers can take in a guided sea kayak tour of Tofino Inlet's calm waters, or even an excursion to Meares Island with a walking tour of its Big Tree Trail. Along the way, seasoned guides will share their knowledge of the ecology and natural history of the region while you discover the beauty and biological diversity of this wondrous place. Experienced kayakers can rent a kayak or you can bring your own boat. Before venturing out on your own, make sure you are prepared for Clayoquot Sound's potentially dangerous waters, including powerful tides.
In mid-spring, grey whales begin their annual migration, passing right by Tofino. There are a number of charter companies that offer guided tours to view these magnificent creatures. Most whale watching trips last between 2-3 hours. You can expect to see grey whales during your trip and possibly humpback whales. You will likely encounter bald eagles, harbour seals, Steller and California sea lions, sea otters and, if you are very lucky, orca whales or porpoises. The season officially begins in March with the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, which is both a fascinating and educational event.
The Long Beach Golf Course, located in the Clayoquot Biosphere Reserve, is one of the most scenically situated golf courses in British Columbia. The course is only a few minutes away from spectacular Long Beach in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The 9 hole championship course is also known to be one of the most challenging courses on Vancouver Island.
The Tofino Mudflats are a muddy haven for birds and birders. This estuary is alive with a vast diversity of species, from shorebirds to waterfowl to waders. The importance of the Tofino Mudflats as a migratory shorebird stopover and a winter waterfowl refuge is recognized by Birdlife International, who designated the area one of Canada's Important Bird Areas. Great blue herons and bald eagles are commonly sighted year round on or near the mudflats, but the very best time for birdwatchers to visit the mudflats is late April through early May. Tens of thousands of shorebirds use the extensive mudflats and beaches in the area as a vital feeding and resting ground.
The waves keep rolling in along miles of sandy beaches - 35 km (22 mi) of surfable beach break to be exact, leaving plenty of room for all boarders, from absolute beginners to seasoned longboarders. The water is a cool, yet fairly constant 10°C/50°F, making surfing a year-round activity in Tofino, with some of the best rides being caught during the winter when the surf is definitely up with a strong, fairly consistent swell. The best surfing beaches are: Chesterman Beach, declared by Outside Magazine in 2010 "one of the best beginner breaks in North America." Cox Bay is one of the most consistent surfing beaches in the summer months. Long Beach is located in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and is without doubt Tofino's (and arguably Canada's) most famous beach.
Winter storm watching in Tofino has been turned into a bit of an art form. Not only do the months from November to March bring a series of perfect storms from the mighty Pacific Ocean, there are also some fabulous vantage points, such as the Kwisitis Visitor Centre in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, or Chesterman Beach, with the Lennard Island lighthouse in the background.Witness the twenty-foot swell rolling in toward the shore, and after its all over be sure to beachcomb the shore for some post-storm flotsam and jetsam, because you never know what surprises you'll find. Whether you want your storm straight up with the rain glistening on your yellow slicker and the wind playing tricks with your scarf, or prefer to take a front row seat within the warmth of a local eatery or from the comfort of your own room (or a spa), you'll never look at stormy weather the same way again.
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia