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Winter's Romance on the Western Coast

Wild West Coast, Tofino, Vancouver Island. British Columbia

This past week, Stephanie and I took a winter road trip to Tofino on British Columbia’s Wild West Coast. Another exceptional excursion to the end of the road!

Room with a View! Tofino, British Columbia.

“Tough City,” “the Tree Loving City,” and “Canada’s cold-water surfing capitol,” Tofino is on the far-western coast of Vancouver Island, wedged between the Pacific Ocean and Browning Passage to the east. On the far northern tip of the Esowista Peninsula and the southern edge of Clayoquot Sound. It is situated in the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations: The Ahousaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, and Hesquiaht. Further west than the Olympic Peninsula, or any lands within the lower forty-eight states. A bit further west than Juneau Alaska, but not as far over as Anchorage.

Mountain Passage! Tofino, British Columbia.

This was not intended to be a great and arduous wilderness adventure, but more a romance by the sea get-away! We were hoping for time spent with one another, sunrise backlighting the old growth forest on Meares Island (trees estimated at 800 to 1,300 years old), long walks on the beach, good food, and warm, soft evening sunsets. A special place and the perfect location to spend the long Canadian “Family Day” weekend.

We went primed for cold rain and grey surf. Realistic plans for some great storm watching, or maybe just spending the day with a hot chocolate and being together reading books in our room.

We packed boots, raincoats and pants, storm hats, and warm sweaters. We have been to Tofino before, and our preparations were based on both fact and experience. This area is often considered the westernmost part of Canada, and one of the wettest locations with some 128.77 inches of rain annually (for comparison, Seattle and Bellingham receive only around thirty-seven inches each year).

We started our trip by crossing the US/Canadian border and counting sixty-eight bald eagles before boarding the Queen of Alberni Ferry in Tsawwassen. The ferry ride to Nanaimo was well, … wonderful! Relaxing, time to chill, looking for whales and dolphins, and just kicking back.

Our winter expectations seemed to come true with some four inches of snow, slush, and slippery road as we crossed over the 1,348 foot Port Alberni Summit (locally called “The Hump”), the highest point on Highway 4 to the coast.

Then, across the summit, the sun came out, the waves were breaking and cresting white and shades of aqua and blue, and the long weekend of romance really began. Driving to Tofino, we passed so many fantastic beaches… Wickaninnish, Combers, Long, Cox, Chesterman, MacKenzie, and Tonquin. We vowed to walk them all – and we did!

Frank Island Sunset. Cox Beach, Tofino BC.

Our plan was to be on the beach each morning for sunrise. Following that, maybe a quick coffee, another beach, lunch, then a nap before the sun set along the coast. We only took quick power naps, there was just too much to see. So mornings started hand-in-hand on the beach, afternoons the same, and then magical, wonderful sunsets. We seemed to walk forever, and we stayed until the darkness consumed the sky, the water, the sand, and the two of us.

Sand & Shell! Tofino, BC.

There is something romantic about the sea, the waves, and the coast. Really special when the sun sinks in the western sky turning everything to pink, orange, yellow, and gold. Winding down a long day together, watching surfers heading home, families together, late night dog-walkers, and bon-fires starting up. Reflecting on how lucky we are to be here, to be with one another, and how the end of this day optimistically previews tomorrow and our future.

“I watched the sunset last night. And given the utter brilliance of it, I likely sat in the company of thousands who found themselves awash in its blaze of colors as well. But sadly, it is just as likely that I was surrounded by thousands of others who never saw the colors because they were awash in lesser things. And I realized that far too often I am in the company of those people. Therefore, I’ll be sitting outside tonight.”

― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Sand & Beach! Tofino BC.

There are beautiful sunsets around the world. But winter sunsets on the west coast can be really phenomenal. As the sun rises or sets, the sunlight has further to travel and more blue and violet light is scattered out, leaving brighter reds, oranges, and yellows. Along the coast, salt and water particles scatter even more light, and produce even more intense colors. Throw in a bit of refraction, and both the sun and moon can appear larger at sunrise and sunset – a perfect center piece for beauty, passion, and coastal photography.

Add to this the wonder of winter on the west coast, when wind originates onshore and blows out to sea carrying ocean spray and pushing colder air higher into the atmosphere. This makes it harder for clouds to form in the evening, resulting in clear skies and better sunsets. As winter storms approach, thin, wispy clouds appear that turn brilliant shades of pink, purple and orange while setting.

Seafood Buffet! Tofino BC.

I am not a meteorologist, nor an expert on sunlight and/or refraction, so check out the links above to learn more. What I do know, is that all of this came together for Stephanie and me this past week. Beautiful water and sky, great color, starry skies –- romance was literally “in the air” and all around us. And, at the end of day, a different reflection, this time on our lives together and what the future may hold.

Wood, Sand & Stone! Tofino BC.

These images share some of that coastal splendor, the specialness of place, and we are wishing each of you golden sunrises, warm sun, and a beautiful end to each day!

"I like people who get excited about the change of seasons, the sound of the ocean, watching a sunset, the smell of rain, and starry nights."

— Brooke Hampton


· Tough City (or Tuff City) is a nickname Tofino has worn proudly for years. The name originated in the days when logging and fishing were the primary industries, referring to the tough nature of both the jobs and the people who did them. The pure wildness of the land echoes the sentiment of resilience.

· Clayoquot Sound covers over 3,000 square kilometers immediately north of Tofino. The sound can best be described as a tranquil wilderness, and its rugged slopes are home to the largest expanse of low-level, old-growth rainforest left in North America. In 2000, the area became British Columbia’s first UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and a critical piece of the Emerald Edge—a 100-million-acre coastal, temperate rainforest that stretches from coastal Washington, through British Columbia and into Southeast Alaska. Read more on how the War in the Woods stopped most industrial logging in Clayoquot Sound.

· First held in Alberta in 1990, Family Day is supposed to reflect the values of family and home that were important to the pioneers who founded Alberta, and to give workers the opportunity to spend more time with their families. It was introduced in Saskatchewan in 2007 and in Ontario in 2008. British Columbia observed Family Day as a statutory holiday for the first time in 2013, New Brunswick in 2018.

· Tofino is often considered the most westerly point in Canada, although that title actually belongs to Kluane National Park, Yukon.

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