Tofino, British Columbia, is a small community on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Foreigners roll in to work for the summer season; photographers drive the winding roads in search of storms; surfers sleep in their converted vans next to the gnarly waves. Despite an onslaught of tourism, Tofino has managed to preserve its laid-back, natural island vibes.

photoAlison Karlene Hodgins

In the four years and three trips I’ve made to Tofino, not much has changed. When we arrive in our convoy of Buicks from Nanaimo, it feels like time has slowed down. The old yellow barn where my friend once lived has been converted into a hip hotel where I’ll be staying for two nights. Beyond eating some of the freshest seafood imaginable, wandering the quiet streets and watching the fog roll in on the beach, we’re here to explore the natural beauty that surrounds Tofino and Ucluelet.

 

Hiking the Wild Pacific Trail

Within the district of Ucluelet, approximately eight kilometres of trails intertwine and meander alongside the majestic Pacific Ocean. This accessible area provides a tranquil escape for wildlife-viewers and bird-watchers.

photoAlison Karlene Hodgins

We begin at Amphitrite Point Lighthouse and follow the 2.6-kilometre Lighthouse Loop. The path is wide and mostly flat, covered in gravel and packed dirt. Elderly hikers and families pushing off-road strollers spark up friendly conversations as we walk past. We pause at several viewpoints, peering through binoculars for glimpses of seals, sea lions and grey whales.

photoAlison Karlene Hodgins

Although it feels serene today, this area was ravaged by a ruthless storm only a few months ago. Donations funded repair efforts, and now, the only hint of the blistering storm is cracked tree stumps and tossed beach logs. Although it is tempting, it’s not recommended to climb the jagged grey rocks as giant waves can suddenly rise and crash against them, even in calm weather.

photoAlison Karlene Hodgins

We finish our hike rather quickly. Although I'd like to spend the afternoon watching the waves crash against the exposed coast, we have more to explore.

If you go:

To learn more about the plants and animals in the area, join a naturalist for a free guided walk at 10:00 a.m. daily.

 

Crab Fishing in the Pacific Ocean

 

Catching (and eating) succulent crustaceans isn’t just a pastime on the West Coast; it’s a way of life. Joined by Chef Paul Moran, our group loads up into a commercial fishing vessel and pulls out of Tofino marina in search of tonight’s dinner.

sizedLucas Scarfone Photography

There are four crab traps we’re going to check that have recently been baited. As we near the first buoy, our captain asks if anyone would like to try pulling up the cage. “I’ll do it!” I volunteer cheerfully, not quite expecting the buoy to be so difficult to grab or the wet rope so heavy to pull.

Finally, with a little help from the crew, I pull up the metal cage. It’s empty. I sit back, deflated. “Just imagine how much heavier that would’ve been if it was full of crabs,” Paul says.

The second trap is more fruitful: two crabs click their claws at us. Paul holds one up and measures it. “It’s too young, so we have to throw it back,” he explains.

crabsLucas Scarfone Photography

“How many crabs are you allowed to bring back?” I ask.

“Eight per trip,” he says. I start to see how this could be a profitable—if not back-breaking—business.

The boat rips past floating houses and boats converted into living quarters, none of them technically legal, and hilly, tree-covered islands. The third trap is empty, too, but fourth time's the charm: at least seven good-sized crabs are transferred into a bucket. They stop pinching and wriggling, accepting their fate.

crabsLucas Scarfone Photography

Back at the marina, Paul transfers the crabs into a fridge, where they will stay until dinnertime. Then, the crabs will be boiled and eaten fresh at 1909 Kitchen.

photoLucas Scarfone Photography

If you go:

Make sure you have a proper saltwater fishing licence and obey all warnings before crabbing. To partake in the deliciousness without the hard work, several restaurants, such as Wolf in the Fog, serve amazing crab dishes.

 

Foraging for local ingredients

I’ve always been a little hesitant about picking wild plants and eating them, mainly because I’m pretty confident I’ll pick something poisonous by mistake. But with Chef Paul leading us, we’re able to distinguish edible flora to accompany our crab dinner tonight.

foragingLucas Scarfone Photography

Just next to Tofino Resort + Marina, we wander into flourishing green trails. First, we pluck spruce tips, proving our trust in Paul by eating them immediately. Next, we pick elderflower for cocktail syrup, plantains that can be eaten raw and petals of blooming salmonberry flowers for garnish.

foragingLucas Scarfone Photography

It’s hard to believe how many edible plants are growing right beneath our nose. We pluck closed dandelion heads, which Paul will peel open later and sprinkle across wood-fire baked flatbread.

foragingLucas Scarfone Photography

Most of the natural produce we collect doesn’t have an overwhelming or particularly delicious taste, but would do in a pinch to help you survive in the Pacific Northwest. (Or just to show off your foraging skills on your next outdoor adventure.)

If you go:

It's always a wise idea to bring along a guide the first few times you go foraging. There are plenty of books and apps available, but I'd only trust an in-person guide. Remember to pick at least 100 metres away from roads and to avoid over-picking. Be wary of allergic reactions, taste-test in small portions and don't eat something if you don't know what it is.

 

Driving the Buick Regal GS

 

This entire adventure was made possible by Buick Canada. We were lucky enough to drive the slick Buick Regal GS down winding roads, through thick rainforest and alongside Tofino’s best beaches. With fully adjustable massage chairs, projection display for heads-up directions and a luxurious, sporty feel, this was the perfect adventure vehicle for our Vancouver Island roadtrip.

 driveJanine Maral

The next time I return to Tuff and Ukee, I hope that it still maintains the laid-back, surfer vibes that I love. I hope there’s no surge in large resorts, fast-food chains or box stores. My recent experience in Tofino proved to me that it flourishes exactly as it is. I hope it will stay like this for many more years and trips to come.

 photoAlison Karlene Hodgins

Disclaimer: This experience was a press trip provided by Buick Canada. All opinions are my own.

 

Related Content on explore-mag.com:

Plan your next great adventure with explore!
Off the beaten path locations, tips and tricks, interviews with intrepid explorers and more.