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Footsteps in the sand on Vancouver Island

Each trip to the West Coast of Vancouver Island provides a refreshingly new experience. With unusual foresight, some months ago we booked a four-day get away at a beach resort in Tofino, a small community perched on a peninsula in Clayoquot Sound. With little relief from the pandemic in sight, an escape from the stresses and strains of city life provided a welcome change.

Vancouver Island

From door to door, it is a scenic 8-hour journey. On a clear day, the sparkling lakes and densely forested hillsides make the trip worthwhile. We travelled by car from Vancouver to the Horseshoe Bay/Nanaimo ferry. In compliance with recommended provincial guidelines, we donned our masks aboard the ferry. Upon disembarking, we proceeded to Coombs, renowned for its “goats on the roof” at the Old Country Market. Continuing onwards, we passed the crystal clear waters of Cameron Lake. On the far shore fir and beach trees clung to the steep mountain slope. Travelling further west, we drove along the sun-speckled shores of Sproat Lake where holiday cottages dot the water’s edge. Passing through Port Alberni, we headed towards the large expanse of Kennedy Lake. For over two years, major road works have been in progress on the Pacific Rim Highway at Kennedy Hill resulting in closure of the road between 11 am and 3 pm daily. Luckily, our timing was almost perfect. We waited only several minutes before the westbound traffic slowly proceeded along a one-way section of this east-west corridor. At the intersection, we turned right towards Tofino. On either side, closely spaced trees towered upwards of 100 ft. In the gathering dusk, it was easy to imagine ghosts and goblins patrolling the dense rainforest. We were now in Pacific Rim National Park. In these challenging times, our resort had introduced certain protocols including contactless check-in and restricted housekeeping services. Several days ago, we’d made a reservation for a three course halibut dinner. Our ID and vaccine certificates duly presented, we were seated in the dining room. Now we could relax and unwind.

Vancouver Island

The next day dawned bright and clear. It was time to walk some of Tofino’s favourite beaches. Starting at the Wickaninnish Inn, we enjoyed an idyllic morning stroll along the wide expanse of Chesterman Beach. Here, regardless of the Covid virus, the tides rise and ebb in nature’s enduring pattern. We peaked into shallow tide pools looking for signs of marine life. We spotted novice surfers riding their first waves. We watched cyclists pedal along the firm sand close to the tide line. It was wonderful to breathe in the fresh salt air and soak up the area’s soothing vibes. Returning to the “Wick”, at the Driftwood Café we reclined in a couple of bright red Adirondack chairs and sipped a deliciously hot latte … a just reward for our five kilometer walk.

At low tide, a trail leads from the resort’s parking lot to MacKenzie Beach. One only has to jump across a narrow channel to reach this wide arcing cove. Its calm waters make it a popular spot for young families and dog owners. There’s always something to see … stand-up paddle boarders, ocean kayakers … elaborate sand sculptures … clumps of assorted seaweed entangled with empty mussel shells … a miniature inukshuk … naked toddlers exploring their environment, building sandcastles or paddling in the warm water … even a bride and groom taking their vows.

Vancouver Island

But on Canada’s West Coast warm afternoons and clear skies can soon give way to threatening clouds and heavy rains. The following day access to the beach was impossible. An overnight deluge had widened and deepened the previously negotiable channel. There would be no beach walking today. It was the ideal time to socially-distance and hunker down with a good book beside a roaring fire in the resort’s Great Room. Unfortunately, their current guidelines prohibit the consumption of food or drink. It was sad to see this previously vibrant space devoid of guests, magazines, board games and chess sets.

By morning the storm had passed over but an eerie mist hovered over the coast and the sky remained overcast. We motored south to Ucluelet to discover The Wild Pacific Trail. From the parking lot, we could hear the haunting toll of a lighthouse warning bell, our constant companion on the trail. A few short steps brought us to the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse, named after the sea goddess and wife of Poseidon in Greek mythology. The original wooden lighthouse was built in 1906 but was replaced in 1915. On a nearby slope, local wildlife rangers staffed an educational presentation. Plaster cast imprints illustrated the difference between cougar, bear and wolf footprints. More scary though was leering expression on the preserved body of a large timber wolf. Once the park wardens assured us that we wouldn’t meet any such beasts today, we set out on the undulating 3 km. Lighthouse Loop Trail. Scenic vantage points providing superb views of the Pacific Ocean are conveniently situated at regular intervals. The footpath meanders past twisted cedars and moss-covered coastal spruce trees shaped into odd angles by continual exposure to fierce prevailing winds. A walk down a flight of steep wooden steps to Inspiration Point was too tempting to bypass. Three different viewpoints captured the essence of the scene with dramatic vistas of the wild and rocky Pacific coastline. Also worth exploring is the Woodland Bog Interpretive Loop, a picturesque elevated boardwalk encircling a sensitive cedar swamp area.

Vancouver Island

All too soon it’s time to return home. Despite a few inconveniences caused by the pandemic, it was a restorative few days. The area’s romantic isolation once again acted as sanctuary for the soul. What better memento to leave behind than two happy sets of footprints in the sand?

Photos, as ever, by David Grimble.

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