BIG Trees and Island Life Part 1 – Tofino, BC, Canada

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Boardwalk along the Big Tree Walk on Meares Island

It rained and rained all four days while I was exploring Tofino during the Easter long weekend. Normally rain wouldn’t translate into a fun vacation but since I was prepared and decked out head to toe in Gore-tex, I was free to roam the windy coasts while staying somewhat dry. The rain made the forests lush and colors more vivid, and seemed to deter the general crowd as on several trails it was just us and nature. The quiet peacefulness of island life, coupled with the most fresh and delicious food, equaled a very relaxing and fulfilling getaway.

Considering it was the long weekend we reserved the 6.30am ferry leaving Horseshoe bay for Nanaimo. The ferry ride is 1 hour and 40 minutes so by about 8am we were off heading towards Tofino using the Alberni highway. The road is relatively narrow, mostly one way so it’s not really a ‘highway’ but it’s a very scenic drive and you’ll notice the further inwards you go the larger the trees get. After about an hour of driving we came across MacMillan Provincial Park, so we parked on the side and crossed the road to the entrance of Cathedral Grove. My first taste of old growth forest.

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At the entrance of the Cathedral Trail

The Cathedral Trail is a short loop and easy walk that takes you through old growth forest and in just 15 minutes you will come across an 800 year old Douglas Fir if you take the Big Tree Trail.

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Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park

It really is amazing to see – you can’t know the sheer size and wonder without being there in person.

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800 year old Douglas Fir

For more information on Macmillan Provincial Park and the available trails you can visit their website here.

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Hanging moss in Cathedral Grove

We continued onwards and decided to stop in Port Alberni for lunch since the remainder of the drive to Tofino wouldn’t have any places to eat. Following the signs into town we came across this café called Swale Rock Cafe and I had a very tasty breakfast of farmers sausage, eggs and potatoes and their special ‘Fisherman’s Bread’ which was deep friend and so so good! I’m glad to have found a go-to refuel place and you can find them at 5328 Argyle St., Port Alberni.

With full stomachs the rest of the car ride was much more enjoyable and two hours later we found the Marina West Motel where we would be staying. Being a terrible navigator and always needing to use my GPS in new places, I was really happy that Tofino being such a small town you drive down the main road find places without any issue.

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You can’t miss the bright yellow barn style lobby building of Marina West

Check in is at 3pm and since it was only noon and knowing that heavy rain was in the weather forecast for the next 3 days, I thought it would be a good idea to go to Meares Island to do another but even more spectacular Big Tree Tail while the rain was light. It’s only 10 minutes to talk from Marina West to the town area and we found a water taxi service called Tofino Water Taxi to take us.

IMG_4741-2Dropped off and ready for our adventure!

I thought the 800 year old tree over at Cathedral Grove was big, but the trees on Meares Island are about 1000 – 1500 years old and they were BIG. The water taxi was only about a 10 minute ride and we were dropped off on a small pebble beach where the trailhead was.

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Heading inwards towards the trailhead

Once you hike inwards you’ll come across a boardwalk which is the start of the Big Tree Trail. This place is magical, and I’m not trying to be corny. Once you step foot on the boardwalk and you walk along it being towered over ancient trees and lush green forest there’s something very spiritual about the area; we didn’t see anyone else along the trail for the whole journey and the only sounds were our feet along the boardwalk and the patter of rain.

IMG_4758Entering the Big Trees Trail

The boardwalk part of the trail is not difficult though it can be a little slippery when wet. I was lucky to be wearing my Blundstones so my feet stayed dry for the boardwalk portion but we chose to continue past the boardwalk to hike the bigger loop and that was a very soggy experience. If you’re planning on hiking the full loop I would bring proper waterproof hikers or rain boots.

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Old boardwalk

The trail was built after the successful protest against potential logging on the island back in 1984 by the Nuu-chah-nult Tribe and I feel very honored to have been able to explore an area untouched by development. I hope more people visit this trail to see how beautiful nature is and understand how quickly, especially old growth forest, is all disappearing.

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Newer boardwalk

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I was leaning right against the tree trunk for this shot and you could fit another 3 people beside me!

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This is the steepest part of the boardwalk with a 30ft staircase – at least it’s going down and not up

Along the boardwalk are the Super Trees I’ll call them; the ones that are 1,000 years old or older. You’ll see a name next to these like the ‘Tree of Life’ below.

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The Big Tree Trail is about 1.5km and will take about 1 – 1.5hrs to complete. We chose to continue past the boardwalk for an additional 3k hike and that was when we really felt like we were in the wilderness. Our water taxi driver/guide informed us that as long as we keep turning right along any forks we come across, we’ll naturally come back to the beginning of the loop. There’s also multicolored tape along the trail to reassure you that you’re on the right path.

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Off the comforts of the boardwalk and into new muddy territory

This is where I mention things get soggy and it really does. The boardwalk elevates you above the forest floor so damage from foot traffic is minimal and your feet stay dry out of muddy pits. I felt a little bad trudging through pristine forest and realize that during the wetter seasons it’s better that not many people go off beyond the boardwalk. I also almost lost a boot to a hungry mud pit. I’m glad for the experience but if I do come back I’ll stick to the boardwalk unless it’s dry. It took us about 2.5hrs to do the whole trail and our progress was definitely slowed due to all the meandering we had to do – once we got back to the start my feet were quite damp.

IMG_4793On some lucky sections you get a makeshift trunk path to cross

IMG_4795Some wildlife we saw 🙂

We finished about 15 minutes earlier than the time we asked Tofino Water Taxi to come and pick us up so we hung around the pier and saw a kayaking group leaving the island – the guide had his dog with him at the back seat of his kayak, that was fun to see! If you’re one for kayaking, then you there’s many kayak tours to Meares Island and around Tofino.

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Old life giving new life

If you’re visiting Tofino Meares Island is definitely worth seeing for yourself. You’ll leave feeling amazed and invigorated with a newfound respect for ancient forest and nature. It costs $30 return by Tofino Water Taxi and there is a separate $5 trail fee which goes towards maintenance and other park projects. I hope to go back one day and hike up Lone Cone Mountain.

Tips:

  • Don’t forget to bring water and some food, especially if you’re planning on doing the longer hike. Luckily I had a big breakfast earlier as I did not expect to be going on a 2.5hr hike.
  • Wear your waterproofs! Rain boots or waterproof hiking boots, jacket and pants if rain is in the weather forecast. It does get very wet!
  • If you’re going past the boardwalk to do the longer hike always turn right if you reach any forks in the trail, and there is multicolored tape to reassure you that you’re on the right path.

This wraps up Part 1 which is dedicated to the Island’s Big Trees and old growth forests. Part 2 will mention good eats around Tofino, windy beach action, stormy seas and crashing waves! Stay tuned.

IMG_4794-2A drop of pink

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