"We could have stayed all day in this heaven of a place with brown bears eating salmon and bald eagles soaring over head..."
STORY BY Rebecca Nimerfroh PHOTOGRAPHY BY Jonathan Nimerfroh
People told us that it rains in Tofino, the funky surf community on the western side of Vancouver Island, more than almost any other place on earth. They said to bring rubber rain gear because Gortex is “just a funny thing that tourists wear.” We crossed the North American Continent with our rubber wellies and raincoats in tow, only to be pleasantly surprised by sunshine and a milder climate than we had left at home. When the occasional rain shower did occur, it moved swiftly, leaving the sky streaked with rainbows.
The first thing we chose to do upon our arrival in Tofino, naturally, was find surf. Luckily it was Chesterman’s, the very beach on which we were staying that offered a perfect variety of waves, both large and small. A strip of land called Frank’s Island separates the north and south sections and creates a perfect cove for long boarding, but if you yearn for larger waves you can opt to go straight out on either end, and there on the glistening horizon you can wave slide the Pacific until the sun sets behind you.
After our surf session, we followed the Pacific Rim Highway to town, a quaint little village full of trinket shops, restaurants and whale-watching excursions. The town descends down a hill to the harbor and we found ourselves a spot there, catching the sun just as it went down, lighting the sky in a bright, hot pink. We walked out on the town pier, along the fishing boats docked there. The occasional sea plane cascaded through our view, causing a wake of the boats around us. We lingered there, and as the pink sky faded to a darkened blue we could only think one thing: it was cocktail time.
Bellied up to the bar at Tofino Brewery, my husband, Jonathan, and I ordered the Kelp Stout and chatted with the friendly bartender about local life. Being the shoulder season we were the only tourists around, and it seemed as thought there was a true sense of happiness in the air. After a long and busy summer, these Tofitians had this majestic and expansive natural playground to themselves again, although I believe any of them would tell you there is always plenty of Tofino to go around.
I had read in our guidebook that seeing Tofino by air was a sight not to be missed, so when we found a local business offering helicopter tours we were thrilled. We excitedly elected the tour which takes you to a remote river for salmon and bear watching, and with the propeller rumbling loudly over our heads, we lifted off the ground, swooping over trees and quickly up and away from mountainous ridges covered with pine. After a quick and breathtaking ten minute ride providing pristine coastal vistas, we began to lower into a forest, and that is when I spotted the bald eagles. There were four of them, soaring around us, so close I could see their faces. We soared with them, cascading through the air. We lowered more, away from them, and down we gently landed onto a rocky river bank. With the propeller now safely stopped, we exited, and quietly we walked over large rocks to an easy-flowing river. Looking in the river, we could see slow moving fish, Cohoe salmon that had come here to spawn and die. “There’s a bear,” the helicopter pilot said, and we looked downstream where a brown bear emerged from behind a down tree. “I know your first intention is to run towards him,” he said, which I found both funny and true. “If we’re lucky,” he said, “we’ll see him fish.”
The bear lazily climbed over the tree and spotted us then, pausing for a moment to shrug and then continue on, waddling toward the riverbank. Suddenly he plopped his body down into the stream and emerged with a crimson Cohoe in between his jaws. At our feet, as we shot an endless amount of pictures, fully-intact fish skeletons were strewn about, collecting flies on the rocks. It was clear this bear was at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
We could have stayed all day in this heaven of a place with brown bears eating salmon and bald eagles soaring over head, but the sun was getting low in the sky. We boarded the helicopter once more, and, making our way back to the airport, flew over Long beach, another of Tofino’s best surf spots, offering long, rideable waves that flow into the shore in perfectly white crested lines.
When I had heard about an island bordering Tofino that had been solely used as an early settler’s burial ground, I was determined to see it for myself, so Jonathan and I piled into kayaks and paddled across the black harbor water, hurrying across open areas frequently used as landing strips by sea planes, and eventually made our way to Morpheus Island, a forested peak with a tiny pebbled beach. We docked there, pulled our kayaks up to shore, and as it finally started to rain for the first time during our trip, we followed a slick tree-rooted trail to a clearing full of old, decrepit graves. Most of the stones were slanted with time, trees and vines growing wildly about. We tried not to step directly on any still-soft mounds, although the last burial here was back in the 1950’s. The rain stopped, and with a rainbow stretched over our heads we climbed back into our kayaks and paddled back to the harbor.
We were lucky enough to have a full moon during the week of our stay, and on that particular night we found ourselves at 8 pm with no plans for dinner. We set out from our rental on foot, down the moonlit road to The Wickaninnish Inn, a restaurant located on the far tip of North Chesterman’s beach. Upon entering the inn, we were quickly led to what I assume was their best table, right in front of a wall of windows looking out onto the beach. Although it was dark, in the moonlight we could easily see the wild ocean crashing onto rocks below. We watched in awe, and our friendly waiter served us baked oysters, a Vancouver Island specialty, along with perfectly shaken dirty martinis. Needless to say, it was an amazing meal.
Perhaps it was the full moon, or perhaps it was those martinis, but we decided to stop at the beach on our walk home. It was high tide and we felt alive as we watched the high water swirl in the moonlight, the deafening noise from the crash of the waves in the close distance filling our senses. We knew that eventually, inevitably, our trip would soon come to an end. It would be almost painful to leave behind Tofino, a place with still so many secrets for us to discover. But in reality, I don’t believe you ever leave Tofino. I think you take it with you.
Surf and lifestyle photographer Jonathan Nimerfroh's "Slurpee Wave" photos recently became a viral internet sensation. Jonathan lives year round on Nantucket and is the owner of three photography businesses; JDN PHOTOGRAPHY, Nantucket Salt and Runaway Bride Nantucket. To view Jonathan's complete portfolio, visit www.jdnphotography.com or follow on instagram @jdnphotography.
Rebecca Nimerfroh is a writer and lives with her husband Jonathan on Nantucket year-round. For more of Rebecca's work visit www.rebeccanimerfroh.com or follow on Instagram @rebeccanimerfroh.