If stunning ocean views nestled against primeval forest on the edges of civilization sounds enticing, the Wickanininsh Inn in British Columbia's Tofino should be on your must-do list.
The Wick, as it is affectionately called, serves Champagne breakfasts while guests pensively drink in the roaring waves of the Pacific Ocean. This is the end of the earth or, at least, it feels like it. To get there, we flew to Vancouver, then took a tiny heart beater to Tofino, located on the far eastern coast of Vancouver Island. Our rental car awaited next to the aluminum portable building serving as the terminal and car rental facility. Down a winding road, then a right turn. Another mile or two along a two-laner, with the ocean on the right, watching for our turn.
Then there's the sign and we're there. Lush foliage, ferns stretching all directions, dark sky touching trees. And just beyond is the ocean. We can hear it as we peer through the thick forest with manicured edges.
Charles McDiarmid is the genial, polished owner of the Wick, which sits on property originally purchased by his father, who was the town doctor for years. Back then, the elder McDiarmid and all visitors arrived here by either boat or float plane; there were no roads. Dr. McDiarmid bought property along Chesterman Beach and watched as the community grew. Charles remembers discussions his family would have about one day building a hotel to showcase the magnificent views.
In 1996, the hotel opened. Three years ago, a second building with additional rooms opened. From every perspective, every detail was anticipated. Those early planning days involved skinnying up trees to see what guests would see from future second and third floor rooms. Today, those rooms look onto the vast ocean with huge black and brown rocks spilling onto the beach. The unceasing waves roll in; the moon rises high and white at night.
Storm watching is a big thing here – on the most eastern shores of North America, winter brings massive waves and rain to Tofino. “This is the best spot to watch storms from Mexico to Alaska,” McDiarmid says. While the electricity may go out, generators power most of The Wick within 15 seconds. “We have the romance of power outtages without the nuisances. The storm is raging. There is no power in the guest rooms but all the large areas have everything you would need,” he adds.
Colors, bed angles, the furnishings – everything was deliberately and thoughtfully planned. Guest rooms have candles, lush feather duvets, gas fireplaces, lovely balconies, heated bathroom floors and individual guest books. Messages written inside tell of former guests' enchantment with the Wick “Amazing honeymoon,” “Perfect place to celebrate my 50th birthday...our 25th anniversary... Christmas.”
'Rustic elegance on nature's edge' is the stated mission. “We wanted to bring the outside in,” our host says. “We want to bring together the old growth forest and the edge of the ocean. And we wanted to emphasize texture.” The slate floors are unguaged; each room has a natural bark table. The fireplace mantle is rough cut, with layers of coating, sanding, coating and a final coating. “It gives you texture but won't harm your cashmere,” McDiarmid assures.“We believe your stay in 30-40 percent a subconscious experience,” he adds.
Local artwork decorate the room; driftwood and art are liberally placed throughout the property. The boot closet near the Driftwood Lounge has a drain, along with a heater and a blower, so ocean water can be easily tipped from the yellow rubber boots provided to each guest. Not only is beach walking encouraged, so is hiking through the forest.
Ask for Gisele Martin to guide you through the area immediately surrounding the hotel or on a traditional dugout canoe tour. Martin is a First Nation member – her father is a canoe maker and her family has been living in the area for 10,000 years. A lovely young woman, she shares her love and deep respect for the land with visitors to Tofino.
The Wick's Ancient Cedars Spa is a treasure. Be sure to reserve a treatment in the private room, the Cedars Sanctuary, with doors opening onto the ocean. Not only is the view astounding, the massage is incredible.
The Wick is busiest in summer when world-famous salmon fishing draws hordes of tourists. Last summer, 1.8 million tourists arrived, nearly overwhelming the town.
The once-quiet logging and fishing village is now home to a hip surfing crowd who cater to the mostly well-heeled guests and staff Tofino's sophisticated dining establishments such as The Shelter, the Long Beach Lodge and the Wick's Pointe Restaurant. Tofino's struggle for identity has resulted in an eclectic downtown where art galleries abut bait shops and chi chi coffee bars share the sidewalks with boat repair barns. Ultimately, it is the outdoors that attracts both residents and visitors. Tourist chase the many species of fish that populate the waters: steelheads, rainbow trout, halibut and salmon. They also kayak, bear watch, hike, golf, and bird watch – some can't bear to leave so they buy homes. Beachfront land has doubled in value in the last few years. According to our waitress/jewelery maker/budding chef, a recent teardown with about 100 feet on the beach sold for $1.5 million Canadian dollars. Celebrities such as Jack Nicklaus, Sarah MacLachlan and Jason Priestly have bought homes in the area in recent years. Priestly chose Ucluelet, an even smaller fishing village 25 miles south.
Over dinner, McDairmid tells us about the best travelers - “Italians and Texans are the best groups to host. They travel to have a good time and they never forget they're on a vacation.” While The Wick provides the ultimate in romance, comfort and attention to detail, McDiarmid's eyebrow arches as he smiles and says, “Nature is still in charge here.” Thank goodness.
The Wickaninnish Inn is located on Vancouver Island's rugged west coast. It is situated at the gateway to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on the Clayoquot Sound. It is surrounded by the ocean with an old growth forest in the background, the Inn offers panoramic views of the open Pacific, nearby islands and the natural sweep of spectacular Chesterman Beach. Call 1-800-333-4604 or visit www.wickinn.com. The Inn offers rooms and suites ranging in price from $260 - $1300 and the staff will assist in making transportation, dining and activity arrangements.
(This article was originally published on 3/21/07)