Gulf Islands Adventure: Tofino

Gulf Islands

From Tofino at Mile 1 of the Trans Canada Highway, to Saltspring Island and the manicured landscape of Victoria, it’s all “peace and love, man.”

It was raining when I arrived in Vancouver, and the showers continued relentlessly. Would Orca Airways take off from CYVR to Tofino? Would B.C. Ferries budge from their docks? Yes indeed. From mile one of the Trans Canada Highway in Tofino, to the artisanal enclave of Saltspring, to the manicured landscape of Victoria, the rainfall varied from downpour to drizzle. It may have slackened off for an hour or two, but always returned with a merciless tenacity to do the right thing: To keep the west coast green. And yet, this is a good thing. They call it liquid sunshine. There is a freshness and sprightliness in the air that exists nowhere else.

Planes, boats and automobiles. That’s the way to get the biggest bang from an island adventure. B.C. Ferries transports us and our car from Tsawwassen Terminal in Vancouver to Swartz Bay in Victoria, comfortably. I feel like I’m in a floating cafeteria. It’s a new experience for me, to drive smoothly off of the ferry and into Victoria, and head for The Oak Bay Beach Hotel.

I had been looking forward to exploring Victoria, and I see that much has changed since my last visit quite a few decades ago. The handsome new Oak Bay Beach Hotel was rebuilt on the original grounds of the old hotel, circa 1927. After a day of traveling, my luxurious room with its fireplace and large spa bathroom offers a cozy welcome. It is our HQ for our tour of discovery.

Afternoon tea is part of the culinary landscape of Victoria. In the oldest Chinatown in Canada, we pause at Daniela Cubelic’s pretty emporium, the Silk Road Aromatherapy & Tea Company. A student of Chinese Tea Masters and Herbalists, she has recently expanded to include a tea tasting bar. An informal tea tasting with an educational component adds to the pleasure. Refreshed, we head for the Dutch Bakery & Diner and coffee shop, a family establishment since the 50s, to admire and sample their special chocolates and hand made pastries. On to Hilary’s Cheese shop to admire her local cheeses and vast selection of cheeses of the world. Olive Oil and Balsamic are treated with respect at Olive the Senses. It’s a family recipe that comes from the Marche region of Italy, and here, it is hand bottled and presented with love. Choux Choux lends itself to having its name repeated twice. It’s said that at this quaint and busy outpost of France, the pate is twice as good as elsewhere. Ambitions run high while the cost of grazing along Fort Street remains low.

Tasting and nibbling all day has given us an appetite for dinner which, tonight, is at an award winner. If the question is, “What is the traditional Victoria restaurant?” the answer is, “Stage Small Plates Wine Bar.” Since we’re not in the market for a classic three course dinner, clearly we have come to the right place. Duck confit, crispy octopus, made-in-house sausage. And of course, there are the appropriate wines to match each tapas offering. It’s a non-intimidating environment, with brick walls, floors of reclaimed wood and hanging candles. We linger and have a little cheese to finish the wine, and then a little more wine to finish the cheese.

Breakfast comes bright and early at Kates Café at the Oak Bay. The original hotel entrance and several hand-hewn beams have been reclaimed. When you can smell the aroma of fresh baked bread, the message is that breakfast will be praiseworthy.

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