Beyond The Surf

Story & photos © Elise Mallory
Tofino feels like it is on the edge of the world. Like if you drive through the quaint, enclosed town and just keep going you will eventually tip off the end of the map into oblivion. Once you drive through the pass just beyond Port Alberni and begin snaking along the coastline, going through what we call the ‘angry 30s’ (those 30km/hr traffic signs that are serious about you going 30km/hr or else your car is getting a little personal with the concrete barriers separating you and the end of it all), and you feel like you cannot possibly get further along the rugged west coast by car, you come to Tofino.

I first started making my way to Tofino to explore its surf. I didn’t do much else in the town except set up camp off a nearby logging road and make my way to and from the beach. I would throw myself into anything the ocean could offer as long as I could be on my board– you tend to do this before gaining a little experience in recognizing the moody nature of the Pacific Ocean and the fact that not every day is a good surf day! But with time comes an ability to recognize when there is just not going to be any harmonization between you, your board and the water, and it was on one of these days that I decided to expand my experience of Tofino and explore more of the wilderness this town can offer.

On this particular trip, my surfing partner and I were joined by another couple who were equally as interested in exploring other things Tofino could offer the more budget-conscience explorer. This threw out any whale watching tours, hot springs or zodiac adventures but left another excursion that seems equally as enticing – Meares Island. We were interested in this Island because it boasted having some of the tallest trees of British Columbia and it was a mere $30 boat trip away.

It is easy to find a ride over to this island. We just went to one of the local sightseeing establishments to inquire on the departure time (10:00am) and length of the journey (15min boat ride there, an hour and a half to explore the island, and a 30-45min tour back), and we were set. The morning of our tour we were led down to the dock by our captain, and local guru extraordinaire, Dennis. He ushered the four of us onto his older fishing boat which had been recently re-painted into a variety of bright yellow, red and green designs to reflect his Buddhist spiritual leanings. As we exited Tofino harbour, enjoying the warm sun reflecting off the vibrant red interior of the boat’s bow and petting the trusty Labrador who accompanies the captain on every tour he runs, we were entertained not only by the exhaustingly beautiful natural environment around us, but also by a selection of stories, legends and facts offered by an extremely talkative Dennis. By the time we slowly putted out of the Tofino harbour and gracefully bumped into the rocky shore of Meares Island, I felt like had a new understanding of the history of Tofino and its peoples.

Once we all departed the boat (including the dog whose sole mission was to accompany us and keep us on the trail), Dennis waved goodbye with the promise to pick us up in an hour and a half. The trail to the large trees is impossible to miss. Natives from Opitsaht, the main village of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations located further down the island, have built a wooden walkway that they maintain on a regular basis; this makes it quite an accessible and easy trek through what would normally be a dense, tangled environment – but don’t let the pedestrian nature of this hike stop you from coming to Meares Island, what you will find here is beyond extraordinary.

After a brief 15 minute walk down the trail you come upon the first tree and you feel like you are viewing something so far beyond our understanding of the natural world, that if you were to come across a skeleton of an animal long extinct, you can only try to imagine what the world would have been like to have such creatures roaming about. All four of us were able to stand comfortably within its hollowed base and just marvel in its existence. And this was just the beginning. As we wandered further down the trail we were met by even larger red cedars. They towered towards the sky and made it impossible for me and my surf partner, with arms outstretched, to reach even a quarter of the way around their mighty circumferences.

The ocean has always had a way of making me better understand and respect the power of the nature, but these trees added a completely new element to this reverence. As I stood beside their enormous presence, I felt like I was witnessing one of the best examples of nature’s quiet creativity. Hundreds and hundreds of years of energy was poured into the creation of these trees and slowly, silently, they have grown to stand in these woods as the ancient survivors of a different time.

The trail came to an end at one of the most spectacular trees of our journey. It was not necessarily the biggest of the trees we had seen, but it was the most awe-inspiring. It is called the Garden Tree. The tree itself is dead, but in its death it has supported new growths that hang off the sides of the tree, wrap their roots around its corpse, and drape elegantly towards its base. Everywhere you looked there seemed to be a new plant growing off of this hollowed tree. As we stared up at this vertical garden we all were wondering how exactly one little tree about 20 feet up was going to grow, or for that matter how it even planted its roots so far up, but it seemed to have no problem thriving on the side of this dead tree, living off the rejuvenating nature of the environment.

As we wandered back to the rocky shore where Dennis was waiting to pick us up, we all were a little quieter; trying to absorb our surroundings as much as possible before heading back to Tofino. Our boat trip back was entertained again by Dennis’ endless stories about the area but all our minds were still reflecting on our experience of Meares Island.

The next time you are in Tofino, and the surf is less than perfect, make the short trip over to Meares Island and experience yet another example of the vast majesty of our West Coast.