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March 12, 2017, Tofino,Vancouver Island, Canada

Eye on the storm

The best of home: Ambassadors to Singapore provide an insider's guide to their favourite destinations. One popular activity in Tofino, a town on Vancouver Island, is watching the dramatic storms in winter

Lydia Vasko

Favourite destination in Canada: Tofino, a town on the west coast of Vancouver Island for the incredible scenery, outdoor activities and delicious food.

Locals and visitors go there for the outdoors, to sample locally sourced food, as well as enjoy the scenery and the arts scene.

Kids love the long sandy beaches and surf lessons, couples go for romantic weekends and visitors from abroad get a true taste of the Canadian west coast.

Every time my family and I go back to Canada, about once a year, we try to take a few days to explore Vancouver Island, including Tofino, where I've been going since I was a child.

SEE

The House of Himwitsa (www.himwitsa.com) is an art gallery that specialises in First Nations (Canada's indigenous population) art.

The masks, carvings and jewellery are made by the region's First Nations artists and the gallery owners are First Nations people too.

They also operate a lodge and a smoked fish shop which sells different flavours of smoked wild Pacific salmon (C$8, or S$8.41, for 100g).

The Great Room in Long Beach Lodge resort (www.longbeachlodgeresort.com) is fantastic for people watching, complete with cosy couches, romantic little tables and an enormous fireplace. Here, you can watch the surfers on the waves outside.

One of my favourite local gems is Tonquin beach, a little beach in the woods past town. You can get there via an easy 15-minute walking trail through Pacific rainforest, where you may spot bears, wolves, huge ravens and bald eagles.

Tofino is also known for winter storm watching.

The storms, which roll in from November to February, are very dramatic with large waves crashing onto the rocks.

Many of the seaside lodges have rooms with panoramic views of the sea. A popular winter activity is to relax near a log fire in front of the large windows in one of these rooms and watch the storm gathering outside.

EAT

There are many good places to eat in Tofino.

One restaurant that consistently wins top reviews is Wolf In The Fog (www.wolfinthefog.com). It has a cosy ambience and amazing seafood platters.

There are lots of great Canadian wines on the menu as well.

The food menu - which highlights locally foraged and fished produce - changes with the season, but oysters are always a good bet. A meal here costs about C$50 a person, not including alcohol.

Stop by the Live To Surf compound, a cluster of food trucks and stores.

Chocolate Tofino, the area's famous sweets shop, has chocolates and gelato that are handmade daily using local organic ingredients. Wildside Grill (www.wildsidegrill.com) serves fish and chips and fish tacos made from fish caught locally.

One of my favourite hidden gems is Driftwood cafe in Wickaninnish Inn (www.wickinn.com). The view from the cafe, which is almost right on top of the beach, is amazing.

You cannot leave Tofino without trying the oysters.

There are many varieties found in the province of British Columbia, each with a unique flavour profile. The local website www.bcoysterguide.com provides a comprehensive description of the types and where to sample them.

Tofino restaurants generally stock a range of local oysters. Prices vary, but a freshly shucked oyster is usually C$3.

More adventurous types should try the gooseneck barnacles, also known as percebes.

They are crustaceans that grow on the rocks off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Some of the best are found near the entrance to Clayoquot Sound, about a 15-minute boat ride from Tofino.

Considered a delicacy, the best gooseneck barnacles are found on rocks in the pounding waves.

They look like chicken feet or small sea slugs with sharp beaks at the end, but they are delicious. Their flavour is a bit like crab or a cross between lobster and clam.

PLAY

Tofino is famous for its outdoor activities: fishing, hiking, kayaking, whale watching, bear watching and surfing.

It is Canada's surf capital, with 35km of surfable beach break and year-round waves.

There are plenty of beaches for both seasoned surfers and beginners and there are a few surf schools.

Keep in mind that the water is cold - about 10 deg C - but with a wetsuit and booties, one can surf throughout the year.

If you prefer a warmer activity, take a trip up the coast to Hot Springs Cove and soak in the geothermal springs at Maquinna Provincial Park.

The springs are accessible only by boat or sea plane, followed by a 30-minute walk on a trail through forest.

One can also take a day trip to Meares Island, about a 10-minute water taxi ride from Tofino.

It is a beautiful island jointly administered by the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations tribes where visitors can hike the Big Tree Trail, walking alongside towering cedar trees.

The trees, some up to 18m in girth, are 1,000 to 1,500 years old, making them among the oldest and largest living life forms on earth.

Travelling to Meares with a local tour guide is recommended. You can find one - along with information on other nearby hiking trails - at www.tourismtofino.com/trails.

The annual Clayoquot Oyster Festival (oystergala.com) is held on the third week of November to celebrate the beginning of Clayoquot Sound's oyster harvest, which produces about 190,000 litres of oysters every year.

The Pacific Rim Whale Festival (www.pacificrimwhalefestival.com) is another popular event, held in March every year in honour of the gray whale.

Mother whales and their calves migrate past Tofino, up from the Baja Peninsula on their way to the Arctic seas around Alaska, from February to early April.

Their 16,000km to 22,000km journey is the longest mammal migration in the world.

SHOP

Keep an eye out for local artists exhibiting their work for sale in local cafes and restaurants.

One should also definitely bring back one of the many types of vacuum-packed smoked salmon.

STAY

Pacific Sands Beach Resort (www.pacificsands.com), an eco- resort located along the beach of the spectacular Cox Bay on Vancouver Island, has suites and beach houses which open right onto the sand.

Other good choices are the Wickaninnish Inn (www.wickinn.com) and Middle Beach Resort (www.middlebeach.com), or try a private rental booked through www.mytofino.com.

Getting there

First, head to Vancouver. From Singapore, the fastest route is via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific. Then fly directly from Vancouver to Tofino on Orca Air (www.flyorcaair.com), which takes one hour.

Most visitors, however, travel by BC Ferries (www.bcferries.com) from Horseshoe Bay Terminal in West Vancouver to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, about a 11/2-hour ferry ride.

They can then take a beautiful three- to four-hour drive across the island through Parksville city and Pacific Rim National Park to Tofino.

Tips

• Ideally, stay at least three or four nights in Tofino.

• When researching your trip, some useful sites to visit are www.hellobc.com, www.tourismtofino.com and www.tofinobc.com

• Also read The Sea Among Us, edited by Richard Beamish and Gordon McFarlane, which is about the history and marine life of the Strait of Georgia, the sea between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland.

• Bring some warm-weather and waterproof clothing as it can get wet on the west coast.

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