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First Time Visit to Tofino Lives Up to Hype -Postcard Perfect Long Beach Breathtaking During our drive from Nanaimo to Tofino along the Pacific Rim Highway near the end of March, it could not have rained harder. I hoped the torrential downpour wasn't a sign of the weekend to come, but magically as we pulled into Tofino, the sun came out and the sky turned a glorious shade of blue. In fact, the weather became so nice that after checking into our room at the Wickaninnish Inn, we sat out on our balcony in bare feet and short sleeves watching the waves crashing on the rocks below us until the sun finally set. This was my first visit to Tofino and until then, the breathtaking surf and scenery was simply something made of legend. Sure, I'd seen the pictures taken by friends and family, but those digital images paled in comparison to the broiling surf and blue-grey ocean below us that evening. On the drive from Nanaimo, we stopped at the Coombs Country Market in Coombs and stocked up on local cheese, meat and a loaf of fresh bread. Tired from our long trip that day, we decided to stay in and enjoy the stone fireplace in our room with a glass of wine. Even with our glass balcony door closed we could still hear the surf below us and combined with our roaring fire, I knew then why luxury hotel and spa magazine Conde Nast Johansens (an offshoot of Conde Nast) readers voted the Wickaninnish as the "Most Excellent Romantic Hideaway in North America for 2010." The next day we headed to Radar Hill just down the highway in Pacific Rim National Park. My partner is a huge Canadian history buff, so he was anxious to check out the Kap'yong Memorial, which honours the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry that served during the Korean War. When we stopped at the bottom of the hill to buy a park pass, about $16 for two people, we couldn't help but notice three separate posters on the bulletin board warning of bear, cougar and wolf sightings. We then drove up to the parking lot at the foot of the memorial and saw more warning posters on the bulletin board there. Now bears and cougars I could understand, but wolves were never on my radar when it came to animals we might have to avoid. With no other vehicle in the parking lot and my bear bell back home in Vancouver, we decided to pass on the walk through the woods to the memorial and head straight to Long Beach. It was at Long Beach that all of the photos I'd ever seen of Tofino came to life. The vista was stunning and again, despite rain warnings for the entire weekend, the sun came out turning the ocean into a sparkling backdrop to the expansive beach. We walked the beach for a while, but then it was back to Tofino for whale watching. I was surprised at how many people were also joining us at Jamie's Whaling Station that cool crisp afternoon as we all piled onto the 65-foot Leviathan II. We could have enjoyed our tour in a much smaller Zodiac, but we decided for this trip we'd take the bigger boat. With the sun shining, we all took seats on the top of the boat and with the wind blowing in our faces, headed out across Clayoquot and Barkley sounds. Our guide provided us with some history of the area while keeping a sharp eye out for the grey and humpback whales we hoped to spot that day. It being early in the season, I wasn't expecting large numbers, but we did follow the course of one grey whale, while spotting the spray from several others. Along the way we also spotted a number of nesting eagles and large groups of sea lions. About two hours into our three-hour tour, the wind picked up a bit and the temperature dropped, which was the perfect excuse to go below and enjoy steaming cups of hot chocolate. Mooring back in Tofino, we headed home to the Wickaninnish and once again warmed up in front of the fireplace as we got ready for dinner. We had heard over and over again that a trip to the Wickaninnish was not complete without dinner at The Pointe Restaurant, so we decided it was a must on our list of things to do during our too-short weekend. And I have to say dinner was everything we could ever have imagined. It's not inexpensive--dinner with one drink and a bottle of wine was close to $250 with tip, but we decided later it was worth every penny, particularly the appetizer we shared of local fresh-shucked oysters with mandarin orange sorbet. We discovered dining out pretty much anywhere in Tofino is pricey. I'm sure the locals and regulars must have places where they eat and drink that are more affordable, but as first-timers we pretty much stuck to the main drag, which translated to about $50 for brunch and the sky is the limit for dinner. The upside is the area is known for its local ingredients and fresh seafood. Getting there: We took B.C. Ferries from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo and then followed the Pacific Rim Highway to Tofino. The trip can take between two and three hours, but give yourself lots of time. We took more than four hours because of our stop in Coombs, which is worth the visit, and a late lunch in Port Alberni. We had heard that Cecilia's Deli and Caf on the waterfront sells a mean fish chowder and we weren't disappointed. You also want to give yourself enough time either on the way to Tofino, or the way back, to stop at Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park. The old-growth forest is awe-inspiring with its Douglas fir and red cedar trees, some more than 800-years old. One of the oldest Douglas fir trees in the park is more than nine-metres in diameter. sthomas@vancourier.com © Vancouver Courier 2010