Tofino, a place of haunting beauty: where tall, dark, brooding evergreen forests beckon, violent winds stir up the endless expanse of ocean, and thick, grey fog seeps into the earth’s soul. In winter, it is a dark place. With nothing but violent seas between the sand at your feet and Japan in the distance, with no one but local Islanders to seek refuge around a warm campfire with, and no where to really go but the endless beaches with their towering waves, Tofino tells of a wild, bygone past. Yet it is in this, that one can find the haven that is the Wickanninish Inn. A Relais & Chateaux property since 1997, this 5 star property lies embedded in the rugged, natural surroundings of Tofino, combining perfectly the wilderness of the Pacific North West with the elegance of the 5 star experience it emanates.
At the very North Western tip of the beautiful part of the world that is the Pacific North West, lies luscious, vibrant Vancouver Island. On the very tip of this paradisiacal place, lies the tiny surfer-haven town of Tofino. Grown from within the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations territories, and nestled in the heart of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Tofino has become renowned as one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Offering year-round surfing, wild storm watching, communal campfires on the beach and ancient forests, Tofino tells of Canada at its very finest.
The Wickaninnish Inn, managed by the McDiarmid family of Tofino, can be found on beautiful Chesterman Beach, a vast, sandy expanse cocooned by towering Western Red Cedars and Sitka Spruce trees. The beach is accessible directly from the hotel, and every one of the 75 rooms has a view onto the ocean. There is over 720 sq ft of meeting/banquet rooms (accommodating up to 60 people), a large restaurant named Pointe seating 75 people, and a full-service spa named Ancient Cedars. The Beach building houses an excellent fully-equipped gym, a Lookout Library with an epic view as well as endless books, puzzles and trinkets (including original copies of George Vancouver’s expedition), and, lastly, a gallery (the Henra Nolla) with carefully curated local artists displayed. The older and original Pointe building (from 1955) houses the Pointe Restaurant and Ancient Cedars Spa, where treatments are inspired by local First Nations and local ingredients like seaweed and sea salt. For coffees, drinks and light meals, the beach directly outside the hotel houses a cute little restaurant café called the Carving Shed. Perfect for romance, weddings, and celebrations, the hotel is prepared for large bookings and intimate couple breaks alike.
It is the Wickaninnish’s attention to detail, however, that makes it the luxury destination that it is. Each oceanfront room is up to AAA/CAA Five Diamond standards, greeting guests with a wide window view onto the ocean, warming gas fireplace, huge soaker tub with beautiful bath-salts at the ready, lovely local art lining the walls, fantastic custom-designed furniture from driftwood, television, kitchenette, and a private balcony. The rooms are large and spacious, welcoming you with a warming drink of complimentary port in a beautiful crystal decanter. The bathroom is extensive, featuring two sinks and a walk in shower as well as the soaker tub and view onto the ocean. As with the rest of the hotel, natural materials fill the rooms, giving them the wonderfully rustic elegance that the Wickaninnish is renowned for.
Further, and exceeding any expectations, each room comes with unique Tofino-esque features: there are the giant, oversized orange Helly Hanson waterproofs and wellington boots in the cupboard waiting to be donned before hitting the Winter storms outside, water bottles, binoculars and backpack to take with you, and thick Hudsons Bay throws ready to wrap around you on return. Turn-down service welcomes you in after dinner with gentle music (think: Michael Bublé) playing softly from the sound system, and water on hand to stave off that looming hangover after indulging at Pointe. The staff leave a kind note in the morning which includes weather conditions, sunset and sunrise timings, as well as activities for the day. The maids sign off their names and leave greetings. It is these little touches ensuring each guest feels truly cared for, the wild west coast feels suddenly all the more welcoming.
The Wick’s service at large, continues in this, quite literally delightful, vein. The front-of-house staff are exceptionally well-informed on their guests, greeting them with enthusiasm and genuine recognition. They know Tofino inside out and have a plethora of recommendations, contacts, and advice on where to go and what to see. The Wick does not offer any of its own tours, so as to not detract from local businesses, adding a further layer of care to the overall experience.
We chose to wake early after our first night’s deep sleep at the Wick. Setting our alarms for 4.30am, we woke to catch that magical moment that lies in the liminal space between night and dawn, when the Milky way is visible and the rest of the world sleeps. Wrapped up in our Helly Hanson jackets, wellington boots donned, we walked into the lobby area to find coffees ready for eccentric guests like us to take with us to the beach. The air was silent but the crashing of the waves, and the sky, embellished with twinkling constellations, was one of the finest that I have ever seen. Mesmerised, we walked across the beach and watched Venus disappear as the sun quietly rose over the tall trees, bathing them in a pink misty glow.
After returning to the hotel for breakfast and a bath, I prepared for my first-ever surfing experience as recommended by the Wick, with local company Surf Sister. Located nearly in the heart of Tofino town, further North than the Wick, the team have over 100 years of combined surf experience, rendering them the perfect instructors for my lesson. As a 3 hour lesson (and costing just $89+tax!) the surfing itself took place on a specific beach South of the Wick, known for its regular and dependable waves and lack of rip-currents. And, despite the November cold, the sun shone down on me that morning and the wet-suit kept me wonderfully warm. It was fantastic fun.
I returned to the Wick, energised and invigorated, to warm up by reclining in the large soaker tub with a glass of wine and bath salts. Hours passed with my gazing at the ocean outside from the bay window, immersing me in an afternoon that, alone, was enough to make the trip worth it. Resting in the room, it became clear that the Wick really is a place of rustic elegance on nature’s edge.
With its 5 star luxury set on panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Chesterman Beach, soothing smells of fresh salt air, and rhythmic background lull of crashing ocean waves below, the Wickaninnish delivers an experience like none other. It is one that you must, and should experience, if you can. You won’t be disappointed.
500 Osprey Lane