For a romantic island getaway, my husband and I packed all the essentials. Raincoat? Check. Hunter Wellies? Check. Sturdy umbrella? Check. A tropical Caribbean island was not, as you can imagine, in our itinerary. Neither was getting sunburned. Instead of palm trees and piña coladas we were looking forward to pelting rain, crashing surf and a blazing fireplace. Indeed, we were hoping for the worst possible weather.
While locals of the quaint town of Tofino have been watching and surviving winter storms for decades, only in recent years has Vancouver Island’s rugged west coast been attracting a new breed of tourists: storm watchers. Every winter, ferocious waves roll in from Japan and pound the rocky headlands, hurling themselves up on the pristine beach with astounding force. It’s the idea of witnessing this spectacular show by Mother Earth that lures us to the Wickaninnish Inn. (Back in the mid-nineties “The Wick” became the first resort to come up with a Storm Watchers package.) After checking in at the inn, which sits within a UNESCO biosphere reserve on land that has been inhabited by the First Nations people for thousands of years, we bundle up and, donning our raingear, we venture out for a stroll on Chesterman beach, right outside the inn’s back door.
Outside, the sky is a mercurial gray and the ocean a scrambled cobalt blue. With the Pacific gale chilling us to the bone, we don’t make it very far during our swift walk. We do, however, manage to stop for pictures, taking turns to pose with the crashing waves behind our backs. Back at the inn we stop to warm up at the Driftwood Coffee Lounge, where some of the cozy furniture is made from washed-up wood (a weathered tree root supports a glass tabletop in one corner; stones from the beach hold up books on a shelf). A boot dryer takes care of our frozen feet and hot cocoa by the crackling fireplace takes care of the rest.
Every year, ferocious waves roll in from Japan and pound the rocky headlands, hurling themselves up on the pristine beach with astounding force
That evening we score a table by the window at the Pointe, the inn’s award-winning restaurant where wrap-around windows offer 240-degree views of the ocean and discreetly positioned speakers pipe in the sound of the crashing waves. We are so mesmerized by the roaring sea that we hardly know what to order when the waiter comes to our table—for the second time. He recommends we start with a grilled octopus salad, which we follow with a delish seared Pacific halibut with citrus potato puree.
The next morning after an invigorating yoga session at the spa, we order room service and, wrapped in a Hudson’s Bay blanket that we pulled out from the closet, we sit in our suite’s balcony. The weather report calls for more rain. And as we sip our cappuccinos and watch for eagles and whales in the distance, it occurs to US that there’s something to this storm watching phenomenon after all.