H.E. Lynn McDonald, the High Commissioner of Canada to Singapore, appeared in The Straits Times in their Travel Black Book Ambassadors Series where ambassadors provide an insider's guide to their favourite destinations.
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.
The House of Himwitsa 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.
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. The Great Room in Long Beach Lodge Resort 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.
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.
There are many good places to eat in Tofino. One restaurant that consistently wins top reviews is Wolf In The Fog. 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 serves fish and chips and fish tacos made from fish caught locally.
One of my favourite hidden gems is Driftwood cafe in Wickaninnish Inn. 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 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.
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 here.
The annual Clayoquot Oyster Festival 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 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.
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.
Pacific Sands Beach Resort, 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 and Middle Beach Resort, or try a private rental booked through My Tofino.
Read more on: http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/travel/eye-on-the-storm