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Blown away

Tofino resort lets you enjoy nature's wrath in comfort

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The wind was howling with gale force, the thundering waves were pounding against the rocks and the swell surge was something to behold. The sheer exhilaration of it all! It's truly an awe-inspiring spectacle.

For some, this may sound like a nightmare but, in Tofino, tourists pay big money to come and watch Mother Nature's wrath at its best. My sister, Johanne, and I were in pure heaven on this, our last day of complete relaxation at the Long Beach Lodge Resort. We bore witness to an endless beach transformed into a barren one, except for one or two brave... or, perhaps, crazy, surfers.

The lodge offers a front-row seat to this exciting phenomenon.

Wearing the prerequisite storm-watching garb -- long gum boots, heavy-duty rain jackets and bigger smiles -- we witnessed a storm like no other! All weekend, although the weather had called for rain and gusty conditions, we pretty much had beautiful weather. So, imagine our excitement when it suddenly turned blustery on the Sunday.

After walking along the beach, we returned to the warmth of the lodge, drenched but happy campers nonetheless. Perhaps camper isn't the right word, because at Long Beach Lodge Resort it's anything but camping. This is upscale casual luxury, which has already garnered the lodge an award for one of the top-three resorts in Canada at the 24th annual Conde Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards.

The resort is at Cox Bay, seven kilometres south of Tofino and, besides storm-watching, it's renowned as a world-class surfer paradise.

My sister and I had arrived on Friday afternoon.

After we picked up the keys to our stunning oceanfront room, we took in the Great Room. Truly, this space is aptly named. Staff told me the Great Room was designed to replicate the owner's own living room -- with floor-to-ceiling windows offering sweeping ocean views and clusters of weather-worn leather seating, as well as oversized chairs a la Ralph Lauren style -- just on a grander scale.

It's here in this gorgeous room, with its large stone fireplace, where meals are served and strangers chat over a cappuccino or play a game of chess by the roaring fire.

That night, we ate in the Great Room's dining area, which is adjacent and also offers sweeping views of the bay. I began with a bowl of steaming Long Beach Lodge seafood chowder and Johanne went for the crab and cucumber roulade with an avocado mousse and tomato fondue. Both were delightful.

For our main courses, it was a toss-up between the West Coast shellfish linguine or the tarragon oil poached local halibut; the halibut won out! It was beautifully presented with a lentil-stuffed smoked vine-ripened tomato and yellow pepper coulis. Johanne chose the peel-and-pull local spot prawns with Kennebec potato gaufrette. Both dishes were a seafood lover's dream.

The executive chef, 28-year-old Liam Paul, is bringing innovation and inspiration into the menu. The mostly self-taught chef took over the kitchen less than a year ago.

Liam emphasizes local, fresh and sustainable; many of the products, he told me, are sourced from local farmers, ranchers and fishermen.

Typically, my sister and I forgo dessert, but Liam insisted we try his homemade pumpkin ice cream. Oh, my, it was wickedly good.

After dinner, we met a young couple celebrating their first anniversary. We sat snuggled on the comfortable leather couch, fireside. They chatted about their upcoming inaugural surfing lesson the next morning.

Mornings, Johanne and I got up early, enjoyed a delicious buffet breakfast and then we would stroll the length of the beach for a good hour.

Saturday morning, Johanne and I decided to hike Meares Island. My sister hadn't been in two decades and remembered it as a beautifully forested trail. We walked into town (it's a good 45-minute brisk walk from the hotel), to Ocean Outfitters -- Tofino Adventure tours company to take a water taxi over to Meares Island.

The island was saved from being clear-cut back in 1984. The Tlaoquiaht Tribal Council declared the island a tribal park and thus was able to stop MacMillan Bloedel from logging the three-kilometre loop island.

We walked the Big Tree Trail, a 40-minute walk along the boardwalk, put up by the First Nations and the Friends of the Clayoquot Sound. Meares Island is home to huge cedars, some with girths up to 18 metres, as well as trumpeter swans, Canada geese, blue herons and bald eagles. According to Ocean Outfitters, the trees are anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 years old, making them some of the oldest and largest living life forms on Earth.

Even the water-taxi ride there and back was fun. Our guide regaled us with lots of interesting factoids about the surrounding islands and the history of Meares Island.

Long Beach Lodge Resort is one of the best places in Tofino I can think of to spend a dark and stormy night, bundled up in a cosy robe, in a bed that is so comfortable it's hard to leave.

P.S. If you prefer storm-watching from the comfort of your room, then alternatively wrap yourself in a blanket, grab a James Patterson novel from the bookshelves and watch the weather from a window seat.

P.S.S. The best storm-watching season runs from November to March.

-- Postmedia News

AT A GLANCE

Long Beach Lodge Resort, 1441 Pacific Rim Highway, Tofino, B.C., V0R 2Z0, (250) 725-2442, longbeachlodgeresort.com

The price of your room comes with a complimentary continental breakfast in the Great Room. There are 41 lodge rooms & 20 cabins/cottages

Accommodation pricing: Fall: $199-$319 Winter: $169-$279, pet-friendly

Ocean Outfitters, 5-421 Main St., Tofino, Toll free: 1-877-90-OCEAN

Website: oceanoutfitters.bc.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 4, 2012 D1

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