A small community on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino is a nature lover’s paradise, characterized by remote beaches, ancient rainforests and a passionate surf culture. Photographer Olivia Van Dyke has done what many dream of doing, leaving the city behind to make the charming pacific northwest surf town her home. Drawn there by love, and her appreciation for and connection to nature, Tofino is the perfect backdrop for the photographer who loves to capture the essence of the feminine archetype in its purest form—in nature. Read on as Olivia shares her Tofino essentials and the town’s best kept secrets including where to hike, surf and take in the destination’s awe-inspiring natural beauty.
Describe Tofino in three words or less.
Wild, beautiful and serene.
What led you to leave the city and move to Tofino?
Love. I visited Tofino on a surf trip with some girlfriends in 2017, met a boy and couldn’t stay away. I grew up in nature so I naturally felt an affinity for the lifestyle in Tofino, it immediately felt like home. I’d ferry and drive across island every week(end) in a row for months. I lived in Vancouver at the time but as time went on my trips to the island became longer and longer and before I knew it I was living part-time between the two. Being a bit of a drifter, this felt right for my soul.
I managed island/city life for two years with Vancouver as home-base but when I got back from Australia last March I knew exactly where I wanted to be. I changed my address, packed all my personal belongings, sublet my city apartment and hit the road. Tofino has been my official home for just over a year now.
The plan is to spend the warmer months in Tofino and the rest of the year abroad once the world permits it. I still head back to the mainland every 4- 6 weeks for work and to see my friends and family.
Tofino is a beloved island getaway for British Columbians trying to escape the city and disconnect—What makes living there so special?
The abundance of nature at your fingertip. I can walk 10 minutes from my home in any direction and find myself on one of the many remote beaches, in the middle of the ancient rainforest, or on a surfboard in the ocean. Adventure is literally around every corner. The convenience of connection and access to nature is unparalleled.
They say people come to Tofino for the beauty but always leave feeling refreshed and free of worry. I think that’s very true about living here—It feels like a permanent vacation.
“I can walk 10 minutes from my home in any direction and find myself on one of the many remote beaches, in the middle of the ancient rainforest, or on a surfboard in the ocean. Adventure is literally around every corner.”
As a photographer, how does living in Tofino inspire you creatively?
I am very driven by the feeling of flow and immersion, the more time I spend in nature, the more I am inspired to create. My favourite thing to shoot is people in nature. Guiding a person into the wild and witnessing them experience their vulnerability so closely is an ultimate inspiration and exchange. The expansiveness and vitality of the landscape invites you to step into yourself as you are, it’s something I cultivate in my art and I find some of my best work emerges from this space.
What is it like being a part of the tight-knit community of creators in Tofino?
I am totally in awe of the creative community here, it’s pretty powerful and rad. I’ve found it especially important as a solo creator to be surrounded by and supported by like-minded individuals. We are all here for similar reasons and it’s those reasons that bring us together.
The people that chose to live in Tofino take work as a means to live. The local shops and businesses will close down for the morning if the surf is working and I absolutely love that. To be connected to this community allows the same freedom. It’s quite refreshing. I adopted this free way of living before I found myself in Tofino and it’s a sense of belonging I’ve always yearned for. It feels good to work when I want to and go to the beach when I want to—I’m a Libra so balance is key.
Living in a coastal community surrounded by nature and beaches means an inherent connection to the environment around you. What are some ways that you try to live more slowly and consciously?
Rarely a day goes by that I don’t spend time in or near the Pacific Ocean. I love the ocean and so I do what I can to protect her. I always make sure to clean up garbage I pass by on the beach, limit my usage of plastic, recycle and stay informed with initiatives for ocean clean up and preservation. Tofino banned single use plastics in the form of bags, straws and take out containers years ago. I’ve always felt this community has been ahead of the times with its deep regard and care for the Earth.
I find myself very in tune with my environment living in Tofino. I’m unsure if I could live at any other pace than slowly and consciously. I think that’s why they call it “Island Time” or more specifically “Tofino Time”. No matter how demanding work is or what the weather looks like, I always carve out time to be in nature.
Tofino Coffee Co. A local fave.
A quick bite:
The End of The Road! At the end of Campbell st. (the main road in town) there is a property with shipping containers turned food truck-style eats and desserts. Super local, super delish. I am especially fond of Tofino Licks ice cream. Insanely good.
Dinner with friends:
Wolf in the Fog hands down for an all around excellent dining experience. The nice thing about Tofino is it’s super laid back so you can always dress casually even to visit the nicest restaurants.
The General Store to sip a cocktail and enjoy some live music. Tuff City Squeeze for a fresh pressed juice or smoothie.
Hotels and AirBnbs:
Wild Pod to watch the sea life from your pod on the inlet side. Middle Beach Lodge for access to a private beach. The Shoreline A-frame cabins for a true PNW experience and Pacific Sands located steps from Cox Bay Beach.
Radar Hill for a beautiful and untouched secluded beach, or Cox Bay Lookout to watch the sunrise/set. Also love a good run from North to South Chesterman and back.
Favourite shops—what should we take home with us?
Merge for some funky homeware or stylish accessories and The Factory for local artisan goodies. If you’re looking for a new board, Long Beach Surf Shop! The best surf gurus work here.
Favourite place to take in the local scenery:
Pettinger point has epic views for storm watching and sunsets. However, my all time favorite place to take in the local scenery is from my living room—I have a perfect view of the ocean and the mountains; this morning I watched a bald eagle fly over my balcony from the comfort of my couch. Bless this life.
South Chesterman when it’s hitting just right.
Best place to shoot:
The dunes at Wickaninnish Beach. That place humbles me.
Tofino’s best kept secret(s):
Tonquin Beach: Find it along the Tonquin trail through the rainforest; the only beach located in town is a local fave. It’s protected most days from the unforgiving coastal winds and sheltered from the open ocean so the water is usually very calm. When the sun is out it’s the place to soak up the rays and take a dip. Radar beach is also super epic if you are up for an adventure and the caves on Rosie Bay at low tide are a must-see.
“They say people come to Tofino for the beauty but always leave feeling refreshed and free of worry. I think that’s very true about living here—It feels like a permanent vacation.”
Playlist or album that captures the Tofino vibe.
‘Freedom’ by Amen Dunes. Super chill, super vibey. I always listen to it on the way to a surf.
Beach walk with my pup—I never miss a day. Listening to music. A surf or a swim. Reading and cooking.
What is your go-to uniform?
You have to be prepared for any weather at any time in Tofino; the sun will be out and hot in town but once you get to the beach everything can change so you need to layer up. My go-to during the summer is bare feet and a bikini under a sweater and pants or jumpsuit. I always keep shorts in my bag and an extra layer for a sundowner. If I’m not in that, hopefully I’m in a wet suit!
Describe your perfect Sunday.
Sunrise on the beach, home to read on the front porch, ocean dip or surf, create, sunset, star gaze, good food and snuggles with my pup and my loved ones. Grateful to say that I get to live my perfect Sunday most days.
Living in Tofino is amazing but where are you dreaming of traveling when the world opens up again?
I was meant to spend this past winter on Kaua’i, so I’ve been patiently waiting and dreaming of being back there. Africa has been a big one for a long time—the safari is calling! And French Polynesia. I have Polynesian blood in my veins and have always felt a strong pull towards visiting.
How do you / will you make an effort to travel a little lighter and more consciously?
Photography has allowed me to become the ultimate conscious traveler. I always talk about photography being a daily practice of gratitude. It has taught me to see things differently, to notice the little things, the way the light hits your face as you turn to look behind you, the hidden jungle trails on the side of the road, the faces and places which hold so much beauty it often brings me to tears.
I am always in tune with my environment and the impact I have and try to minimize my footprint as much as possible. I buy local when I can, respect the community and take the time to learn about the culture before I visit.
Philosophy to live by.
The time is now.
I watched this beautiful short film, ‘Loved By All: The Story of Apa Sherpa’ and there is this scene towards the end where a little boy is walking to school, he stops to ask a woman the time, she replies to him, “The time is now, child”
This was at the beginning of my career as a photographer and I had to pause the film to take that in. All I needed were those four words to propel me forward and take the leap. It couldn’t have been more powerful and beautiful and well… relevant. I’ve stuck true to those words ever since and I never pass on an opportunity even if it scares me.
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