Looking for that elusive undiscovered getaway spot, where you can explore the rain forest, go whale watching, and hang out on the beach? On the south coast of Canada’s Vancouver Island, just a two-hour drive from Victoria, Wild Renfrew might be that place.
Here’s the scoop:
The town of Port Renfrew, British Columbia, feels like the end of the road. Highway 14, which winds along the island’s south shore, comes to an end in town. You can’t go any farther west by road without meandering to the north.
But the town is a stop on the Pacific Marine Circle Route, a road trip that takes you through the rain forests, along remote beaches, and past a collection of wineries as you explore the island’s southeastern corner.
Port Renfrew doesn’t yet have the tourist infrastructure of a town like Tofino, a surfer’s haven and holiday destination on the island’s far west coast. If you don’t want to camp or book a local’s home through AirBnB or other vacation rental sites, you don’t have too many accommodations options.
Wild Renfrew is addressing this need by offering two different types of lodging, under the same ownership.
The high-end units at Wild Renfrew are the 11 Seaside Cottages, overlooking the water on a point at the end of town. Reopened in 2014 after a major upgrade, six of the wood-framed cottages are two-bedroom units, each with a living room, kitchen facilities, one king bed, and two twins.
Four units are open-concept studios, essentially hotel rooms with the addition of a kitchenette and an outdoor terrace with a fire pit.
All the cottages are outfitted with contemporary clean-lined furnishings. Rates include Wi-Fi, as well as access to the property’s small private beach.
The “wow” unit is the “Viewpoint Penthouse,” set at the end of the property away from the rest of the cottages. Its spacious deck (the place I’d spend my time if I were staying here) overlooks the water with views in two directions.
Inside, there’s a spacious living area, full kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, and two bedrooms, with a king in one and two twins in the other.
West Coast Trail Lodge
Across the street and up the hill from the cottages is the West Coast Trail Lodge, a simpler two-story motel-style lodging.
The lodge’s 20 guest rooms, with white linens and colorful accents, are furnished with either one king or two queen beds. Half the units have kitchenettes, with microwaves, fridges, bar sinks, and coffeemakers, and all have Wi-Fi.
Lodge rooms lack the ocean views of the Seaside Cottages, but they offer a comfortable spot to rest.
Where to Eat
Part of the Wild Renfrew property, the Renfrew Pub draws both locals and visitors with its laid-back sports bar vibe, waterview terrace, and menu of updated pub fare. I was impressed by my sandwich of grilled salmon, spiced up with wasabi mayo, and paired with a house salad with fresh arugula, strawberries, feta cheese, and candied nuts. The pub is open from breakfast into the evening during the summer season and for lunch, dinner, and drinks through the rest of the year.
In summer, the Wild Renfrew team also runs the Coastal Kitchen Cafe up the road, serving breakfast and lunch.
Tip: If you visit outside of the summer season, when no breakfast is served on the Wild Renfrew property, consider packing your own morning provisions, or head into town to Tomi’s Home Cooking, a little red house where staff dish up eggs, bacon, and other diner-style plates.
Things to Do
A highlight of a Port Renfrew visit is the chance to explore the old-growth rain forest nearby, with its massive ancient trees. Don’t miss a hike through Avatar Grove, where some of Canada’s largest Douglas firs and western red cedars stand tall, including Canada’s “gnarliest tree.” The trunk of this gigantic red cedar is contorted into unusual knobs and twists.
Another scenic spot is Botanical Beach, where dramatic rock formations line the shore, and you can examine what lives in the beach’s tide pools. Hike through the rain forest along the Botanical Loop Trail to several coastal overlooks.
There are whales off the coast of Vancouver Island, too. Half-daily whale watching tours — in 12-passenger zodiac boats — depart from the Wild Renfrew Marina daily from May through September.
At Wild Renfrew, an undiscovered getaway on Canada’s Vancouver Island, you won’t lack for adventures.
Nightly double room rates in Wild Renfrew’s West Coast Trail Lodge start at CAD$119. In the Seaside Cottages, studios are available from $159/night, and two-bedroom units start at $269/night.
Hotel feature by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. Wild Renfrew, in partnership with Destination Greater Victoria, arranged my stay for review purposes.