Tofino: British Columbia's property hotspot

Celebrities love it, so does Hollywood, and with year-round tourist appeal, you should put British Columbia's Tofino on your A-list, says Robert Leibman
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The Independent Online

Excellent location for storm watching - that's not the kind of line that usually attracts a potential buyer to a holiday home. But in Tofino, furious winter storms entrance tourists and locals alike.

Star gazing is popular here too, thanks to a steady stream of celebrities such as Uma Thurman, Danny De Vito and Alanis Morissette who visit this remote Canadian outpost for rest and relaxation.

Originally a fishing and timber village, Tofino is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, 120 miles west of Vancouver itself, where most of the area's celebrities can be found.

Also known as "Hollywood North", Vancouver is a major film production centre where Battlestar Galactica and dozens of other film and TV movies are produced. Tofino is a 30-minute hop from Vancouver's airport, a tidy alternative to seven hours via car and ferry.

Tofino is located literally at the end of the road and lies just within the Clayoquot Sound Unesco Biosphere Reserve, which has numerous coves, a huge lake, rainforests and mountains. Water sports are popular here, especially surfing and kayaking.

Bird watchers set their sights on bald eagles, ospreys, sandpipers, hummingbirds and huge flocks of migratory birds. Sometimes whales can be spotted in the harbour.

A strange mix of moneyed residents have discovered the area. Sarah McLachlan, a Canadian singer and the founder of the Lilith Fair music festival, owns one of the highly prized beach-front homes in Tofino.

Ice-hockey player Brendan Morrison of the Vancouver Canucks owns another. Golfing legend Jack Nicklaus intends to occupy one of 30 new homes in an upmarket golf complex whose course he is designing. And Jason Priestley (oh yes, the star of Beverley Hills 90210 no less) owns a secluded home in Ucluelet on the opposite end of the peninsula, some 40 miles south of Tofino.

Residents like these have certainly helped propel property values upwards, but prices have never been astronomical. Small houses start at about £50,000 and are snapped up as soon as they hit the market.

Larger family homes sell for between £200,000 and £425,000 - they provide enough space for a family and guests, and are near beach or forest.

Homes can earn much of their keep. Apartments on the harbour are zoned to allow rentals even on a nightly basis and start at less than £100,000.

In addition to summer, Tofino's tourist season also includes the six months between November and April, when whales - as well as storms - arrive.

Many family homes have been built with rental income in mind. A three-bedroom house with horizontal wooden boarding, a porch and a wooden staircase rising along the front to an upper side entrance is currently available.

It looks like a prop from a John Wayne Western, although it is brand new. The staircase leads to a "bachelor suite" suitable for guests or tenants, and the one-acre plot includes a long, elevated wooden deck leading to the "forest hot-tub and sauna". The £375,000 property also includes a separate garage/workshop.

A similarly spacious (2,113sq ft) but pricier (£450,000) beach-front house two miles from the town centre boasts a garden containing 100 trees and 300 shrubs.

The house has floor-to-ceiling windows, three bedrooms and three bathrooms (two en suite), giving it excellent rental appeal. Ucluelet is less gentrified than Tofino, though a new golf development is bringing an instant cachet to the area. Each of the 30 homes will be on a sizeable plot (a half or three-quarters of an acre) facing the ocean.

In addition to shops and a luxury hotel, the complex will have its own helicopter pad. Prices start from £500,000.

Also top of the market here are islands, although buyers must really want to be alone. For example, £1.4m buys four cabins on the 25-acre Frank Island, but they are reached only via a sand causeway and there is "no municipal sewer, water or electricity". For compensation, "you get a front-row seat for storm, nature and whale watching."

"Surfing is very popular here, and the community is very young - it feels a little like a throwback to the Sixties," says estate agent Linda Pettinger. "We get many visitors from Britain, although most of our buyers are from Vancouver."

Pettinger says that the most popular properties are beach-front homes on large (three-quarters of an acre) plots facing long stretches of unspoilt beach. They sell for just under £1m.

"Currently supply is very limited and demand very high, especially for beachfront and vacation homes, although prices have now stabilised," Pettinger adds. "Prices rose over the last 15 years but I think they should remain stable for another year and then rise again."

Buyer's guide

Getting there: major British, Canadian and American airlines have direct and indirect flights from several UK airports to Vancouver. Orca Airways has daily flights between Vancouver and Tofino.

Agency contacts: Linda Pettinger of Re/Max Tofino, 001-800 316 0130; Cliff McCool of Re/Max Ucluelet, 001-866 726 2268.