After basking in Tofino’s surfer lifestyle we head back east across Vancouver island. We cross the Strait of Georgia to the BC mainland on the ferry between Comox and Powell River for a few nights along the Sunshine Coast.
PART 2 – Destination Desolation
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My first and only experience along this secluded section of BC’s coast came shortly after I was married, when my father-in-law decided to make a sailor of me on an adventure up the inside passage to Desolation Sound. Now, just past his 80th birthday, I have brought him back to reminisce. Yes, it wasn’t just for his car.
Desolation Sound was named by Captain Vancouver, who claimed “there was not a single prospect pleasing to the eye,” when he cruised into the sound in 1792. He obviously had no eye for beauty. When we sailed into Desolation in 1994 the view had literally taken my breath away, with its towering rock bluffs and idyllic islands, all backdropped by spectacular fjords and snow-capped mountains. We had anchored our sailboat in a sheltered cove surrounded by small islands, and, though it was mid-May, we had stripped down and jumped overboard. The water was actually quite pleasant, as we frolicked in an ocean teaming with marine life.
Desolation Sound remains a boater’s paradise at the confluence of the Malaspina Inlet and Homfray Channel, and yachters have been appreciating the spectacular vistas and calm waters for generations. In recent years, kayakers are also out in numbers, drawn to the warm waters, and the islands and coves along its intricate coastline.
With our sailing days behind us, we hired a zodiac from Terracentric Coastal Adventures for an afternoon tour of Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park. Much faster than the sailing trip many years before, the zodiac skipped over the rough chop in the sound as we explored the park’s more than 60 km of shoreline, snug coves, and protected bays. We skirt past bald eagles keeping watch from lofty perches, distant Orca pods powering through the surf, flocks of Surf Scoters winging over the water, and sealions basking lazily on the rocks.
Captain George Vancouver may have named Desolation Sound in disappointment for what he found here, but the name, ironically, now evokes images of a place that is rugged, grand, imposing and wildly beautiful. My return to Desolation Sound had managed once more to take my breath away.
From Storm Watching to Sunshine
We had departed remote Tofino the day before. After having spent three days exploring Vancouver Island’s wild west coast, it was time to continue our BC Ferries Coastal Trip. So, we were back on the road heading to the east side of the island, and onto another ferry for a pleasant two-hour cruise across the Salish Sea from Comox to Powell River. Like Tofino, Powell River is an end-of-the-highway town. Long known for the world’s largest pulp and paper mill, the town has sneakily reinvented itself as the coast’s hottest new adventure destination, offering hiking, canoeing, kayaking, boating, rock climbing, fishing and even scuba diving.
Powell River Townsite is a unique coastal community which was designated as a National Historic District of Canada in 1995, one of only seven in the country and the only one in western Canada. The historic townsite remains remarkably intact within the borders of the 1910 town plan, with over 400 original buildings.
We drop into the Townsite Market in the newly renovated Powell River Company Mill Stores building in the Historic Townsite District. It houses an eclectic collection of community focused and artisan-based businesses, all local to Powell River. And, of course, at the end of a day of exploring, a visit to Townsite Brewing is a must, for a taste of their award-winning craft beer like a Tin Hat (IPA), Zunga (golden blonde ale) or Zwarte Wheat (Belgian dark witbier).
Hiking to Huts at Heavenly Heights
Our destination for the night was the tiny coastal community of Lund, north of Powell River. The pretty fishing community is ‘Mile 0’ of the iconic Highway 101 (also known as the Pacific Coastal Route), a road that stretches 15,202 km to Quellon Chile. Besides providing easy access to Desolation Sound, Lund is also the jumping off point for the Sunshine Coast Trail, Canada’s longest hut-to-hut hiking trail. The trail stretches 180 km along the North Sunshine Coast, from Sarah Point to Saltery Bay, taking in old growth temperate rainforest, mountain and lake vistas, as well as coastal shore.
My wife and I decide to leave the sailors by the sea, setting off early to hike the northwestern leg of the trail. Well, we first found the path from our overnight Discovery Cabin at Sunland for a short walk down to Nancy’s Bakery at Lund Harbour, to enjoy one of her famous blackberry cinnamon buns and a coffee. Suitably fortified, and in desperate need now to shed the calories, we set off up the trail.
The well-marked path takes us gradually skyward to the Manzanita Hut for splendid views out over the Salish Sea. You don’t need to hike the full Sunshine Coast Trail to experience its rugged beauty, but we do make a note to return to visit all of the trail’s 14 shelters.
The Sunshine Coast Trail is entirely maintained by a volunteer organization, PR PAWS – Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society.
The Sunshine Coast is made up of a north and south coast, and while part of British Columbia’s mainland, the region maintains an isolated, island-like feel, only accessible by ferry or flight. Our drive from Powell River south will be a meandering route of 180 km, tracing coastal curves and lakes, and weaving through old-growth forests broken occasionally by laid-back fishing villages, lonely beaches, artists’ studios, breweries and cideries. As its name implies, the strip of coastline gets more sunny days than Vancouver and has a mild climate all-year round.
That sun is now setting, as we sit out on the patio of the Seaside Bistro, watching the splash of colour as it dips over the peaceful marina. The Beach Gardens Resort, south of Powell River, is our home for the night. We have an early ferry to catch as we continue our road trip back to Vancouver along the Sunshine Coast’s south shore, while looking forward to more marine adventures, some coastal foraging, a hike or two, a bit of beachcombing, and a Sunday Cider to toast the completion of our coastal drive.
Road Tripping Notes:
The Sunshine Coast is located on the traditional unceded territories of the Squamish (skwxwú7mesh), Sechelt (shíshálh), Tla’amin and Klahoose nations. Part of the larger Coast Salish people, they engaged in fishing, hunting and trade, and were noted for their totem poles, cedar canoes, and unique language. Today, the Coast Salish people continue to contribute culturally and economically to the Sunshine Coast.
Travel – BC Ferries is one of the largest ferry operators in the world, providing year-round vehicle and passenger service on 24 routes to 47 terminals, with a fleet of 35 vessels. BC Ferries provides sailings to and from Metro Vancouver, Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, the Gulf Islands, and Northern BC. www.bcferries.com
Stay – Discovery Cabin at SunLund by the Sea with footpath access to restaurants, marina, grocery store, kayak rentals, water taxi, boat launch, and other services at Lund Harbour. www.sunlund.ca
The Beach Gardens Resort & Marina features 48 deluxe oceanfront guest rooms, each with a private patio www.beachgardens.com.
Do – Terracentric specialize in offering adventure tours exploring Desolation Sound or the Sunshine Coast Trail, while teaching awareness for the marine environment, its beauty, its diversity, and its fragility. www.terracentricadventures.com
Sunshine Coast Trail – www.sunshinecoast-trail.com
Eat – Nancy’s Bakery for fluffy cinnamon buns, Coastal Cookery for an extensive menu crafted with local ingredients www.coastalcookery.com and The Seasider Bistro, Wine Bar and Patio with dining room views of the Malaspina Strait and Texada Island. www.theseasider.ca
Drink – Wash it all down at Townsite Brewing while enjoying chatting with the locals www.townsitebrewing.com
Information – Sunshine Coast Tourism – www.sunshinecoastcanada.com