The final leg of our Ultimate BC Ferries coastal trip takes us to Hidden Harbours, Beautiful Bays and a Bit of Beachcombing along the Sunshine Coast’s south shore. Then homeward to Vancouver, and the next adventure . . .
PART 3 – Destination Sunshine Coast
Just after dawn we pull our car up to the ferry terminal at Saltery Bay. The rising sun is trying hard to break through the heavy, low-hanging clouds, and a mist rolling in from the sea is as drenching as rain. Still, there is something comforting and romantic about arriving in the early morning to await the arrival of the ferry. I park the car near the front of the queue, zip up my anorak against the chill and stroll down to the waterfront jetty.
As the wind ruffles the water, wavelets glitter in the beams of morning sunlight in a mesmerizing dance. Out over the steel-grey sea, gulls hover and swoop above the approaching ferry, shrilly announcing its pending arrival. I suppose for the locals living here, this might be a tedious and repetitious part of their daily routine. For me, returning to a memory, it is nothing but nostalgic and beautiful.
On board, we grab a coffee and some breakfast and then head up on deck to enjoy the scenic 16-kilometre, 50-minute ride up the Agamemnon Channel, around the northeast tip of Nelson Island, and into Jervis Inlet. A rumour is circulating that a humpback whale had been spotted on the trip over, so we keep a sharp lookout over the channel. During the crossings there is always a good chance you’ll see a pod of Orcas or a humpback. Today we are granted a few seals as we cruise towards Earls Cove on the Sechelt Peninsula, and the final leg of our BC Ferries coastal trip along the Sunshine Coast’s south shore.
A Sailor’s Sentimental Return
I had married into a family of sailors. Back in May of 1994, my new father-in-law had taken me on a sailing trip up this coastline – stopping at ports along the way, so we could drop into ocean-side pubs to watch my Maple Leafs lose to his Canucks in the NHL playoffs, with a trip to the Cup finals on the line. The defeat did not dampen the thrill of my adventure. We had sailed up Princess Louisa Inlet, a magnificent six-kilometre fjord carved into the sheer cliffs that tower above, backdropped by the magnificent, rugged, snow-capped peaks of the Coast Mountain range. We had feasted on clams, mussels, prawns and crab harvested from the sea. Now, nearing thirty years later, we have come back.
Egmont is a tiny fishing village a short drive from the ferry terminal at Earls Cove. We are meeting Captain Kane Rushton of Coastland Marine Charters for a day’s excursion up the inlet. Sailing to the end of Princess Louisa those many years before had been a two-day journey. This time, on Rushton’s high powered and versatile 32-foot landing craft, we take in the narrow fjord at 30 knots.
It is no wonder that this has been called the most beautiful anchorage in the world. This magnificent granite-walled gorge rises sharply from the water’s edge to heights in excess of 2100 metres. Many waterfalls tumble from these great heights, the most impressive being Chatterbox Falls, at the very end of the inlet, which thunders with power while plunging 40 metres into the sea.
Though the day is damp and blustery, my father-in-law takes in the return journey standing at the bow of the vessel, looking like the carved wooden figurehead at the prow of an old sailing ship. I stand with him, both of us remembering our long-ago sailing trip, and smiling, as our sleek vessel skims its way back through the Malibu rapids, the entranceway to Princess Louisa Inlet from Jervis Inlet, on our journey homeward.
Playing in “Strong Water”
Returning to Egmont, we have one more fascinating spectacle to behold. Twice daily, the Sunshine Coast is witness to an incredible display of the ocean’s power. As the tide changes in the Skookumchuck Narrows (‘strong water’ in Chinook), the water rushes through at 30 km/hour, creating one of the world’s biggest tidal rapids. We play in the huge waves, boils, and dangerous whirlpools, thankful for our skilled skipper and his twin 250 outboards.
With the summer sun starting to set, Rushton completes our wonderful day tour by taking us to the water-access-only 2 Tide on the Hillside, for a dinner feast called “On the Coast.” From a picturesque viewpoint just below the rapids, in an outdoor kitchen and dining area, we enjoy an amazing foraged culinary feast created by chef Tim Kozody, where dishes like oysters Rockefeller or grilled halibut come with expansive views across the narrows. It is the fitting end to our day on the water, and I feel like we have come full circle.
Through Hidden Harbours, Cozy Coves and Beautiful Bays to Molly’s Reach
After our day’s adventure on the water, we continue south in the dusk, on a road that winds through a hilly landscape shrouded in an eerie mist, to Pender Harbour and our accommodations for the next two nights at the Painted Boat Resort at Madeira Park. From here, we use the next day to explore the pretty harbour village of Halfmoon Bay and Smuggler Cove Marine Provincial Park, which offers up one of the area’s best hikes.
The trek is an easy four-kilometre round trip through a beautiful, cedar forest. We follow a wooden boardwalk to the rocky point of Smuggler Cove. The cove got its name from its days as a bolthole for rum-runners during the U.S. Prohibition era, but today it is a peaceful place to relax, enjoy the views over the rocky inlet, and listen to the waves crashing on the shore. Though we are getting close to our road trip’s end point, here we feel a world apart from the busy cityscape of Vancouver.
On our final day, as we continue southeast past the rocky, low-lying Trail Islands, we drive out of the old-growth forests and into more civilization, to Sechelt, “the land between two waters.” Sechelt is a one-kilometre strip of land where the Sechelt Inlet meets the ocean. On the side of the highway are signs marking artists’ workshops and galleries, potters, painters, and jewellery-makers, and a cidery, and though it is a Tuesday, Sunday Cider calls us in – one last toast to our trip before we board the final ferry.
Just minutes south of the Langdale Ferry Terminal, the unique, scenic. seaside village of Gibsons acts as the Sunshine Coast’s southern gateway. It is also home to Molly’s Reach, an iconic restaurant that takes me back to when, from 1971 to 1990, a Canadian television drama introduced us to “Beachcombers” and this delightful stretch of coast.
There has been a lot of reminiscing on this magical coastal journey, as my wife, her folks, and I have enjoyed tripping by hike, bike, boat, automobile and almost by surfboard, through some of BC’s most spectacular ocean, mountain, and coastal scenery. A 40-minute cruise, takes us from Langdale back to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, to complete the circuit, and our wonderful eight-day BC Ferries coastal trip has come to an end.
Road Tripping Notes:
Travel – BC Ferries: Check the website for sailings and fares for your desired date of travel. Although ferries run frequently from Langdale on the Sunshine Coast to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, be sure to make reservations ahead to avoid a wait. www.bcferries.com
Stay – Nestled among five acres of Douglas fir, red cedar and arbutus trees, the Painted Boat Resort in Madeira Park has a distinctly West Coast look and feel, and 31 upscale waterfront villas. While you are there, reserve a couple of hours to get a treatment and relax in their Spa Serenity Garden. www.paintedboat.com
Do – Coastland Marine Charters is a new business in Egmont offering chartered leisure tours on their 32 ft Landing Craft. Our Princess Louisa tour coupled with some fun in the Skookumchuck Narrows, and a foraged culinary feast at 2 Tide on the Hillside in Egmont was a trip highlight. www.coastlandmarine.ca
Eat – Pop into the Oak Tree Market in Pender Harbour to check out their butcher’s array of fresh seafood. We grabbed some halibut, scallops and prawns to throw on the barbecue at our Painted Boat Villa. Grab a coffee and breakfast at Gourmet Girl in Davis Bay on your drive to Gibsons Landing. www.gourmetgirl.ca
Drink – Visit Sunday Cider at their pretty outdoor location near Gibsons. Their tasty ciders are made on site in small batches from 100% fresh pressed BC apples. www.sundaycider.com
Information – Sunshine Coast Tourism – www.sunshinecoastcanada.com