The last of my travels in British Columbia: this is the route up the Sunshine Coast on the west coast of the mainland, north of Vancouver, which we took to reach Vancouver Island in 2005. It is a truly lovely drive along with a couple of short ferry rides across the fjords along this spectacular coastline. We were fortunate to be able to buy a CirclePac ticket from BC Ferries which gave us discounted fares on the routes up the coast and to and from the island. I believe we also got discounted fares travelling to the smaller islands such as Hornby, Denman and Cormorant Island (Alert Bay). Sadly this ticket was discontinued in 2011. However, it is still a route I recommend for the scenery alone.
We took our first ferry from Horseshoe Bay across to Langdale, a 40 minute journey. Leaving Langdale we headed towards Gibsons, a 5km drive away. Perched on a hillside, it overlooks a harbour and faces nearby islands in Howe Sound and is known as “The Gateway to the Sunshine Coast“. We didn’t stop there as we had decided to stop off in Sechelt further up the coast, but it seemed like a nice little town where you can buy fresh fish and seafood at the historic marina in Gibsons Landing.
Sechelt is another 22km up Highway 101 and is the largest town on the Sunshine Coast. Sechelt was originally occupied by aboriginal Peoples of the Sechelt Nation, who hunted, fished and traded here for centuries. European settlers began to arrive in the 19th century. It is a very laidback town, popular with artists and very scenic as it is surrounded by mountains. Sechelt is home to a National Geographic lauded dive centre with lessons, equipment, and rentals. Divers enjoy some of the world’s best cold-water diving on the Sunshine Coast. Or kayak up the Sechelt Inlet watching for deer and dolphins. We just stopped off for a well-needed cup of coffee and to stretch the legs. I think I mentioned in one of my previous posts about driving up this coast that you have to be careful of the deep ditches at the side of the road which are quite difficult to spot. We saw a few drivers stuck in the ditch having veered too far to the right, and we nicknamed them ‘granny traps’ after seeing an elderly lady who had fallen foul of this hazard, a name which has stuck with us ever since!
From Sechelt we were heading for our next ferry which left from Earls Cove. But before that we had enough time to head off the main road and follow the coastal route through Sargeant Bay Provincial Park on to Halfmoon Bay where we stopped again to have a walk along the Government dock and a look around the pretty Halfmoon Bay General Stores.
Our next stop was at Smuggler Cove Marine Provincial Park about 4km northwest of Halfmoon Bay. It is one of the most popular anchorages on the Sunshine Coast, well-protected from the wind and sea. This small sheltered marine park with walk-in campsites serves as a jumping-off point for paddlers wishing to explore several off-shore islands in what is arguably the most scenic location on this coast with a rich folk-lore of bootlegging during the Prohibition years. Watch out for the well-marked approach to the park on the south-side of Highway 101 between Halfmoon Bay and Secret Cove. Follow Brooks Road for 5 km to the parking area from where you can walk the 1.6 km trail to the wilderness campsites, or you can kayak or canoe in from Brooks Cove through Welcome Passage.
We continued following the coast road north to Madeira Park where the road heads east inland and around several lakes such as Sakinaw and Ruby to catch our next ferry from Earls Cove to Saltery Bay. Earls Cove marks the end of the Sechelt Peninsula and the southern section of Highway 101. The ferry trip is a scenic 16 km, 50 minute ride up Agamemnon Channel around the northeast tip of the sparsely populated Nelson Island and into Jervis Inlet. It provides a spectacular view of the Sunshine Coast fjord country. From Saltery Bay it is a short drive to Powell River where we caught our final ferry over to Vancouver Island at Comox.
Powell River was once home to the world’s largest pulp and paper mill and now has the nickname “The Pearl of the Sunshine Coast.” because of the excellent oysters found there. From Powell River you can head further up the coast to the town of Lund which is the furthest north you can drive on Highway 101, the world’s longest highway stretching down to South America.
If you want to take more time travelling up the coast there are plenty of charming B&Bs to stay in along the route with names like Sea Glass, Four Winds or Sea Wind, or there are several camp-sites. Watch out for purple banners as you drive along this route as the Sunshine Coast is home to one of the highest per head ratios of artists, crafters and talented artisans anywhere in Canada, and these banners signal that an artist’s studio is open to the public to browse or buy. “The Purple Banner Route” stretches from Powell River to Gibsons.
The names alone should entice anyone to venture up this highway!