Some of the best things in life are found off the beaten path… and on the waters of British Columbia’s beautiful Sunshine Coast.
Take a five-hour drive from Vancouver (including two BC Ferries’ rides), heading generally northwards up the Sunshine Coast, and you will find the road pretty much ends at a small place called Lund, BC. Of course, you could also fly…
Lund is located just beyond the town of Powell River and the beautiful National Historic District of Powell River Townsite (the only such designed district in British Columbia and one of only seven in all of Canada), within the traditional territory of the Sliammon (Tla’Amin) First Nations people. It is the northern terminus of Highway 101 and the location where we first met our guide, Erik Blaney, to embark on our I’Hos Cultural zodiac tour of the Discovery Islands and the Sunshine Coast. Erik is a man of First Nation’s heritage, with a big smile, and an easy candour to his voice. He ensured parking for our vehicle, directed us to the nearby art gallery, and toured us through a traditional cedar hat weaving class that was in full swing when we arrived.
After a thorough safety discussion and demonstration of the modern and extremely light-weight personal flotation devices – not for us the clunky lifejackets of yesteryear! – we were all set for our ocean tour of the Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park with two of our dear friends, Chris & Uli, who had recently moved to the Sunshine Coast.
“… British Columbia’s best kept secret. Tucked between Vancouver Island and the mainland, and unreachable by car or foot, this untamed set of ten islands demands to be explored by [boat]…The Discovery Islands are everything you imagine the West Coast of Canada to be: endless ocean, lush fragrant forests, driftwood-strewn beaches, and ever changing sunset colors with majestic mountains as their backdrop.”
[see National Geographic for more on this area, and Explore BC for a highlight of the nine other BC “Bucket List” locations from that list. The National Geographic bucket list also includes BC’s Gulf Islands, which we’ve shared with you before]
At times it was hard to believe that we were only a 35-minute flight from Vancouver. The steep peaks of the islands, covered in thick greenery, would not be out of place in the southern Caribbean ocean.
Beyond the secret of the Discovery Islands themselves, our tour guide shared with us cultural and historical insights on-location at various archaeologically-significant finds along our route. Erik’s first-hand knowledge of discoveries on archaeological digs in which he participated was fascinating. From the clam gardens and middens that marked generations of harvesting, to the location of potential ancient copper smelting operations, crystal-clear water views of grooves worn into the seabed by First Nations’ war-canoes, to hands-on interaction with the oldest culturally-modified trees on the West Coast (harvested for their sap), pictographs, and even more – we can’t tell you everything! – to say we learned a few things on this tour would be a profound understatement.
There are some camping platforms on these remote islands of the Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park to which we will be returning with our tent & stove for a much longer stay!
Beyond the scenery of Desolation Sound, we were also privileged to enjoy its wildlife – this is, after all, a protected marine park. The engine of the zodiac boast was cut at times and we glided across mirror-smooth waters to see the nursery islands of British Columbia’s harbour seals (Phoca vitulina). We watched from a short distance away (ensuring we did not disturb them), small pups nursed by their mothers and, on other islands, the more raucous ‘teenage’ seals warming themselves in the sunlight and fattening up for the coming winter months.
After a tour of the various remote historic sites, both by water and on land, we rounded the bend into Prideaux Haven. This is yacht-watching at its finest. Grand ships from ports much further south make annual pilgrimages to this anchorage for its calm seas and warm turquoise waters. We took full advantage of our stop here with a refreshing swim. The water was amazing; as was the local craft beer from Townsite Brewery that we brought along with us in a re-fillable growlette for “medicinal purposes.”
After that it was a short ride with the wind in our hair to Refuge Cove on West Redonda Island for some delicious coffee, hot chocolate, and thick, gooey cinnamon buns at Upcoast Summers espresso bar, gift shop, and bakery. This tiny remote seaside community is a spot not to be missed, with its general store, art gallery and other buildings all joined together by picturesque boardwalks.
Warm and cozy, and feeling so incredibly relaxed from the salt air, the waves, and an all-around fantastic day, we headed back through BC’s Inside Passage.
To wrap up our amazing three and a half hour zodiac tour (was it really only a few hours?!), Erik gave us each a token of thanks for our visit: a cedar talisman carved in the shape of a miniature paddle by Dave Dominic, a local Tla’Amin elder, to show appreciation for our journey through their sacred lands.
For an delightful journey, for beautiful sights, and for a reminder of how vast in time and experiences Beautiful British Columbia really is, we say: “Che Che ha tona pesht.”
Thank you – we are grateful to you all.
I’Hos Cultural Tours also offers Grizzly bear viewing trips, canoeing outings in a 35-foot Salish style canoe, traditional cedar weaving workshops, and more – head on out there, enjoy BC’s Sunshine Coast, and make some memories!