Island hopping at the West Coast

Island hopping at the West Coast

September 2022

We were on our way to go to Vancouver Island. We liked the name Sunshine Coast and thought it would be a nice alternative route to get to Vancouver Island. The crossing from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale took only 5o minutes. Whenwe arrived in Langdale we had crossed the Howe Sound, but were back on the mainland. The Sunshine Coast is cut off from the rest of the mainland and can only be reached by ferry. We had scheduled a rest day today. Our towels found a spot in Porpoise Provincial Park near Sechelt. Delightful. Doing nothing.

The next morning we looked out through our window and couldn’t see much beyond the first row of trees in front of us. The sun was also half-covered and had a strange color. When we opened the window, it became clear to us what was going on. A distinct smell of fire filled the car. It had been forbidden to make campfires for several days, and several roadside signs indicated that forest fires alert stage 1 had been set. We sipped our coffee and tea and watched another black bear make its rounds along the road.

At the Visitor Center at Sechelt, we had found out when today would be low and high tide. This was important because of the Skookumschuck rapids that come alive when the tide changes. They are the fastest tidal streams in America. The hike there was through a real fairy tale forest. Sunlight shone through the dense canopy of treetops and illuminated the moss-covered tree trunks. As we approached the view point of the rapids, the rushing of the water became louder and louder. At 30 km/h the water flows back to the sea through the narrow opening of the Sechelt Inlet, making for an extraordinary sight.

On the Francis Peninsula near Penn Harbor, it was clear that the residents here were living it up, judging by the houses scattered along the water here.  At the end of the road we parked our car for a walk along the shoreline of this peninsula. It was interesting to see what life remains on and among the rocks when the water recedes at low tide. Dozens of purple starfish and many shellfish wait patiently until the water returns in six hours. In nearby Katherine Lake, we found a gem of a lake where we could cool off in the water. Then we left to take the ferry to Saltery Bay. We waved goodbye to the turtle searching through the clear water for its evening meal and arrived at Lois Lake shortly before Powell River in the dark.

From Powell River a ferry runs four times a day to Vancouver Island, dropping one off across the bay in an hour and a half. We managed to get back in touch with Thomas and Sima, whom we had last seen in Anchorage/Alaska, but who in the meantime had also arrived on Vancouver Island. On the ferry, we got our dinner at the kiosk and found a window seat. Even before we had taken the first bite we saw a whale in the distance jumping high into the air several times. We were lucky enough to see several whales during the entire crossing. They must have been Humpback or Porpoises. The ferry dropped us off safely on the other side on Vancouver Island and we received word from Thomas and Sima that they had set up their bivouac 30 kilometers away in Campbell River. Reason for us to drive north to meet them there for a pleasant evening.

We decided to head inland from Campbell River and drive around north through Strathcona Provincial Park and Gold River. Somehow, however, we stopped really making progress and were clearly in need of some rest. Camping and hiking eventually became sleeping in, watching movies and swimming. The first night we camped along a small river in the middle of the wilderness. The second night about thirty kilometers away along Muchalat Lake. Two perfect locations to regain our strength. It is now September which means that summer is over here, but if the sun shows up and there is not too much wind, one can still live outside just fine. The chairs were brought out and we spent the afternoon by the lake in late summer sunshine. It even got warm enough for a dip in the lake.

Telegraph Cove is a tiny village on the Johnstone Strait that made its livelihood from fishing and packing the spoils. Today, the money is made from tourism. Around the “harbor” are about a dozen colored cottages that were built and inhabited by the first inhabitants. Some are still inhabited today by Telegraph Cove’s 20 permanent residents. The town was also the northernmost point we would visit on Vancouver Island. We followed Highway 19 back south and lingered at Nimpkish Lake. Again, a great place on a lake to spend the night!

After a very quiet night we woke up the next morning and with a look out the window we saw beautiful low clouds over the lake and the sun was shining. Once again a great photo moment. After that we drove back south. The drive was uneventful until two deer crossed the road shortly before arriving in Campbell River. Fortunately we were able to brake in time and without danger, but unfortunately the oncoming car had overlooked the second deer and there was a slight collision. Hopefully, the animal had not taken any damage, we were in any case a little startled. After an extensive shopping stop at Walmart, which replenished our supplies, we drove to the local salmon breeding station. There we could once again watch the salmon returning to their birth place and jumping around. The gulls were lying in wait for new victims, but bears were not to be seen.

After that, there was a bit of perplexity. We had originally had the idea to make a side trip to Quadra Island, but were still a little unmotivated and could not make a decision. We first drove to the harbor and inquired about the price for the crossing. The next ferry was leaving in an hour and Eddy decided on the fly that we would make the crossing, so we quickly joined the line of waiting cars. The short ride took only 10 minutes.

On the second try we found a perfect place to spend the night, a parking lot right at the start of some hikes we had picked out. We decided to still go for the hike to Morte Lake. It was 4:30 p.m. and the hike should take 1 – 3 hours. It was relatively flat through the beautiful coastal forest with mossy cedars and ferns. Once at the lake, we followed its southern shore to a small beach with white sand. Without further ado we jumped into the water, it was wonderful and refreshing. Afterwards we searched our way back through the forest, hiked partly on mountain bike trails over hill and dale and were back at the car around half past seven. We had really earned our dinner. The night was wonderfully quiet and calm, until sometime suddenly the gas alarm in the car went off and tore us from sleep. Finding the switch in the dark, then tilting the side window and trying to sleep on. Was probably once again false alarm?!

Our motivation was back and in the morning we set out for the second hike, this time we went a bit higher up. First we climbed the 460 meter high Beech’s Mountain and enjoyed the wonderful views. On one side over the Discovery Passage towards Vancouver Island and opposite to the many small and large islands up to the mainland of British-Colombia. From Beech’s Mountain we partly descended and then climbed up to the 327 meter high Chinese Mountain. We hiked the round to the end and were back at the car after a little more than three hours.

After our lunch we drove to the southern tip of Quadra Island, to Cape Mudge. Here is the Nuymbalees Cultural Center, where we could learn more about the culture of the West Coast Indians and especially about the tradition of the potlach. This traditional ceremony was banned by the Canadian government in the early 20th century, which had far-reaching consequences. Initially, many Native people ended up in jail for disobeying the ban, thousands of objects and totem poles were confiscated and sold off at ridiculous prices. As a result, craftsmanship and carving then fell asleep, as there was no longer a need to make totem poles, ritual masks and other ceremonial objects. It was not until the 1980s that the government rescinded the ban and returned some of the confiscated items to the indigenous people, but only on the condition that they be displayed in museums. One of them is located in Alert Bay in the north of Vancouver Island and one here on Quadra Island.


Chief Billy Assu was the chief of the Kwakwak’awakw native people who resided here. He was a very gifted and intelligent leader of his people, he knew and celebrated the traditions and gave a lot of potlatches. At the same time, he dealt a lot with the newcomers from Europe and their culture and tried to prepare his people as best he could for the new way of life and to make integration possible. He had a school built, English taught, he stopped alcohol abuse and smuggling. Chief Billy Assu was a very highly respected figure, not only among his people but also among Canadians, and he received high honors from the royal family, among others, for his services. We were given a short but interesting tour of the museum and looked at everything carefully. It was good to hear a positive story of a First Nation tribe for once.

We took the evening ferry back to Campbell River and a bit further south we found our overnight place in Union Bay. From here we would then explore the Pacific Rim National Park and the south coast around Victoria.

Eddy and Romy van Es © 2020, All Rights Reserved.

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