A leisurely drive up the Sunshine Coast

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!

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I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

13 thoughts on “A leisurely drive up the Sunshine Coast”

  1. That sounds like a wonderful part of your trip Jude. There are some lovely blues in those photos, and I like the perspective on the wooden boardwalks too.
    There are similar things to those ‘granny traps’ in the fen-lands, and especially in Lincolnshire. It is all too easy to drive off the dykes into big drainage ditches, and we have seen a lot of cars that came to this end, over the years.
    Regards from Norfolk as always, Pete. x

    1. Thanks Pete, we did have a great journey up this coast with spectacular views and I loved all the ferries! I’m glad there aren’t any of those ditches in Norfolk as I was forced onto the kerbside on many of those narrow lanes, fortunately flat and sandy at the time! I remember those ditches in Lincolnshire with no barriers, very scary, I think I will avoid the fens!

  2. Looks delightful, just look at that deep, blue water…I have really enjoyed your Canadian posts Jude, you must have had a wonderful time there, a trip to remember, and now share with all of us! So glad that you did!
    I wish I could remember exactly where we visited when we went to Vancouver, you’ve got me thinking now! I do remember going to ‘Gas Town’ and taking a ferry to …. ?? Will have to get out the pics to jog my memory! I do remember that when I lived in California I had a friend (English, married to a Canadian) who moved to Vancouver while we lived there and we always used to say that we were neighbours, just down the 101 from each other 🙂 x

    1. They were both great trips and I wouldn’t rule out another visit to BC though I’d like to explore the eastern provinces before that. I do like Canada 🙂

  3. Wonderful informative post Jude! I absolutely adore Vancouver Island but haven’t been there in years. May be time to go back 🙂 My husband makes fun of me for refusing to “repeat” until I’ve crossed off all of my “Must-see” list. Such a big world out there isn’t it?!

    1. I’m a bit like that Tina, which is why I can’t understand people who buy a holiday home, I’d rather spend the money going to different places each time! However, if the opportunity arises for me to go back then I’ll take advantage of it 😉

  4. British Columbia is now 3rd down on my list! Wonderful photographs and information ! I bookmarked it : )

  5. Hi Jude,
    Next trip you should keep going up the coast to Whistler – Blackcomb resort area. It is a year around recreational area that is great fun and as you probably know was the Winter Olympic venue a few years ago. I does not have the cultural experiences that you have experienced in the islands, but it is quite phenomenal for its views, and of course shopping on the jet set level. but can be quite affordable with much fun to do. I probably sound like a tourist bureau but not really. Just pointing out some of the places that also of astounding beauty in the area.

    Maybe I will post some photos from there soon.

    1. I’d love to go up the Sea to Sky Highway 99 which branches off along the coast at Horseshoe Bay. I did look at doing that on our second trip in 2010, as the views must be spectacular, then continuing to Jasper, down along the Icefield Parkway, Lake Louise and Banff then looping back to Vancouver. But this was early October and my worry was that the weather would be too bad to do that circular route then.

      I’d love to see your photos of that region though, as I am still tempted by it 🙂

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