It's a summer afternoon along the rugged, rocky Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, just two hours north of Vancouver, and my friend Courtney...
It’s a summer afternoon along the rugged, rocky Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, just two hours north of Vancouver, and my friend Courtney and I have just cruised into a place called Secret Cove. In truth, it does feel like a secret.
As we paddle our sea kayaks from bay to bay and navigate around little islands and inlets, the closest we come to encountering other people is the occasional far-off sailboat sighting. A bald eagle swoops into the dense green trees to our left; to our right, a gull wrestles with a fish in a tangle of seaweed. Though just a short ferry hop from Vancouver across Howe Sound, this 50-mile stretch of forest and marine parks that makes up the Sunshine Coast feels far away from the city’s action. Much of the coastline, fringing the southern mainland of British Columbia, is accessible only by boat and is protected as provincial parkland. Though it’s possible out here to run through all four seasons in a single day, the resort area is typically drier and sunnier than the rest of coastal British Columbia.
On the 40-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, the geographic and mental shift happens quickly, taking passengers from an urban, glass-walled landscape to one dominated by snowcapped mountains and swaths of green. On our trip there in June, Courtney and I drove straight from the airport to catch the last ferry of the day at 9 p.m., then drove the 28 winding miles to Rockwater, a resort tucked away in the tiny seaside town of Halfmoon Bay.
Our ocean-view room was clean and the beds comfortable, if a little cramped, in the lodge’s traditional motel-style layout. Formerly Lord Jim’s Resort Hotel, Rockwater was recently renovated and opened as a more upscale establishment, with a new spa and a series of lovely canvas-tented suites set in the trees at the edge of the property and connected by a 1,500-foot-long cliffside boardwalk. The suites have heated slate floors and whirlpool baths. Also overlooking the water are two spa tents, where treatments can be done in the open air.
Most Read Life Stories
- 21 more Seattle-area restaurants and bars close permanently during COVID-19 fall surge
- Sunday Best: Vibrant new Shonda Rhimes show ‘Bridgerton’ will light up your Netflix queue Christmas Day
- 24 new pandemic-time restaurant openings around Seattle — many with outdoor dining
- 3 new Seattle places for comforting takeout that food critic Bethany Jean Clement loves
- A customer has a visa problem with American Airlines that costs thousands of dollars. Who should pay? | Travel Troubleshooter
Despite these upgrades, Rockwater retains a rustic, laid-back air, and there are cabins and other room options for the less luxury-minded. Courtney, who once worked as a camp counselor, took one look at the beach volleyball net, boccie court and horseshoe pit on the property and happily dubbed it “summer camp.”
It had been raining over the past week, but the morning dawned bright and clear. We headed down to the resort’s private beach, where Halfmoon Sea Kayaks offers rentals and guided tours. A friendly staff member outfitted us with kayaks, paddles, spray skirts and a map of the area’s marine parks. On the way out, we fought a fierce wind, but with it at our backs on the return, there was almost no need to paddle — we just pointed our noses toward shore and strategically rode the waves back in.
After an afternoon spent kayaking, there was still plenty of daylight, and we went searching for a place to refuel. Connecting the towns that dot the Lower Sunshine Coast are narrow, meandering roads with nary a traffic light. In the towns themselves, we found easygoing pubs that combine brews with views, like Grasshopper Pub, north of Halfmoon Bay in Madeira Park, and Lighthouse Pub, to the south in Sechelt, the region’s hub.
At Lighthouse, the patio was crowded with patrons enjoying bowls of fresh mussels, pitchers of beer and a streaky sunset over a protected marina lined with sailboats and floatplanes. Lighthouse is the kind of place that lets you relax into the local scene. As we walked out into the parking lot after dinner, a young man in a pickup truck at the entrance was blasting Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” from his dashboard radio. Watching him sing along passionately to every word, we, too, felt compelled to sing — pumping our arms in the proper rock-anthem way — as did the group of middle-aged customers who strolled out alongside us. On a gorgeous summer night in Sechelt, a parking-lot singalong with strangers seemed like just the thing to do.
In addition to kayaking, fishing, sailing and cold-water scuba diving, the Sunshine Coast offers ample opportunity for land-based adventures, too, including excellent mountain biking and hiking. The next day, we set out for an eight-mile hike around Triangle Lake and Trout Lake in Sargeant Bay Provincial Park.
From a trailhead near the park entrance, where a sign warned of black bears and their cubs, we followed a creek through stands of alder and Douglas fir, climbing up through grassy meadows and around boggy streams. Part of the hiking trail shares ground with a mountain bike network, but we met just one cyclist in our three hours in the park. Most of the time, we were kept company by each other and the red-crested pileated woodpeckers hammering busily in the trees above.
On our way back to catch the ferry to Vancouver, we stopped at Gibsons, a town of about 4,000 that is considered the region’s gateway. We strolled along the marina, admiring the sailboats moored along the harbor and the misty mountains in the distance. Gibsons served as the backdrop for “The Beachcombers,” a hugely popular and long-running Canadian television series in the 1970s and ’80s. Beloved by locals, the show is a gem, little known to Americans.