Exploring our own back yard: The Sunshine coast
After traveling the world for a few years now I thought that here we are flying all over the world while our own backyard in BC is so beautiful and I haven’t yet seen it all. A few weeks ago we had an opportunity to travel to the coast and decided to add a few days to begin exploring the vast sunshine Coast with its islands, inlets, beachfront homes and local food.
The Sunshine Coast is part of BC mainland but accessible by air or ferry only. We boarded the ferry at Horseshoe Bay north of Vancouver, grabbed a coffee and after a short and comfortable 40-minute ride arrived at Langdale and drove off the ferry to begin our short adventure. We rented a beachside home in Sechelt for a couple of nights but were in no hurry to get there and wanted to explore along the way.
Langdale a small community, mostly serving the ferry port and we did not stop there. We set out on Highway 101, aka the “sunshine coast Highway” and headed to Gibson, our first destination and the gateway town to the sunshine coast, only 5 km from the ferry terminal.
Gibson is a charming small town right on the coast. We parked the car along the main street and walked around the shops and galleries at Gibsons Landing before heading down to the trail on the ocean for a little bit of walking and sightseeing. That idea ended abruptly when I spotted a charming fish n’ chips type restaurant that had a long communal table outdoors right along the marina. What can be better than this? Smitty’s Oyster House is a gem of a place situated right in front of a working wharf where halibut and crab trawlers unload their catch daily. Oysters and seafood are the main attraction and we ordered halibut fish and chips and beer on tap. The communal table invites conversation and we had a good time talking with the people seated to our left and right. No one knew each other but everyone was talking together. Kind of a fun experience. The fish and chips were both crispy and tender, the fish lightly battered, not too salty and packed with fresh sea flavour. I could have lingered, watching the fishing boats come and go but we had to keep going.
Our rented house was just outside of Sechelt, another town along the sunshine coast highway and that was where we headed next. At Sechelt we stopped at the grocery store to stock up on fruit, bread, cheese etc. The house was located 10 km out of town and we were not sure if we were going to go out again for dinner that night. The beach house was interesting with one big deficiency: it had no indoor cooking facility. The kitchen was located in the part of the house occupied by the owners, who were away at the time. There was a wood-burning pizza oven and a grill outside but no real kitchen to do any prep, which for me meant eating out. I didn’t come here to rough it and in any event, I had no intention to cook, I wanted to try local food at local restaurants.
Living on the ocean is special. The house is located on a bay with two small islands between the shore and the open water which means the bay water is usually calm and protected. One of the islands was private with a lovely weekend home built on it, apparently owned by a Vancouver family who spends weekends here in season. The house is accessible by water only.
“Our” home was large with a garden cascading down to the water, a dock with a sailboat tied to it and a few kayaks and canoes available for our use. We first walked around to check out the property, then settled at the edge of the dock on the two Adirondack style chairs, put our feet up on the round log and watched the tide coming in, rising against the rocks that lined the shore. We did not go out that evening, enjoying a platter of cheese, bread, fresh and dried fruits, nuts and a few fresh veggies. We fell asleep to the sound of the surf pounding gently against the rocks.
In the morning we wanted to explore and started with looking for a place for breakfast. Our plan for the day was to hike to Skookumchuck Narrows which was an hour north by car so en route we thought we’d stop at Rockwater Secret Cove Resort for breakfast. The minute I got there I knew that was the place to stay next time. Rental schmental, I like hotels and service. Rockwater has charming tenthouse suites nestled above the water along a boardwalk suspended halfway up the arbutus forest. The canvas tenthouses are in the glamping style with heated slate floors, king size beds, hydro-bathtubs, rain showers, propane fireplace and private verandas overlooking the water and expansive view of the Malspina straight. Rockwater offers rooms at the main lodge as well as historical cabins on the property, but for me, the place to stay is in the tenthouses. After touring the property we settled for breakfast in the dining room overlooking the pool and the bay. Breakfast was lovely, served at white cloth covered tables with fresh flowers and a beautiful view. I had my standard breakfast out (poached eggs, at home it’s always oatmeal) and we soon settled with our coffees to enjoy the moment and plan the rest of the day. Heading the kitchen is chef Katsuyuki Sekihata, who started his cooking career in Tokyo and later worked in such noted establishments such as Maxim de Paris, Maison Troigros and an apprenticeship with Paul Bocus. Of course I was curious and we planned to have dinner there that evening.
After lingering at breakfast we decided to continue towards our hiking destination an hour drive north. Skookumchuck (meaning turbulent waters) Narrows is an interesting natural phenomenon in the Skookumchuck Provincial Park. A 45 minute hike along a trail through the temperate rainforest leads to a viewing point where you can see turbulent tidal rapids clash through the narrows connecting the Sechelt and Jarvis inlets. The difference in water levels between the outgoing and incoming currents can reach 2-3 meters, creating spectacular whirlpools and whitewaters. The time to see this is during the height of the tide and you can find a tide schedule online, indicating the level of the tide as well (s-m-l). The lovely Skookumchuck Bakery and Cafe at the entrance to the park is a quaint place to have a cup of coffee or buy lunch to take along. The short and easy hike was beautiful, the trail meandering among the tall trees with straight trunks and the green ferns that covered the ground with its lush foliage. Berry bushes line the sides of the trail and I had a feast picking red and golden raspberries along the way. Delicious.
Once we arrived at the North Point viewing area the tide was just beginning to come in. It was projected to be a medium level tide and you could clearly distinguish between the incoming and outgoing waters. Several whirlpools were forming as the two tides were clashing and some whitewaters created enough turbulence to make you wish you’d never fall into the current. We spent about an hour watching the currents do their thing and then moved to a second viewing point, Roland Point, 10 minutes walk from the first place, where you can see the outgoing current rushes by. I think the intensity of the experience depends not only on the level of tide but also on the amount of water coming and going. There are probably optimum times during the year to view this phenomenon and it may require some research.
We headed back along the trail to our car and decided to make a couple of stops on the way back and explore other local communities. We stopped at Egmont and Pender Harbour, both quaint communities offering watersports, hiking, food and relaxation. I can definitely see why people have their homes here. By then it was time for an early dinner and we headed back to Rockwater Secret Cove Resort for dinner. Again, dinner was a lovely experience. I ordered the tropical salad made with greens, goat cheese, roasted almonds and mango vinaigrette and the linguini puttanesca for main course. G had the mussels to start and sockeye salmon for his main course. Since I always have room for dessert I ordered the poached pear with vanilla cream and it was delicious. Definitely, we have to go back there next time.
That evening we settled on the dock again in spite of the light rain and enjoyed being by the ocean. The water was too rough that evening for a canoe ride so we just enjoyed the scene from the shore. The next morning we packed our things and started our way back to the ferry, but not before an unmemorable lunch of fish and chips at the Lighthouse Pub on the water. A couple of the restaurants I wanted to try were closed.
There is so much more to explore on the Sunshine coast, I can’t wait to go back.
See below for restaurants suggestions.
Here are some restaurant suggestions around Sechelt and Gibson in case you go:
Blue Herron Inn (Sechelt)
Daphnes Mediterranean Grill (Sechelt)
Saffron Restaurant (Sechelt)
Pebbles Restaurant (Sechelt)
Lighthouse Pub (Sechelt)
Smitty’s Oyster House (Gibson)