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Highway 101: The Sunshine Coast, part 1

Story & photos by Al MacLachlan

The Sunshine Coast lies on the mainland of BC, much of it on a peninsular that stretches from Sechelt to Pender Harbour and beyond. It is accessible only by boat or air, although it is a scenic 40 minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay, a few miles northwest of Vancouver. The area is particularly recommended for boating, especially kayaking, is renowned world-wide for scuba diving, and it is becoming one of the prime mountain bike destinations in BC.


pierThe first town you encounter from the BC Ferry dock at Langdale is Gibsons, where the long-running TV program The Beachcombers was set. Molly’s Reach is still there in the old village of Gibson’s Landing and the village is completely charming with parks, restaurants, a seawalk, marinas and a new dock and pier. There's a couple of rustic hotels, and B&Bs overlooking Gibson's harbour, and this is also an ideal place to launch your kayaks, or rent them, for Howe Sound is one of the most interesting areas to kayak, with scores of islands, from the tiny ones close to Pasley Island in the Strait of Georgia, to the larger Bowen and Gambier Islands in Howe Sound.mollys


Gibsons is also a good locale to start various bicycle trips through the rolling roads of the Sunshine Coast up past Pender Harbour to Earl's Cove, where a short ferry ride connects to Powell River. I recommend taking Lower Road, just north of Gibsons' town limit, to Roberts Creek. There are some roads and trails that give beach access, and it is a pretty journey with tall coniferous trees most of the way. The ambitious might want to do a BC Ferry circle tour which takes them from Powell River to Comox and then down the east side of Vancouver Island, along the old highway, which generally hugs the shoreline.


There are a number of good short hikes in the southern Sunshine Coast, but if you want to spend a few days hiking on the top of the world, the Tetrahedron Provincial Park, north-east of Sechelt, is the place to go. At elevations between 3,000 and 6,000 feet, with nine lakes and unusual eco-systems, you can hike throughout this 6,000 hectares for days. There are four public cabins along the trails, and camping is permitted. You'll see eagles, deer, mountain goats, whiskey jacks, possibly black bears, and wily cougars are there, but their sightings rare. These trails are not qualified as easy, although you can just do short day hikes. It’s a long drive up a steep, winding gravel logging road to a parking lot, but the views are worth it. The mountain park attracts the sort of adventurer looking for great challenges.


During the winter months there is fantastic cross-country and snow-shoeing in that area, and the cabins, located on Bachelor Lake, Edwards Lake, McNair Lake and on Mount Steele, are all booked on a first come-first serve basis.


Contact 604-886-9864 or


Roberts Creek is an unincorporated district, and most of the residents like it that way. The actual village has a post office, a general store, an outdoor adventure outlet, art and health food boutiques and the famous Gumboot Garden café. A short walk away is one of the loveliest beaches on the Coast, with a pier stretching along the river mouth, where cutthroat trout often feed. There's a provincial park off the highway with camping, B&B's to stay at and wilderness adventures by land and sea, including mountain biking, kayaking, snorkeling and fishing. Eagles are almost always in the sky or atop tall trees, and Steller's sea lions make this their home in the winter and spring. A few kilometres north lies Davis Bay, which has a panoramic beach, with good swimming, especially for kids. There's motels and lodges which overlook the beach and ocean. This small area from the Creek to Davis Bay has its own little eco-system, and is where the moniker Sunshine Coast comes from - it was somewhere in the Roberts Creek area, where Harry Roberts coined the term with a large sign on the beach enticing boaters to drop by.


Sechelt lies on a strip of peninsular only a kilometre or so wide. It is where most of the Sunshine Coast government centres are, and home of the Shíshálh First Nation. In fact, one of the first places you come to in town is the Shishalh's House of Hewhiwus (House of Chiefs), with Raven Cry's Theatre. The raven is a mischievous bird in shíshálh folklore, and the gatherer and collector of stories. The theatre has concerts, plays, and first-run movies. "Visitors are invited to attend cultural events throughout the year, hosted by our community," says the Shishalh's web site at:


There is a one of the best provincial camp grounds at Porpoise Bay in Sechelt Inlet, which runs up the east side of the peninsular all the way to Skookumchuck Narrows. One advantage of making Porpoise Bay your base camp is you can alternate between Georgia Strait on one side and the inlet on the other. Porpoise Bay is protected enough to canoe, and there are several other inlets off Sechelt Inlet that you can explore in whatever sort of boat you prefer to use.


The next community going northerly is Halfmoon Bay. Premier Campbell lives up here, Joni Mitchell has a summer place and the area has become one of the most expensive places outside the big cities. Actually, housing prices on the entire Sunshine Coast have probably quadrupled over the last decade or so, which is too bad as it's losing some of its character, as newcomers often bring their suburban values with them. Fifteen years ago there was not one McDonalds; now they’re trying to bring in WalMarts. At Cooper's Green and other places in this area you can launch your boat and explore the various islands such as Thormanby, Lasqueti and Jedehiah. Scuba divers say there are very interesting dives around these waters too.


Marine parksare located on Jedediah Island and South Thormanby Island (Simson Marine Provincial Park), at Smuggler Cove, and on smaller islands in Sechelt Inlet. These are perfect for kayakers, who can often camp overnight. There's over 500 marine provincial parks in BC, and they probably are some of the province's unsung wonders. Smuggler Cove can be reached by sea, or by a reasonably short hike from Highway 101. It's name comes from illegal activities conducted from there during Prohibition. To be continued...


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