Located just northwest of Vancouver, the 180km-long Sunshine Coast is picture-perfect Canada with an island-like mentality; where old growth forests collide with sandy beaches and where razor-tipped mountains meet the wild waters of the Pacific.
But since the region is cut off from the Greater Vancouver mainland by the rugged, tree-covered Coast Mountains, this picturesque coastline is only accessible by boat or seaplane, making it one of British Columbia’s best-kept secrets, complete with kayaking, hiking, first-nation history and a bohemian culture.
Start your journey at Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay, where the BC Ferry transports both cars and people to the town of Langdale. The 40-minute journey passes by rocky mountains blanketed with snowy tips and tiny green islands peeking out of the fjords. When you disembark, take the Pacific Coast Highway 101 – one of the world’s longest roads – as it winds its way north along the Sunshine Coast, passing through fishing villages and cutting through ancient forest. In the town of Lund, 150km northwest of Langdale, a “Mile 0” marker proudly indicates the start of the 15,200km highway, which ends in Quellon, Chile.
As you drive north, look out for colourful wood-carved totem poles rising out of the ground. Three tribes – the Squamish, Sechelt and Sliammon – have populated the area for centuries, and some still live here to this day. Explore the tribes’ history and heritage further at the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives in the town of Gibsons, just 5km from Langdale.
Following the coastline to the west from Gibsons, Roberts Creek is worth a stop both for its nature and history. The small town was named after Englishman Harry Roberts, one of the area’s first settlers in the early 20th Century. Roberts was responsible for giving the Sunshine Coast its current name, painting the words “Sunshine Belt” on the town’s first freight house to advertise it as a holiday spot. Hoping to attract tourists, the name was adapted to Sunshine Coast in 1951 by the Black Ball Ferry Company, which runs between Washington’s Port Angeles and Vancouver Island’s Victoria. Although it was one of the coast’s first communities, Roberts Creek still has a rural feel, with vast driftwood-covered rocky beaches and clear, mirror-like water that reflects the crisp sky and soft clouds.
Wild chanterelles and blackberries can be found in the forests around Roberts Creek, but if foraging is not your thing, Gumboot restaurant (1057 Roberts Creek Road; 0604-885-4218) offers a wide selection of locally sourced organic food; try their freshly prepared bison burger or their curried pierogies.
As you drive further along the coast, look for seals basking in the sun, bald eagles scanning the area for food and brown bears making their way through the surrounding forest or crossing the road. In the mornings, steam rises from the water, creating a mystical atmosphere. During the evenings, unforgettable sunsets cover the coast in an inflamed mist, as if seeing the world through soft red curtains.
In addition to stunning scenery, the Sunshine Coast is ripe with outdoor activities, with choices ranging from relaxed family fun to challenging adventures. Diving, snorkelling, kayaking, hiking, fishing and biking can be found all along the coast, with renting facilities available in almost every town.
For a watery adventure, pick up a vessel at Sunshine Kayaking in Gibsons and drive 20km north to the Sechelt Inlet, from which you can paddle out to one of the off-shore islands, such as Poise Island. The combination of clear water, deep-green forests and crisp air are a perfect reward for the workout, and Poise Island’s sandy and rocky beaches make it an ideal place for a picnic. Even the more exposed Straight of Georgia – the Pacific arm that stretches along the Sunshine Coast – offers family-friendly kayaking and canoeing; sheltered by Vancouver Island, much of the wind is kept at bay.
If you prefer to explore the area on two wheels, Off the Edge Adventure Sports is a family-run bike renting facility in the town of Sechelt, about 20km west of Gibsons. For an excellent day trip, bike 30km north to Madeira Park, one of the biggest towns on the Sunshine Coast and where the ocean collides with some of the coast’s freshwater lakes. The easy ride along tree-lined roads has few hills, and the snow-covered mountains, off-shore islands and deep forests make for majestic scenery. Loons, bald eagles and seals are common sights, and you may even spot a whale offshore.