Friday, September 06, 2013

Mountain Family Meets Ocean on the Sunshine Coast

Still trying to catch up on our August vacation in British Columbia, here's part three - the Sunshine Coast!  We made our way from the Nelson area in the Kootenay Rockies (Champion Lakes camping trip) to the Okanagan for 5 nights.  From the Okanagan we headed west to Vancouver.  After driving through the suburbs and city of Vancouver (something that wasn't a lot of fun) and waiting 3 hours to get on a ferry (after paying a small fortune to get our trailer on it), we finally arrived on the Sunshine Coast as the sun was going down.

Playing on the beach at Roberts Creek Provincial Park

The Sunshine Coast

While the Sunshine Coast isn't an island, it certainly has that island feeling (could have been the ferry) and we were right on the Pacific Ocean up the coast from Vancouver.   We had protected water for paddling in many places and  always had Vancouver Island off in the distance to shelter us a bit from the open ocean.  Waves still got pretty big though and we were warned to stick to coves and inlets with our kayak and my SUP  board.

Paddling at Pender Harbour
First time paddling on the ocean


Camping at Porpoise Bay Provincial Park in Sechelt

We camped while we were on the coast for 5 nights at Porpoise Bay Provincial Park and if this campground were a tad closer to home we'd make it an annual trip.   The campground was right on the Sechelt Inlet for family-friendly paddling and had a great beach area for kids.  We saw lots of jellyfish on the  beach but I never heard of anybody getting stung while swimming (and I did ask around!)  While kayaking and paddling on my board we saw a seal, lots of starfish (including some with 7 arms), and two kinds of jellyfish.  At low tide families could explore the beach for clams and other shellfish, and there was sand in abundance to play in.

Porpoise Bay Provincial Park
Paddling in the Sechelt Inlet
Porpoise Bay Beach
The Lion's Mane Jellyfish (largest known species of jellyfish)

The campground was a beautiful place set in an old growth forest and we had fun biking around the trails that for once had no signs preventing us from riding our  bikes.  Most campgrounds we visited on our vacation had "no biking signs" everywhere so Porpoise Bay was a refreshing change!

Biking in Porpoise Bay Provincial Park
I loved biking here!  Great paths!

 Paddling on the Ocean

We were all excited to do some paddling around in the protected coves and inlets of the Sunshine Coast and hoped to see lots of marine life.  While we did explore the Sechelt Inlet a bit, our favourite place to paddle by far was Smuggler Cove Marine Park.  We found a great put in spot that I imagine must be a bit of a local secret as it certainly wasn't advertised in any tourist booklet.  We definitely saw over 50 seals and sea lions that day in Smuggler Cove along with turkey vultures, a bald eagle, and starfish in the hundreds.  The water was very protected and it was a great introduction to sea kayaking and SUPing gentle waves

Practicing my sea SUPing in the Sechelt Inlet
Seals in Smuggler Cove
SUPing in Smuggler Cove Marine Park
Turkey Vulture
We tried to do some paddling around Pender Harbour as well but that area of the Sunshine Coast was a bit of a disappointment.  There were few public areas to put our boats in and there were houses on every free space of waterfront property within  fifty miles.  We tried paddling around Irvines Landing but it was pretty exposed and we couldn't find too many protected coves and inlets.

Paddling at a local beach we found near  Irvines Landing
Next we tried to find a way to access the Garden Bay area of Pender Harbour.  We spent a good hour or more driving around but every road with potential to take us to the ocean just lead to more houses and a dead end. We tried to find Garden Bay Marine Park but were unsuccessful with the map and directions we had been given.  The parking lot we ended up at definitely did not take us to a beach. Finally we found an abandoned marina and carried our boats down to the water at an old boat launch. If there is an official spot to put in, we never found it.

Garden Bay, Pender Harbour

Hiking on the Sunshine Coast

We had great plans to do some hikes on the coast but in the end, paddling was more fun and we can hike back home here.  Meanwhile, we do not have ocean anywhere near Calgary. The one hike we did though that we really liked was through Cliff Gilker Park at Roberts Creek.  We loved the meandering forest loops that followed a beautiful little creek.  Noah liked the bridges and the waterfall.

Hiking through Cliff Gilker Park
We don't have trees like this at home.
Main attraction of the park - the swimming hole and waterfall
Next time we're  bringing our bathing suits

Other Sightseeing

Other highlights involved having lunch in the town of Gibsons at Molly's Reach, home of the classic Canadian TV show, The Beachcombers.   We also enjoyed exploring Roberts Creek Provincial Park at low tide and almost brought a hermit crab home with us.  Trained to the ways of the Rockies though where you leave everything as you found it, we returned him to the ocean before coming home. 

Classic Landmark in  Gibsons

Lots of Starfish at Roberts Creek
Playing at the Beach at Robert's Creek

Overall Impression - and Would We Return?

That's the question people really want to know when we visit new places, isn't it?  Would we return?  And that's a difficult question for me to answer.  It was a long drive to reach the coast and in all honesty, we didn't find it as scenic as the Olympic Peninsula in Washington where we took Noah a couple of years ago.  I also didn't find it as tourist-friendly as nearby Vancouver Island.  

We found it hard as outsiders on the Sunshine Coast.  There was definitely that feeling that most people were either locals or else had cottages on the coast.  Information was difficult to find when we went to Tourism Info Centres and staff usually didn't have the answers we wanted.  At Pender Harbour the girl honestly didn't know where we could put our boats in to go paddling.  Maybe nobody had ever asked her before?  When we went to the Info Centre in Sechelt and tried to get information on Smuggler Cove, they also didn't know much about it and would only recommend paddling on the Sechelt Inlet (since it was right there and probably as far as their knowledge went.)

On the flip side, we had a great time exploring the marine parks and it was fun introducing Noah to tide pools, starfish, and seals.  For me, my board has now touched ocean water and I was thrilled to paddle in some small waves.   Overall, we are definitely glad we visited the Sunshine Coast as it had been on my list to visit for years now.   

Starfish at Roberts Creek
Starfish in Pender Harbour
Introducing Noah to Marine Life
Riding the ferry back to mainland Vancouver

Have you visited the Sunshine Coast?  What are your favourite things to do there as a family?

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