Just hours from the bustling city of Vancouver, a Hawaiian-like island awaits. Turquoise waters rush in and out of white sand beaches, rocky bluffs stand firm against reckless waves, rusty red arbutus trees lean towards the sunlight, and “Bob Ross” sunsets display all colours imaginable in the sky.
Hornby Island is a Northern Gulf Island located near Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley. Wrapped in this island are a multitude of treasures perfect for the foodie, the outdoor enthusiast, the reader rabbit, the coffee connoisseur, the adrenaline junkie, the sporty spice and the eco-friendly. If you need a week to rejuvenate, the beach will take care of you. If you want an adventurous long weekend with the boys, the cliffs of Helliwell, the skimboarding and the outstanding mountain biking trails will thrill you. If you desire a tranquil evening, the sunsets of Grassy Point will lift your eyes to the sky and if you’re craving a good ol’ burrito, Verizo, will make you food that will put you in a mini coma.
On the off-season (October to May) there are only 1,000 full-time residents on the Island and in the busy months (June to September) there are 5,000 people that fill the Island. But, despite the time of year, rain or sun, hail or snow, busy or quiet, Hornby Island should be AT THE TOP OF EVERYONE’s BUCKET LIST.
STUNNING SPOTS TO EXPLORE. BRING THAT CAMERA. PACK A SNACK. AND SOAK IN THE RAYS.
1. Tribune Bay Provincial Park
This beach is a game-changer and will win over hearts and possibly hypnotize you to never leave. The fine white sand, the crystal clear water, the Mexican blankets that cover the beach with an array of snacks, the impeccable skimboarding, the sailboats that gather in the bay, the tall grasses that frame the beach and sway to the warm breezes, the volleyballs and soccer balls that are tossed around, the bursts of laughter and the sounds of the waves carefully crashing against the shore. There is never short of activities; however if you’re stumped, here are some ideas:
Who doesn’t like a strong brew of coffee and a stroll on the beach? Indulge yourself in a quiet morning walk along the white, sandy beach with a Double Americano from the local coffee shop, Lix ($3.50 & the best coffee on Hornby).
An afternoon at the beach can feel like you are standing 2-feet away from the sun… So, rent a paddleboard or kayak and get that body moving! Plus the Hornby Island Kayak Rentals give out a killer deal, for instance, to rent a double kayak for 2 hours it is $50 and a paddleboard is $25. Make sure you slap on that sunscreen and look out for sea lions.
Feeling adventurous for a late night at the beach? For the people who want to soak in every moment at the beach, evening campfires are the way to go (only on the left side of the beach in the fire pits). Bundle up in your favourite patterned fleece, make some smores, sing a few classic campfire tunes, roast some smokies, and maybe even go for an evening dip in the moonlight.
If you’re really feeling adventurous… In the late evenings of July and August, there is phosphorescence, which is caused by a suspension of algae in the water that emits a sparkle or glow whenever they are jostled. So, try going for a swim and you will be able to see the ocean whenever you splash the water. It is truly fascinating (even if the water is freezing cold) and a true West Coast experience.
2. Whaling Station Bay
Nobody said there couldn’t be two white sand beaches. Whaling Station Bay is geared towards the readers and the sporty ones because this beach is quiet and it has ideal spots for skim boarding and volleyball. One of my favourite things to do is organizing a game of beach soccer or beach volleyball ( a net is set up all summer) and then running into the ocean to cool off, which is the essence of summer. Another bonus about this beach is that it’s dog-friendly for all of the dog lovers.
3. Helliwell Provincial Park
This ocean view trail is a 5km Loop on the Southeast end of Hornby Island that takes you through lush forests, along tall grasses & pebble beaches. Just like the bluffs that line the seas of Ireland, Helliwell Bluffs are a unique addition to Hornby Island’s geography. The trail that meanders throughout the forest is packed with huge old-growth Douglas Fir trees and rare Garry Oak trees. In fact, Garry Oak Meadow Ecosystems are one of the many microclimates located within BC, which is now considered an endangered habitat. Again, this outdoor activity is appropriate in all weather climates and for all levels of athleticism.
If it’s a stormy day… Hike Helliwell. Blustering winds and crashing waves create the ideal outing when the beaches are much less appealing. Make sure to wear a rain jacket and comfortable shoes (this trail is appropriate for all levels of fitness and defiantly gets your blood pumping). WARNING, if you decide to go off the beaten path then avoid sitting on cacti. My brother, Logan, was in a squatting position trying to get the perfect shot of the waves and suddenly a half a dozen 2-inch cacti got stuck on his derriere.
Don’t forget to look up… Bald Eagles soar over the tall arbutus trees and cascade their wings through the thick summer air. These majestic creatures are a common sighting in these parts of the island and you may even catch a glimpse of them fishing for their dinner.
For the adrenaline junkies… 60 to 70-foot cliff jumping off of the bluffs into the turquoise ocean spikes one’s adrenaline through the roof. Close to Mushroom Beach, are the cliffs that have the safest routes; however, don’t go jumping without a local for they know the cliffs the best and will ensure your ultimate safety. To be honest, this is a nightmare for me and the last thing that I would do; however, I know many people who live for these seconds of absolute thrill.
For the dog lovers and pet owners… Helliwell is dog-friendly; however, you must keep your dogs on a leach.
4. Grassy Point
For all of the sunsets I’ve seen, the most beautiful sunsets have been at Grassy Point. Layers of crimson, hot pink, turquoise, mint green, soft mustard yellow and baby blue light up the sky and reflect upon the dark ocean below. Tall grasses sway to the cool breezes coming off the waves, the sweet swirls from the lingering heat of the sun, and smoke dancing from campfire to campfire. This is another prime location for an evening dip in the ocean or a campfire with all the fixings.
For a mellow evening… Stargazing at Grassy Point is like no other. It is silent, aside from the lapping waves and the howling winds. It is pitch black, aside from the campfires burning, which allows the stars to shine brighter than any stargazing in the city. Soft grassy fields provide the perfect place to lay a blanket and watch the shooting stars as they fly by.
For the photographer… Just as the sun begins to go down this spot is ideal for silhouettes and landscape shots.
For the sporty spice… This is a perfect spot to rent a paddleboard and paddle under the glow of a full moon or a colourful sunset.
If departing from Vancouver, first you’ll take the BC Ferries from HorseShoe Bay to Naniamo on Vancouver Island (http://www.bcferries.com/schedules/mainland/). Once you’ve arrived in Naniamo, you’ll enjoy a scenic 1 hour drive to Buckley Bay. For the restless road-trippers who need a cool down and get out of a stuffy car, or if you need to pick up some extra groceries, or if your taste buds are craving one of the dozens of different ice cream flavours…stop at Coombs Old Country Market.
Plus you will have the added bonus of seeing goats walking on the grass roof of the store. From Buckley Bay, there are only two short ferries to take until you reach Hornby Island, first stop Denman Island and the next, Hornby Island. Trust me, you will know when you arrive; when you drive along the windy roads, the ocean plays peek-a-boo and fills the air with a salty mist that you can taste.
If you’ll be traveling within Canada or outside Canada then you can just check how to get Air Canada reservations here.
Traveling on a Budget
For the people exploring Hornby Island on a budget, there are two campsites to stay at: Tribune Bay Campground and Brads Dad’s Land. Both of these campgrounds provide campers with all the essentials.
About the Writer
My name is Tessa van de Poll and I am a 21-year old proud Canadian, living in Vancouver, BC. To taste authentic cuisine from farm to city, to smell wafts of sweetness pour over landscapes, to exchange conversations with all walks of life, to wake up to a fresh brew of coffee, to reach summits of mountain peaks and breathe in the freshest air, to weave in and out of lush trails, to soak in a moment by the click of a camera and to then linger in it for hours; these are a few of the things that make me feel alive. When I am not hiking or traveling I like to go on bike rides, go for jogs on the dykes, play my guitar, spend hours drinking an almond milk latte at a hip coffee shop, cook delicious vegetarian meals and spend time with my friends and family. For the past five months, I have been living on Hornby Island and working as a server at SeaBreeze Lodge. Now I am gearing up towards my next adventure, which is to go backpacking for 3 or 4 months throughout Central and South America, with my good friend, Kathleen.