I experienced late-winter cabin fever recently, and having always wanted to visit Malcolm Island and Sointula, off the northern end of Vancouver Island, I packed my camping gear, loaded my bike onto my car rack, and headed northwards.
I live in Courtenay in Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley, so the drive north to catch a BC Ferry in Port McNeil was around 255 kms; over 3 hours of driving on the excellent paved North Island Highway, which becomes two lanes north of Campbell River. I treated myself to a coffee break in Woss, and a few additional stops to take photos, stretch the legs, and soak in some inspiring natural scenery.
In Port McNeil there’s pay car parking available at just $5 per day beside the ferry terminal, but I’m told it can fill up during the peak season. There were half a dozen daily sailings to Sointula, but be sure to check the BC Ferries schedule for alerts and the latest schedule. The same ferry also provides service to nearby Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. I loaded up my touring bike and started rolling.
Here’s a little history on Malcolm Island: “Sointula means ‘place of harmony’ in Finnish. This charming seaside town on sprawling Malcolm Island was established as a community in the late 19th century when a colony of Finnish settlers arrived with utopian dreams of building the perfect community. While that vision was derailed within a decade, there’s no question these visionaries chose the right place for a fresh air and salt water paradise on earth.” (Source: Vancouverislandnorth.ca)
Many of the Finns stayed on, farming, fishing and logging, and helping give the island a distinctive character that lives on to this day. Malcolm and Cormorant Islands, as well as Port McNeil and parts of North Vancouver Island, are part of the traditional Namgis First Nations territory.
The friendliness started when I was boarding the ferry from Port McNeil. The BC ferries staff and other walk-on passengers all greeted me! I stopped for coffee in Sointula, and asked about camping at Bere Point Campground on the north shores. A small group soon gathered to offer advice and opinions. I finally started my ride, and immediately noticed that almost every car driver – there’s not many – waved. And Sointula certainly offers some roadside character.
The ride to Bere Point Regional Campground on the north shore was only 7kms; mostly on dirt track passing a few working farms, climbing over a modest 100-metre island spine, and downhill to the campground. Bere Point is gorgeous; definitely one of my favourite campgrounds, and a place to return to in the season. There are twenty four campsites, some situated right along the beach, with others set farther back.
The incredible, smooth pebbled bay, with driftwood along the high tide marker, is famous as a “rubbing beach” for killer whales that come in close to shore to scrub their skins on the smooth stones.
There are hiking and walking trails heading along the north coast. Along with the natural beauties, the campground had a whimsical character, with intricate driftwood tables, benches, staircases and windbreaks dotted about, all lovingly put together by visitors. One gets the sense that visitors like to stay a while, and it’s no wonder they do so. I even had a few dog walkers stop by to chat with me.
It was pretty cold and rainy on my arrival day, but I woke up on day two to a new day of beautiful blue skies and breathtaking views across the Queen Charlotte Strait. The campground takes reservations, and it’s only $20 per night in season (open and free out of season).
I had to make my way back home the next day, but took note of some riding and hiking excursions for a future visit to Malcolm Island. Cycling around 10 kilometres to the west, mostly paralleling the northern shores of the island, takes one out to picturesque Putney Point, or one can ride 20 kilometres eastwards to Mitchell Bay along the spine of the Island.
By Gregg Strong
Backroads Bike Touring, Vancouver, BC
Credit: All photos by Gregg Strong
Top Featured Photo: A parting view of Sointula seaside, from the ferry terminal.