Visit the seaside community of Union Bay, 6 km to the north of Buckley Bay, and stroll along Heritage Row, a group of historic buildings recently re-located and restored by the Union Bay Historical Society. Formerly a major shipping port (1888 to 1960) for the Union Coal Company mines at nearby Cumberland, huge docks were constructed at Union Bay to accommodate both the rumbling coal trains and the seagoing freighters. Today, Union Bay’s economy is now dependent upon by oysters, and mighty tasty ones too!
You will want to spend at least a day on the lovely Denman and Hornby Islands, touring artists’ studios, swimming on a sandy beach, hiking the bluffs and trails, scuba diving or just plain relaxing. Catch a ferry from Buckley Bay, 8 km south of Union Bay.
Mountain Biking: On the ferry ride from Denman Island over to Hornby Island, you can’t help but notice the spectacular cliffs that drop almost to the ferry landing. Imagine the exhilaration of travelling atop those cliffs on your mountain bike. Then ride the Bench Trail, which is atop the cliffs, and feel your knees go wobbly, and not just from the 1,000-foot (305-m) ascent to get there. Trails crisscross the island in all directions, and though the Bench Trail offers the best views, they are all worth exploring, especially the No Horses Trail, a half-pipe-like trail that follows an old riverbed.
Located off the northwest tip of Denman Island, 4 kilometres offshore from Union Bay, is Sandy Island Marine Provincial Park, a cluster of tiny, wooded islands. Sandy Island is located so close to the north end of Denman Island that at low tide you can wade to the 33-hectare park from the tip of Longbeak Point. These islands are a holdover from a distant time when the entire Strait of Georgia was filled with sand. In more recent geological times, glaciation gouged out the trench that is now filled with seawater. At the centre of Sandy Island (or Tree Island on some maps) a mighty stand of Douglas fir shelters 8 rustic campsites. The marine park is ideal for day trips and overnight camping – bring your own water and cookstove as fires are not allowed. When you sleep, cushioned by the soft sand, you’ll enjoy a contentment known by those adventurers who, having made the effort, find safe haven in nature.
Kayaking: There are several places around the northern straits where an open canoe is just as handy as a kayak to reach one of the Marine Provincial parks. You can paddle from Denman Island to nearby Sandy Island Marine Provincial Park. Although it’s possible on a calm day to launch from the wharf at Buckley Bay, cross Baynes Sound to the west side of Denman, and then make your way north to the park, you can reduce your travel time by taking the 10-minute ferry ride to Denman, then launching from there. Paddling distance from Denman’s ferry dock to Sandy Island is about 6 miles (10 km); half that if you launch from the public beach access farther north on Denman. To reach this location, follow Northwest Road to Gladstone Way, and park at the west end of Gladstone. A trail winds a short distance to the beach. If the tide is out you’ll have to carry your canoe or kayak over oyster-encrusted rocks to reach the ocean. Wear beach shoes and tread carefully to avoid damaging the shellfish. The park is less than a 2-mile (3-km) paddle from here.
The campground at Denman Island’s Fillongley Provincial Park is located in a forested setting on the east side of the island, about 2.5 miles (4 km) from the ferry dock to Buckley Bay. Although the campsites are tightly packed together with only concrete dividers to separate them, the sand and pebble beach that fronts the park is spacious and provides ample opportunity for exploring and, in season, hunting for shellfish for dinner. The campsite is not particularly large and fills up quickly in July and August. There is no telling in advance whether you’ll find room here.
Every island is invested with magic. Those who visit Hornby Island have really bought into the dream, as it takes two ferries to reach. Once there, head for the picnic grounds at Tribune Bay Provincial Park or Helliwell Provincial Park. The latter sits on a headland forested with a beautiful stand of old-growth Douglas fir. If you arrive here in spring you’ll be treated to a dazzling wildflower display. The rewards of visiting later in summer are the huckleberries and dark blue salal berries that cloak the hillside above the beach. Tribune Bay boasts eroded hoodoo formations and a sandy beach that vies with any in the Gulf Islands as the most ideal place to frolic and swim. Owing to the low elevation of most Gulf and Discovery Islands, walking routes are neither lengthy nor challenging. Some of the best trails are on Hornby Island and lead around Helliwell Provincial Park. A 3-mile (5-km) loop trail follows the bluffs that rise above the beach and lead through open fields and stands of magnificent old-growth Douglas fir. One of the best times to be here is in late April and early May, when wildflowers carpet the hillside above the beach.
A forested trail leads through Boyle Point Provincial Park at the south end of East Road on Denman Island. Although not a lengthy walk, this 1-mile (1.6 km across) excursion will give your legs a good workout, and you will be rewarded at the end of the trail with views of Hornby Island (the ferry from Gravelly Bay on Denman to Shingle Bay on Hornby is a short distance north of the park) as well as the strategically located lighthouse on Chrome Island just offshore. Cliffs precipitously drop off below the lookout at trail’s end, and you may not be tempted to follow a rough route down to the shoreline. One noticeable difference between the waters of the north and south ends of Denman is the presence of sea urchins around Boyle Point, but not at Longbeak Point and the waters around Sandy Island Marine Provincial Park.
No visit to the central island is complete without a visit to Strathcona Provincial Park, a rugged mountain wilderness of over 250,000 hectares that dominates central Vancouver Island. Mountain Peaks dominate the park, some eternally mantled with snow, while lakes and alpine tarns dot a landscape laced with rivers, creeks and streams. Created in 1911, Strathcona is the oldest provincial park in BC and the largest on Vancouver Island. Fabulous hiking trails include the Della Falls trail to the highest waterfall in Canada, and dozens of trails to the many pretty alpine lakes that dot the Forbidden Plateau area, providing good fly fishing for rainbow trout during summer.
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A Retreat to Remember. Outer Island Guest Farm is an Agri-Villa set on 14 acres of farmland on Hornby Island, offering warm hospitality and a taste of country living. The beautiful ranch-style homestead, with swimming pool, tennis court, and orchard, provides a tranquil atmosphere to relax, rejuvenate and see agricultural living first-hand. Self-catering or B&B accommodations available. Specializing in all-inclusive retreat packages.