Come the end of May, when ferry service to ports on the Central Coast is shouldered by the Queen of Chilliwack (on the Discovery Coast Passage route), there are no stops between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert, with its connections to the Queen Charlotte Islands and Alaska. That’s a good thing. The ferry has become so popular with summer travellers that everything needs to click in order to keep to the demanding schedule.
Prince Rupert, British Columbia’s northernmost port, is the terminus for the Alaska Marine Highway System and VIA Rail. Visitors will find many whale watching charters and fishing vessels selling their wares at the busy dock – try the crabs and fresh halibut! Head down to quaint old Cow Bay for a cappuccino, or out to the rugged beauty of the Khutzeymateen reserve. Take a tour of the historical North Pacific Cannery in Port Edward, the oldest surviving cannery on the coast – well worth a visit. Ferries from the harbour take visitors up the coast to ports on the Alaska panhandle and north, and across the Hecate Strait to the breathtaking islands of Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).
Numerous cruise ships ply the waters of the 314-mile (507-km) Inside Passage en route to Alaska. BC Ferries may not rival the QE II in size, but is majestic enough to carry freight trailers, family sedans, recreational vehicles, motorcycles, and touring bicycles. Passengers boarding in Port Hardy for the trip to Prince Rupert include the usual manifest of adventure-hungry world travellers you’d expect to find boarding a ferry in British Columbia, bolstered, depending on the season, by a contingent of tree planters. By the conclusion of the journey, you’ll probably be on nodding, if not full-blown speaking, terms with many of your fellow passengers.
Aside from a short stretch of open ocean between Vancouver Island and Rivers Inlet, where the Central Coast archipelago begins, the route north to Prince Rupert leads through a narrow maze of channels, passes, and reaches. Snow and ice coat the peaks of the mountains, and their shoulders plunge to the tideline. So rugged is most of this coast that if you were exploring here by kayak, you’d be challenged to find a welcoming landing site. Passengers should keep their eyes peeled for a whale or dolphin in Queen Charlotte Sound. With luck you might even see a white-coated Kermode bear on Princess Royal Island’s lengthy shoreline.
M.V. Northern Expedition is BC Ferries’ newest vessel to ply the waters of British Columbia’s Inside Passage. The new 150 metre ship accommodates 130 vehicles and 600 passengers. Among its many features, the Northern Expedition will offer 55 modern staterooms (cabins are reserved in advance and usually book up fast) for customers and an expanded range of food services and other amenities to delight local residents and tourists alike.
Passengers will enjoy the spacious cafeteria, called Canoe Cafe, as well as the Vista Restaurant. The Raven’s Lounge offers TV viewing while the reserved seating Aurora Lounge boasts wonderful view and reclining chairs, perfect for taking in the sweeping vistas of northern B.C. You’ll find a great selection of unique treasures that capture the essence of the north coast including gifts, clothing, books, jewellery and treats for everyone at the Passages Gift shop. Together the Northern Expedition and the Northern Adventure will deliver a cruise-like travel experience on the northern routes.