The Sunshine Coast has the community vibe that city dwellers crave, and visitors will feel that warm, welcoming vibe in the restaurants, resorts, bookstores and breweries

The Sunshine Coast Highway stretches from the Langdale ferry terminal in the south, to the community of Lund in the north.

And here’s a fun fact: the road is part of the Pacific Coastal Highway 101, a 15,202 km (9,446 mile) stretch of highway with Mile 0 in Lund (pictured below) and the other end in Quellon, Chile.

The Sunshine Coast Highway follows the southern shores of the Sunshine Coast, weaving its way through the communities of Langdale, Gibsons, Roberts Creek, Sechelt, Halfmoon Bay and Madeira Park, and then cuts inland toward the ferry terminal at Earls Cove.

BC Ferries bridges the gap between Earls Cove and the Saltery Bay ferry terminal, and the highway continues following the coast, where it passes through Powell River and ends in Lund.

If you haven’t made the trip along the Sunshine Coast Highway, you absolutely must plan your first adventure there this summer. There is so much to experience, and on my last visit to the Sunshine Coast I fell deeply in love with the people, the places and the sense of adventure and community. 

It’s only a 40-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale, making it perfect for a day trip. To continue onto Lund is a 75-minute drive to the Earls Cove ferry terminal, a 50-minute ride to the Saltery Bay ferry terminal, and a 60-minute drive to Lund – less than a 5-hour trip from downtown Vancouver, making it ideal for a weekend getaway.

The Sunshine Coast’s rugged shorelines and numerous parks, lakes and rivers make it an outdoor adventurer's paradise, whether it’s canoeing, kayaking, diving, paddling, hiking or biking that toot your horn, and the bevvy of bed and breakfasts, resorts and even meditation centres will appeal to anyone wanting to get away from the noise and grime of city life.

Last month I joined a group of five local ladies on a four-day trip exploring the upper reaches of the Sunshine Coast Highway, and we began our adventure on the Queen of Surrey, one of BC Ferries’ fleet that makes the journey from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale numerous times a day.

Madeira Park and Egmont

Our first stop was the village of Madeira Park in Pender Harbour, where we enjoyed fresh sandwiches and homemade baked goods from the Copper Sky Gallery and Cafe (pictured above) on their outdoor picnic tables, and then popped inside to peruse the large selection of local artwork, including pieces by owner Cindy Cantelon.

Next we were off to Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park (pictured above) for a 45-minute hike to see the famous tidal rapids, which were predicted to be at their peak early that afternoon. I was excited to see the Skookumchuck rapids in person because my brother, an avid surfer, had told me stories about a few of his hair-raising adventures in those rushing waters. Seeing the tidal rapids in person made me question his sanity – the power of the water was palpable.

After our hike we checked into the nearby West Coast Wilderness Lodge, perched high on a bluff overlooking the Sechelt Inlet in the fishing village of Egmont. Owner Paul Hansen, the consummate host, greeted us with a cocktail and showed us around the property. Off the large dining room is an enormous patio (pictured above) with breathtaking views – definitely a spot I’d like to return to for a romantic dinner or an afternoon spent curled up with a good book.

Hansen, a former environmental educator in Vancouver, originally built the lodge with kids in mind, a fact made evident by the huge educational component to its more than 15 packaged adventures that range from kayaking tours and mountain biking excursions to zodiac cruises, float plane flights, and helicopter rides. Now people come from all over the world to experience the west coast wilderness with Hansen as their enthusiastic guide.

The food at Inlets Restaurant was excellent and the suites were spacious and cozy – nothing winds up a day of outdoor activity like sinking into a king-sized bed enveloped by luscious down.

Powell River

The next morning, we boarded BC Ferries’ Island Sky vessel at Earls Cove for the 50-minute voyage to Saltery Bay. Be sure to bundle up so you can stand on deck and take in the scenery and wildlife – I saw a huge waterfall (pictured above) and two adorable seals.

Once in Powell River we stopped by the busy Breakwater Books and Coffee, a popular local hangout whose specialty is local authors and West Coast titles. Owner Sean Dees, also a former Vancouverite, told us something that was apparent at nearly every place we visited during our trip – there is a very strong sense of community on the Sunshine Coast, and locals welcome transplants and tourists alike.

Lund

After our bookstore browse it was on to TerraCentric Coastal Adventures in Lund where owner Christine Hollmann (pictured above in hat) outfitted us in floater suits and took us on a thrilling zodiac boat tour to Desolation Sound. Hollmann is a knowledgeable and ardent educator and leads boating, kayaking and hiking adventure tours, custom wilderness experiences, educational adventure programs, and corporate team building excursions. 

Throughout our tour Hollmann provided us with lots of interesting commentary – including a brief stop to look at hieroglyphs on a rocky cliff, which she says could date back over 7,000 years. If you like learning and adventure, you will love TerraCentric.

All of that fresh air really worked up an appetite and once we arrived back on land we walked along the boardwalk to TerraCentric’s neighbor, The Boardwalk Restaurant (pictured above). Owners Roy and Rayana Blackwell hail from Vancouver and are the former owners of Mr Pickwick’s on Denman, which was forced to close last year when its lease was ended abruptly due to redevelopment.

The Blackwells are another example of that genuine warmth and welcome we felt on our road trip. They enthusiastically shared their new menu with us – nearly everything is local and sustainable – and suggested we try the Bounty of the Sea feast. They brought out plate after plate of locally grown produce and freshly caught seafood, including battered oysters, Mediterranean-style mussels and clams, seasoned prawns, blackened ling cod, and red chili crab.

And after catching wind that my birthday was two days away, they brought out an incredible berry pavlova with all the bells and whistles: candles, happy birthday napkins, and even a small gift.

Following dinner we made our way to the rustic Desolation Resort, with 10 chalets (chalet 8 is pictured above) overlooking Okeover Inlet on the inland side of the Malaspina Peninsula – almost directly across from The Boardwalk Restaurant.

We split into groups of two and my roommate and I got one of the best chalets (chalet 2), one with a hot tub and three bathrooms. The chalets are fully furnished and have a large main floor with a kitchen, dining area and living room, plus a large balcony with a BBQ overlooking the water. We played host and had the whole group over for a rousing game of charades and a late night soak in the hot tub.

In the early morning haze there was still a hint of excitement because we knew we were headed to Nancy’s Bakery in Lund (pictured above), which is located below TerraCentric, for its famous cinnamon buns. That morning their flavours included cinnamon, pecan, raisin, blackberry and mango. As we were headed out to hike a section of the Sunshine Coast Trail next, we all had one of their delicious big breakfasts and stuffed our bags with cinnamon buns for sustenance on the trail.

Hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail

Our hiking guide, Eagle Walz, who is the president and founder of the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (PRPAWS), met up with us after breakfast to lead us to the Gwendoline Hills section of the Sunshine Coast Trail. The Sunshine Coast Trail is a 180-kilometre-long trail that runs from the northern tip of the Malaspina Peninsula to Saltery Bay. It was entirely built by volunteers, beginning in 1992 when Eagle and a small group of friends saw the need to protect Powell River’s surrounding wilderness, specifically the massive trees in sections of old growth forest.

Over the past 20 years, PRPAWS and other volunteer groups and individuals have spent thousands of hours building and clearing trails, lobbying for land protection, and most recently, building a string of huts that allow hikers to complete the trail, camping overnight, without lugging a tent. On the morning we met up with Eagle, we hiked up to the new hut on Manzanita Bluffs (pictured above with Eagle), which overlooks the Copeland Islands, Savary Island, and the Salish Sea.

After our hike we checked into the Beach Gardens Resort and Marina in Powell River, where every room has a balcony overlooking the Malaspina Strait, and had a tour with general manager Joan Barszczewski, who pointed out the amenities available on site – a laundromat, liquor store, fitness centre, indoor pool, dive shop, and restaurant – The Savoury Bight Seaside Restaurant and Pub.

The sun was out and we were hungry so we made a beeline to the patio (pictured above) perched right on the water at The Savoury Bight, where we had tasty pub fare and a prelude to our afternoon – beers from Townsite Brewing. 

When we arrived at Townsite Brewing, in the historic Federal Building in the historic Townsite district of Powell River (that’s a whole lot of historic!), super cool owner Karen Skadsheim (who is pictured above and also a former Vancouverite – are you noticing a trend here?) was already poised and ready to spring into action in the tasting room, while Belgian brewer engineer Cedric Dauchot was busy brewing away in the back.

Locals are pretty excited about this microbrewery and we discovered why – Townsite makes really great beer (which you can now try or buy at many restaurants and liquor stores on the Sunshine Coast and Lower Mainland). We tried the Zunga golden blond ale, Suncoast pale ale, Tin Hat India pale ale, and Pow Town porter, and took a few growlers to go. Growlers are big glass jugs, and Skadsheim filled a half dozen of them for us to take to the BBQ we were off to at Herondell Bed and Breakfast, south of Powell River.

There were a few familiar faces at Herondell Bed and Breakfast as owners Nancy and Alex Hollmann had invited daughter Christine Hollmann and family friend Eagle Walz. Before dinner Nancy gave us a tour of the property, which lies on over 40 acres of gorgeous forested land, and is accessible right off the Sunshine Coast Trail (if you don’t feel like sleeping in a hut).

After dinner – and another birthday cake! – we had a tour of their spacious home which has four guest rooms and a lovely big living room (pictured above) with an assortment of musical instruments including two pianos. Nancy and Alex are incredible people and we lingered in their kitchen, deep in conversation, not wanting the night to end.

The next morning was my birthday and I had the treat of flying home to Vancouver out of Powell River with Pacific Coastal Airlines – a speedy 35-minute flight – to another day of celebrations and to much regaling of my magical trip to anyone who would listen.

For more information on the Sunshine Coast, visit Sunshine Coast Tourism.

Images by Catherine Roscoe Barr