Chilling Out on Hornby Island

Hike, drink mead, eat pizza, and dream big about having a cabin your own on Hornby Island

Credit: Stacey McLachlan

Big Tribune Bay on Hornby Island takes your breath away any time of year

Making friends with people who have cabins on Gulf Islands is one way to have yourself a sweet island getaway. Of course, if you need a place to relax, Hornby is worth a visit either way

If you, like me, are averse to the “hard work” or “fiscal responsibility” necessary to acquire a cabin of your own, collecting friends with such lodgings is a handy shortcut to fun and inexpensive getaways.

With this in mind, I strategically got chummy with a co-worker whose family has property on Hornby Island, and just a few short years of shmoozing later, I was on my way to a sweet island getaway.

If you don’t have such a colleague, though, there are accommodations on Hornby like cute B&Bs and six-bedroom vacation homes that I’m sure are just as nice, although they may lack an illegal whiskey still.

Getting to Hornby: Triple the Ferry Treat

It’s a multi-(sea-)legged journey to get to Hornby, but if you like ferry rides — and who doesn’t?! — you’re in for a triple-threat treat: first, a leisurely trip from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, then two smaller 10-minute rides on considerably smaller boats with considerably fewer gift shops.

Arriving under Hornby’s charmingly amateur “WELCOME” sign, we pulled over to sit on the little beach by the ferry terminal to admire the sunset that was swallowing up the Gulf Islands, unpolluted by city lights. When nature was finally done showing off, we scampered up the hill to the dark and friendly Thatch Pub for a cold beer and some reminiscing (“Remember how beautiful that sunset was?”)

The island’s so small (it’s only 29 square km) that we could safely, intoxicatedly stroll over to our quarters for the night, although without streetlights it was a little scary. Luckily, the most dangerous creatures lurking in the woods are Disney-inspired deer, who frolic about with such a sense of ownership that you half expect to see them at city hall (if there were a city hall; Hornby is a tiny slice of socialist paradise and the word “co-op” is stuck on everything, most notably the combination grocery store/gas station/liquor barn/flip-flop emporium).

Hornby’s Beaches: Sandy All Year Long

Though world-class beaches like Hornby’s Big Tribune Bay are packed during the summertime, they deserve a visit during the autumn months, too.

In October, the endless sand is just as white and soft, and the views of the anchored boats on the oceans are just as beautiful when paired with a picnic lunch from the nearby, mysteriously nameless taco stand.

We laid around for days on Big Trib, getting sand under our nails that I’m still working on cleaning out.

Eventually, though, it was time for a little exercise, and so we traded our (admittedly optimistic) sandals for hiking shoes and headed up to Helliwell.


Hiking on Hornby: Beyond Beauty at Helliwell

Helliwell Provincial Park is, to put it delicately, stupid beautiful. The trail is a crash course in BC glamour: it winds through mammoth trees and spits you out onto windswept bluffs and past rocky, starfish-packed tide pools.

It’s a short walk — a fairly gentle 5 km — but it took us forever to make it to the end due to excessive expression of our wonderment (“Isn’t it beautiful?” “Yes!” etc, etc).

Eating and Drinking on Hornby: Mead, Pizza, What More Could You Want?

Feeling thirsty, presumably from talking too much, we hit up the local meadery. Though Middle Mountain Mead may give you the impression that it’s being distilled by some Tolkein-esque creatures, it’s actually harvested on the south end of the island with no Hobbit help.

Middle Mountain’s honeybee hives collect nectar all year from organically grown lavender, apples, and currents, and the result is a syrupy sweet wine with floral notes that tastes all the better up on the rooftop of the meadery. As a former beekeeper, I’m always toasting to bees, but on this occasion it felt particularly appropriate as we sipped, sampled and tried to cajole an extra tipple or two during our tasting session.

On our way back to the ferry, we stopped for pizza from Cardboard House. While we waited for our Spring Fever pie (roasted garlic, sundried tomatoes, spinach), we climbed some of the trees in the 90-year-old orchard. Then we saw the sign forbidding such tomfoolery, so we poked around the garden instead, which was probably more educational (and age appropriate) anyway.

Cardboard House grows all their own veggies right on site, and makes all their dough from organic flour, so I felt pretty good about eating half a large pizza by myself. Call me a health nut.

As the little ferry puttered away and Hornby Island got smaller and smaller, I waved goodbye and dreamt that maybe one day, I’d  have my own cabin here. Or at least another friend with a hook-up.

Stacey McLachlan is a freelance writer with a totally useful publishing degree. She is a certified beekeeper, an amateur pie enthusiast, and the kind of person who spends a disproportionate amount of time looking at pictures of pigs on the Internet. If you’re feeling up to it, find her work in Vancouver, Western Living, BeatRoute, and Award.