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Head North to the Sunshine Coast

Travel Feature

Written by Julie Arnan

Photos provided by Sunshine Coast Tourism

eering out the window of the Harbour Air floatplane, the engine roar muffled by a set of orange earplugs, I marveled at how the landscape below could be both familiar and utterly new to my Pacific Northwest eyes. We were flying from the Vancouver, BC, waterfront to the Sunshine Coast—a piece of land northwest of the city between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Huge swaths of fir and cedar trees blanket the hilly islands below. It felt like I should recognize the landscape beneath us, but everything in BC seems grander and wilder than its Puget Sound counterpart.

Mild winters and hot, dry summers make the Sunshine Coast a popular vacation home destination for Vancouverites. Without direct road access, the almost-island is only accessible by boat and floatplane. The Sunshine Coast derives its surprising (for the PNW) moniker from a 1951 Black Ball car ferry promoting the region as the “Sunshine Coast,” thanks to a 1914 Roberts Creek freight house titled “The Sunshine Belt.”

We flew over the town of Sechelt—named after the First Nations tribe that has lived in the region for centuries—and then turned northwest, finally gliding to a stop in glassy Pender Harbour. Our plane docked at Painted Boat Resort Spa & Marina, our home base for the next couple of days.

The resort overlooks the marina from a steep hillside housing 31 spacious villas. A variety of floor plans makes them ideal for families or groups of friends. The west-facing balconies and patios are perfect for watching sunsets paint brilliant strokes of color on the harbor. Located behind the villas, the Spa at Painted Boat offers a full range of luxurious treatments. I opted for a Green Tea and Seaweed Salt Glow Body Exfoliation that included a fabulous massage and moisture treatment. Guests booking treatments also have access to the Spa Garden, featuring pools of various temperatures from hot to cold. À la carte access to the Spa Garden is available for $40. For dinner, we relaxed with a glass of wine and a delicious meal on-site at the Lagoon Restaurant.

Artists and musicians (like Joni Mitchell) have flocked to the Sunshine Coast over the years, inspired by the quiet and the scenery. With more artists per capita than anywhere else in Canada, the Sunshine Coast offers the self-directed Purple Banner Tour—if you see a purple flag from the road, it means an artist has their studio open to the public. The official Sunshine Coast Arts Crawl, scheduled October 18 to 20, 2019, includes more than 400 artists at 165 venues from Langdale to Earls Cove.

The Sunshine Coast stretches 110 miles along the Salish Sea between Howe Sound to the south and the entrance of Desolation Sound to the north. In between are forested parks and hiking trails, lakes and even mountain bikes trails at Coast Gravity Park. We gave a whole morning over to nature with a forest-bathing session at Cliff Gilker Park, led by forest therapy guide Haida Bolton, touching trees, feeling the textures of the forest, silently watching swaying branches and plants quivering in the breeze. I particularly enjoyed the sound of the creek as it swirled and plummeted over a falls, with dappled sunlight dancing on the frothy water.

There are many water-based activities up and down the coast. We opted for a Sunshine Coast Boat Tour from Egmont to Princess Louisa Inlet, stopping at Chatterbox Falls for lunch. The trip takes most of the day, but the sights are well worth the time. During our trip, we saw eagles, seals and even orcas. Our guide pointed out various geological points of interest as well as ancient pictographs painted on precarious outcroppings by some brave First Nations soul. As we entered the Princess Louisa Inlet two hours after leaving Egmont, something caught me by surprise—there before us was Malibu, a Young Life camp I attended as a 15-year-old high school student! Memories of waterskiing, evening skits and cute lifeguards bubbled up to the surface for the next few minutes until we reached our destination. Granite cliffs twice the height of Half Dome in Yosemite soar skyward, making for an incredible backdrop to the beautiful waterfall.

Though the Sunshine Coast is somewhat remote, there is still a thriving gastronomy scene complete with an Ale Trail (featuring popular Persephone Brewing Company), restaurants and markets. The Gibsons Public Market offers artisan food products, live music and even cooking classes. In addition to the Gibsons, farmers’ markets dot the “island,” including two in Roberts Creek on Wednesdays. The Sechelt Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market on Saturdays includes everything from fresh produce and seafood to First Nations art, jewelry, clothing, pottery and even hand-crafted toys.

The West Coast Wilderness Lodge, located on the north end of the “island” near Egmont, offers unsurpassed views of Sechelt Inlet from its balconies and restaurant, making it popular as a wedding venue. Those looking for a more rustic setting in which to tie the knot may find Ruby Lake Resort checks that box. A natural wildlife-and-bird sanctuary, the 80-acre reserve features an outdoor amphitheater and lakeside yoga platform as well as La Trattoria Italiana for on-site dining.

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