I grew up on Vancouver Island, about a 4.5 hour drive from the north end of the island, but for some reason I never made it up that far. Lucky for me, Destination British Columbia sent a photographer from my team at Monument Creatives, Nathan and myself to explore and create still content from Telegraph Cove up to the north tip of Cape Scott Provincial Park.
So we picked up our oversized SUV rental in Vancouver and began the 8.5 hour drive to the north island.
After a 2 hour sailing to Nanaimo, we took a pit-stop in Coombs to stock up on fancy cheese, bread, candied salmon & other treats at The 'Goats On The Roof' Old Country Market. If you have an extra couple of hours to kill, be sure to pit stop on the way at little mountain in Errington for a beautiful view of the valley and for lunch / dinner at Cuckoo Italian Restaurant. We kicked ourselves for not having enough time to eat there...
Our first stop on the week long trip was to check out the quaint boardwalk town of Telegraph Cove. Usually this spot is bustling with tourists from late May until late September, but in the off-season, you miss out on the wildlife viewing opportunities, to enjoy a relaxing stay in a quiet village. We arrived to a ghost-town, with only about a dozen people, most of which had arrived early to prepare boats and shops for the summer season. We stayed in a rustic cabin on the boardwalk that was from the early 1900's, in fact I believe the unit we stayed in was the old hospital at one point. This was definitely one of the most unique accommodations i've stayed at in BC.
Sea Wolf Adventures
The next morning, we awoke at sunrise to meet up for breakfast with my friend, Kimberly Kufaas. She is a resident of Port Hardy and a fellow photographer who knows the area very well, and lucky for us, she volunteered her time for a few days on the trip to hangout, model, shoot and be a tour guide. She joined us on the next leg of our journey, an cultural tour by boat with Mikael Willie from Seawolf Adventures.
I had heard great things about Mikael through various people, so needless to say, this was one of my favourite parts of the trip. We embarked on a full day tour, learning along the way about the various aboriginal cultures that exist in the area, the traditions, values and significance of the westcoast aboriginal art. We were able to access remote land, get up close with wildlife and break for a traditional salmon cook over the fire for lunch on a remote beach. Experiencing the north island from boat really opens your perspective to the lifestyle and nature that the aboriginal people have lived and breathed for thousands of years.
Mike told us about a friend of his, a totem pole carver in Port Hardy who was working on a piece, his name is Calvin Hunt and lucky for us, we were able to visit his studio to check out a gallery of masks, totems and canoes he had built. These skills have been passed down, generation to generation and is a crucial part of the story-telling and life lessons taught in first nation culture.
After a long day at sea, we retired back to our boardwalk cabin in Telegraph Cove to enjoy a few beers and watch the sunset... we were forced into conversation and disconnection from the internet from a shotty wi-fi or data signal, but that really made us feel like we were far away from the city, and it was really refreshing. 6am, up with the birds and off to the ferry to visit the strange, yet delightful island community of Sointula, BC.
Sointula is home to a large population of Finnish settlers, which gives it an interesting mix of Scandinavian style mixed with westcoast culture... most homes on the island have a separate tiny cottage with a Sauna built in it, and the community uses theses saunas's year-round. The first thing I noticed when we arrived, was the character of the buildings that surrounded the island, it had a very nostalgic feeling being there. At lunch, we chatted with a local who told us that there are no cops on the island and that most of the issues on the island are solved by the residents themselves, an old school way of living but I liked the idea of it... he also told us that when the cop boat docks in the harbour, an old lady will send texts and radio calls to spread the word, and before the police even make it off the dock, everyone already knows they are coming. I found this quite entertaining.
There is a park on the far side of the island called Bere point where the orcas will come to rub their backs along the rocks, just feet from the beach... although we didn't get the chance to see this happen, the short hike in the park was well worth the visit... we also noticed some rec camp sites there right along the beach, and one of the campers told us that we missed a solo orca feeding just 20 minutes before we arrived... I didn't believe him, but it could have happened.
After spending the night in a seaside cottage on Sointula, we woke up to catch another ferry to Cormorant Island, better known as the community of Alert Bay. Starkly different from Sointula, this community is prominently first nations, being home to the world's largest totem pole, and a community with a dark history of the residential school era which destroyed families, culture and tradition in the community and is still felt to this day, with the residential school being torn down just one year ago. Despite such a dark past for this community, they greet us with open arms to educate ourselves, and witness their culture first hand. As luck would have it, we arrived there during a traditional Potlatch ceremony which we were able to attend.
After sighting what I believe to be a Sasquatch ( Big Foot ) a few years ago, i've been obsessed with the history and mystery of the legendary creature. Alert Bay has been on my list of places to visit since then because of the sightings and history of this creature on the island. Throughout the village you will find totem pole's and art like the one displayed above that depict what they represent as a Sasquatch, and most recently there have been recordings on the island of strange mating calls of sorts coming from the forest. It's really hard to ignore, whether you are a believer or not.
We were fortunate enough to come by while a fishing boat was cleaning fish, and dozens of bald eagles circled close by... a sight we couldn't stop watching for over a half-hour.
San Josef Bay, Cape Scott
You cannot visit the north island without going to Cape Scott Provincial Park, an impressive ocean front park that spans over 100km across the north tip of Vancouver Island. If you want to see remote coastal beaches and have a chance at seeing sea wolves, whales, bears and cougars... this is the place to go.
We opted to drive 2 hours along the logging road from Port Hardy to San Josef, packed for a 2 night camping trip. You can park your vehicle in a lot and hike in to camp 45 minutes through the rainforest. Be prepared for backcountry style camping, although there are outhouses along the beach you can access, the beach has limited water sources and firewood available. The nicest part of our camping was that we only ran into a half-dozen people in the 2 days out there.
Looking back, I wish we had explored more of Cape Scott by foot, as the North Coast Trail spans the park into some beautiful spots, but fortunately we had a float plane charter lined up in Port Hardy, so we packed up our camp and drove back into town to meet up with our pilot at Wilderness Seaplanes for a 2 hour flight around the Cape Scott area... A perfect capper to the trip.