Map of Central Island and the Sunshine Coast contains many
links to our pages on Towns, Lakes, Rivers and Parks. Click
on a live area of the map to link to the desired page.
As you drive the Island Highway (Hwy 19), it's always a treat to look
across the Strait of Georgia at landmarks on the mainland as spires
of the Coast Mountains rise on the eastern horizon. One such scenic
view is the profile of Howe Sound Crest as revealed when you look
back towards the city of Vancouver from Parksville. The farther north
you head towards Courtenay and Campbell river, however, the more the
peaks and glaciers of Vancouver Island's ranges, principally the imposing
Comox Glacier, Forbidden Plateau, and Mount Washington, rise in the
west and vie for equal attention.
As the highway winds past well-kept farms, this is a serenely rural
part of the journey. Flowers abound in the gardens that front many
of the homes along the way. Small rivers such as the Little
Qualicum and the Englishman,
as well as the mightier ones such as the Puntledge
and the Campbell,
empty into the strait. From the highway you catch glimpses of quiet
green forest settings on the banks that line each river's course.
Come late summer, these streams teem with spawning salmon.
For much of the way between Courtenay
and Campbell River the Island
Highway runs beside Qualicum Bay, an area rich in seafood. Pullouts
beside the road give easy access to the bay's sand and pebble beaches.
At several places you can buy fresh seafood, brought to the docks
daily from local waters.
The mountains and islands of central Vancouver Island have a mysterious
sense about them, as if they're always trying to hide some secret.
It's true: you do have to travel farther afield here in order to penetrate
its cloud-laced valleys and coastal rain forest. Take your time as
you meander through this laid-back region. Its rhythms are subtle,
but with gentle probing they reveal themselves, showing greater complexity
than first meets the eye.
The new Island Highway (Highway 19) has superseded the old Island
highway (Highway 19A) as the way to move quickly between Nanaimo and
Campbell River. Parksville, 37 km north of Nanaimo's Departure
Bay ferry, lies just east of the new Island Highway. For those
wishing to make time, the new four-lane route is a blessing. For those
wishing to take their time, this will mean fewer cars tailgating along
the scenic ocean drive.
Highways 19 and 19A link Parksville with southern Vancouver Island.
Highway 4 links Parksville with Port Alberni, and with Tofino and
Ucluelet on the west side of the island. Approaching from the north,
Highway 19 links Campbell River with the northern half of Vancouver
Island. Campbell River may also be reached by BC Ferries from Quathiaski
Cove on Quadra Island. Highway 28 originates from Highway 19 just
north of Campbell river, and leads west for 92 km to Gold River.
The world's longest highway, the Pan-American (also named Highway
101 in parts of the US and Canada), stretches 15,020 km from Castro
on Chile's south coast to Lund
on BC's Sunshine Coast. The 139 km stretch of highway 101 between
Langdale and Lund outperforms
its size. Dozens of parks with biking, hiking and ski trails; canoe
and kayak routes; beaches; coastal viewpoints are easily reached from
the highway. Campsites are plentiful, and except in July and August
and on long weekends from May to September, you won't have any difficulty
in finding a place to pitch your tent or park your RV.
The Sunshine Coast lives up to its name. With an annual total of between
1,400 and 2,400 hours of sunshine - that's an average of 4 to 6 hours
per day, depending on where the measurements are taken - bright days
outnumber gloomy ones by a wide margin. The Sunshine Coast benefits
from a rain shadow cast by the Vancouver Island Mountains, which catch
most of the moisture coming in off the Pacific. In winter, clouds
regroup in the Coast Mountains to the east of the Sunshine Coast and
provide sufficient precipitation in the form of snow to coat trails
for cross-country skiing. The remainder of the year it falls as rain,
British Columbia's "liquid sunshine", which nourishes the
temperate rain forest.
The Sunshine Coast is split into two portions on either side of the
Jervis Inlet. Roughly speaking, the southern half between the ferry
slips at Langdale and Earl's cove occupies the Sechelt Peninsula,
while the northern half between the ferry slip at Saltery Bay and
Lund sits on the Malaspina Peninsula. The coastline is deeply indented
by the Pacific Ocean at Howe Sound, Jervis Inlet, and Desolation Sound.
Jervis and Desolation are of such fjordic proportions that they attract
a steady stream of marine traffic through the summer months, when
brilliant sun shines on the countless cataracts that cascade down
the sheer-sided slopes. Come moodier months, the clouds become ensnared
in the snaggle-toothed peaks, making you feel just as pleased to stick
to the sunnier coastline.
The Sunshine Coast is accessible from the rest of the Lower Mainland
only by boat or floatplane. Travellers aboard BC Ferries leave Horseshoe
Bay in West Vancouver for a 45-minute ride to Langdale
on the Sechelt Peninsula. Highway 101 links Langdale with Earl's Cove,
80 km north. Another ferry crosses Jervis Inlet to Saltery
Bay, a 60-minute ride. Highway 101 makes the second leg of this
journey 59 km north to Lund. BC Ferries also connects Powell
River on the Malaspina Peninsula with Comox on the east coast
of central Vancouver Island.
A note about travel times: One of the most enjoyable aspects of visiting
the northern sunshine coast in the off-season from September to May
- particularly if you travel midweek - is being able to catch the
ferry both from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale, and then from Earl's cove
to Saltery Bay, without experiencing interminable lineups. You'll
still have to allow six hours to reach the Malaspina Peninsula from
Horseshoe Bay, but you can do it without hurrying, enjoying the travel
time as much as the play time once you arrive.
If you can't travel midweek to avoid the lines, at least leave Vancouver
early Friday afternoon or late Saturday morning and return early on
Monday. Those travelling up the entire coast or returning via Vancouver
Island should ask at the Horseshoe Bay terminal for special fares
(which can save you up to 30%) for the circle tour (four ferry rides).