36 Hours in Halfmoon Bay and Secret Cove
June 1, 2013
To get to Seventh Heaven you need about three hours and a sturdy steed. Andy Petraschuk, a grizzled, honest-to-gosh rancher and native of these parts, will guide you there. At the top of Mount Daniel, looking down over Pender Harbour, across the Strait of Georgia to Texada Island, and up and down the Sunshine Coast, it's hard to believe you were sipping bad coffee in the Horseshoe Bay ferry lineup just a few hours before.
Because here's the thing about ferry rides: they usually suck. The traffic is a hassle, the crowds are aggravating, and the trip always takes an hour longer than you have patience for. But taking the Horseshoe Bay to Langdale route, sweeping around past Bowen, ogling the waterfront properties, hugging the picturesque coastline, and arriving at your destination in about 45 minutes? That's almost pleasant.
Disembark from the ferry, drive a few minutes up the road to Gibson's, maybe stop to refuel with (good) coffee at local favourite Black Bean Roasting Co. (yep, that's Jack Johnson on the stereo because that's how they roll here), and continue up the coastal highway to Sechelt, 20 minutes away. Time to stretch your legs? There are any number of excellent mountain biking and hiking trails for all fitness levels; for a quick and rewarding loop that requires minimal effort, turn off toward Sechelt Heritage Forest park and pull in at the well-marked Hidden Groves trail. A very easy 10-minute hike will take you up to a lookout point that boasts pretty spectacular views of downtown Sechelt, Porpoise Bay, and out over the strait. Take a deep lungful of that pine-and-salt tinged air.
Back on the road you'll continue along the twisty coastline highway to Secret Cove, another 20 minutes past Sechelt, and here's where you land, at the excellent Rockwater Resort (tenthouse suites from $289 spring, $469 summer). Ask for the Kitty Hawk Cove Tenthouse Suite and you'll be perched in their most luxurious suite on the edge of the resort property line, clutched on a rocky outcrop on the eastern shore of the Strait of Georgia. It would be a disservice to call these suites "tents" or even "luxury yurts" (and before you even think it, "glamping" is never, ever an acceptable term); think five-star accommodations that happen to have canvas walls. The gas fireplace, heated tile floors, king-size bed, and full soaker tub beckon, but there's plenty of daylight left, so drop your bags and go. Keep reading…
Getting there – 1.5 hrs by ferry and car (Horseshoe Bay to Langdale; Highway 101)
Take the plunge – Visit the National Geographic-endorsed Suncoast Diving Centre
Watch this – Extreme kayakers and divers travel from all corners of the globe to Skookumchuck Narrows, where twice daily, when the tide changes, the flow of saltwater connecting Sechelt and Jervis inlets switches creating tremendous rapids
Malaspina Ranch (604-883-1126) is located on the very same twisty coastal highway 20 minutes farther north of Rockwater; pull in and you'll be greeted by Lucky, the softest and loveliest black lab imaginable, who'll escort you down to a barn constructed in the 1920s. You'll meet Andy, who grew up on this Madeira Park property and used to run a paper route on horseback (and race the bus to school). He'll intuitively match you with the right horse; perhaps Whitney, a gentle, curvy mare who sets beginners at ease, or Java, an ex-rodeo champ who'll give seasoned riders a thrill. From the picturesque flatlands where the ranch sits at sea level Andy will guide you on a two-hour trip that winds up past grazing pastures and through the cedar, pine, and arbutus trees to reach that killer Seventh Heaven view up top, all the while recounting stories of his childhood and the small-town characters he grew up with.
Back at the Rockwater, you could settle in for dinner at the excellent dining room. (Embrace the West Coast and go for a bowl of fresh mussels or the teeming bouillabaisse.) But you're here to get outside, so stay outside and book an evening (or full moon, if timing is right) tour with Halfmoon Sea Kayaks-the launch pad is located at the resort's beachfront. Cam Reid, a North Vancouver native who has been living and kayaking on the Sunshine Coast for 15 years, will guide you on a four-hour trip ($85) around Secret Cove and down the coast to Smuggler's Cove, where you'll pull up to relax on a rocky outcrop and watch the moon rise over the treetops with a few simple (but welcome) snacks. Reid'll point over to Thormanby Island, where a quick daytime paddle would lead you to miles of gorgeous sandy expanses perfect for picnicking and beachcombing. Beyond that, there's Texada Island and tucked behind that, Jedediah Island, provincial parkland that is home to feral goats and sheep brought over by Spanish explorers in the 18th century and left to run wild. For this night trip, though, you'll be distracted by moon jellyfish, playful seals rolling under your kayak, and phosphorescence exploding through the water with each paddlestroke, making the still, nighttime ride feel like a scene from a Pixar movie.
After a full day of fresh air, sink into the oversize tub back in your suite and let the jets and chromotherapy lights work their magic, then wrap yourself in a fluffy robe and count stars in the reclining deck chairs outside your tent, glass of wine in hand.
Enroute back home, find time to stop in Gibson's for lunch at boisterous Smitty's Oyster House (a rite of passage for salty dogs en route from RVYC to Desolation Sound). A pint of Suncoast Pale Ale from Powell River's Townsite Brewery and a platter of just-plucked oysters (mildly sweet Kusshi, briny green Effingham, delicately clean Little Wings) will set you right before that lazy ferry trip back to Horseshoe Bay. Just one last thing: make good on a promise to do it all again soon.