Sunshine Coast offers wealth of wildlife, outdoor adventure

Sunshine Coast offers wealth of wildlife, outdoor adventure

Enjoy breathtaking scenery and opportunities to explore the outdoors and fresh seafood, just a short jaunt from Victoria or Vancouver.

Who doesn’t love a wow moment when you start your vacation?

I knew our stay on the Sunshine Coast was bound to be special as soon as we arrived at our accommodations — the Painted Boat Resort Spa & Marina for one night, then the West Coast Wilderness Lodge for our final two nights during a recent long weekend.

After arriving at both lodgings, we were immediately drawn to the expansive windows to take in the views.

At Painted Boat, the spacious villas, infinity pool and The Lagoon Restaurant boast stunning views of Pender Harbor while the West Coast Wilderness Lodge’s Inlets Restaurant, outdoor decks and all of their oceanfront cabins look out to its awe-inspiring setting in the Sechelt Inlet. Both vistas are what you imagine when you think of British Columbia’s landscape—the Pacific Ocean, mountains in the distance, and cedar and fir forests.

Wildlife was in abundance at both destinations. At Painted Boat, the waters were so clear we could easily make out the many purple and pink starfish, and eagles were a common sight. Just a half hour away, at West Coast Wilderness Lodge, seals regularly sunbathed on a rocky outcrop below, and on our last day there, we were fortunate to see two orcas pass by as we ate breakfast on one of the lodge’s outdoor patios.

These two top resorts attract many international travellers, but those of us lucky enough to live in BC can skip the hassle of air travel and enjoy what others travel thousands of miles to see — breathtaking scenery, opportunities to explore the outdoors and treat ourselves to the freshest of seafood. Both resorts have fine dining restaurants, where the food matches the view, which is not a small achievement considering their spectacular scenery.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, West Coast Wilderness Lodge is a family run business owned by Paul and Patti Hansen, who originally built the 7,000 sq. ft. wooden main lodge and comfortable guest cabins to run wilderness retreats for students and corporate groups.

These days, the lodge caters to tourists, from May to October, with plans to provide year-round accommodation soon, when an additional 20 ocean-view suites and a seafood bistro, spa and swimming pool are completed on the three-hectare property. They currently have 16 oceanfront cabins and 10 forest cabins.

The new buildings are being built near Egmont Adventure Centre, located next door to the lodge, and which the Hansens also own. The center offers kayaking, jet ski rentals, Zodiac tours and scenic floatplane trips for both guests and day visitors.

The highlight of our stay was getting out on the ocean on a Zodiac and traveling 40 km. to Princess Louisa Inlet to see Chatterbox Falls, which is a provincial marine park, only accessible by boat or floatplane.

Along the way we were lucky to spot a black bear eating at the oceanfront but our guide also brought us to other memorable sites and explained this area’s fascinating history.

“When you go up to Princess Louisa Inlet, there’s bears, whales, there’s Indian villages, petroglyphs that line all the shores. Canadians don’t even know Princess Louisa exists,” says Paul Hansen.

Before arriving at the inlet, we saw another smaller falls, the Malibu Rapids, and enjoyed a picnic lunch while watching the cascading 40-metre-high Chatterbox Falls before taking the Zodiac back to the centre.

“A good holiday combines multiple dimensions, recreational activity, exposure to the outdoors and learning about the environment,” says Hansen, adding he understands “not everyone wants to climb mountains.”

“Some people just want to sit on the deck and drink beer, and that’s OK,” he says.

The vast majority of the lodge’s guests are international visitors and only five per cent are Canadians, which is a missed opportunity for us locals, since it’s relatively easy to get to the Sunshine Coast, either from Vancouver or Victoria. After taking the Horseshoe Bay ferry to the Sunshine Coast, it’s less than 1.5 hours from Gibsons to Egmont, where the West Coast Wilderness Lodge is located. The Painted Boat Resort Spa & Marina is an hour’s drive from Gibsons.

“Most people don’t think of the Sunshine Coast for a holiday. They think of Tofino, Whistler and the Okanagan,” says Hansen. “We need to start bragging about how cool it (the Sunshine Coast) is,” says Hansen, who recommends visitors either rent a kayak or jet ski to do some shoreline explorations of their own.

“You can go along the shore and see wildlife and see things the average person won’t see,” he says.

The Sunshine Coast also has many great places for hiking, including the two-hour hike we took through Skookumchuck Narrows Park to reach the main viewing spot for the Skookumchuck Rapids.

These turbulent tidal waters are famous for their whirlpools and churning white waters, with speeds exceeding 30 km/h.

For those who don’t want to hike in to see the rapids, there’s a boat tour there with Egmont Adventure Centre.

Also close by is Hotham Sound, near the entrance of Jervis Inlet, which is known as the deepest inlet on the West Coast at 732 meters. It’s so deep both the Canadian and American navies do sonar testing there.

The area also has some of the warmest ocean water to swim in, and since the sound is shielded by mountains on all sides, it has some of the calmest waters around, making it an ideal paddling destination.

For those who want to relax at a spa, The Painted Boat Resort Spa & Marina offers many spa treatments at its Spa Serenity Garden.

While we didn’t have a treatment ourselves, we were able to enjoy the spa’s pools and sauna with a spa pass. These are complimentary for guests getting a spa treatment but, if space allows, the resort will sell passes so you can still enjoy the facility. (Only 10 people can use the spa pools and sauna at any one time.)

The gardens feature a hot tub with a cascading waterfall, a salt water flotation pool, a sauna and an outdoor glacier rain shower.

Kim Pemberton was hosted by Sunshine Coast Tourism, which did not review or approve this story. Follow her on Instagram at kimstravelogue.

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