The short ferry ride across Discovery Passage from downtown Campbell River to Quadra Island is all it takes. Passengers disembark to an idyllic island playground of beaches, lakes, and parks intermingled with luxury lodges, native culture, artisan studios, and other interesting places that support the island’s perfect balance between trendy and traditional.
Spanish and English explorers sailed through the region in the late 1700’s while trying to thread the maze of islands and dangerous currents and channels that guarded the north end of Georgia Strait. Many thought one of these waterways would lead to the fabled Northwest Passage and a quick route from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. They met and traded with the local Salish and Kwagiulth First Nations, some of whose ancestors live at Cape Mudge on southern Quadra Island.
Today, visitors can experience native artistry and traditions of the Kwa’Kwa’Ka’ Wa’Kw people at the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre in the Village of Cape Mudge. A collection of old totem poles inspire many of the modern artists whose work is featured.
Connected by trail to the Village of Cape Mudge is the Cape Mudge Lighthouse. This historical gem is located just below the below the bluffs visited by Captain Vancouver in 1792. Petroglyphs from centuries ago can be found at extremely low tide just south of the lighthouse.
With its rich forests, varied terrain, and abundant wildlife, Quadra is a magnet for outdoor recreation enthusiasts looking for a mix of unique experiences in a concentrated region. Kayakers and canoeists can choose from a vast network of lakes and river systems, mountain bikers and hikers will delight at the array of trails.
One of the best known of Quadra’s many beaches is Rebecca Spit Provincial Park near Heriot Bay. The sheltered bay is a picturesque anchorage for yachts exploring the Discovery Islands and Desolation Sound. The rich waters that surround Quadra are fed by large tidal exchanges and nourish abundant marine life. That makes for great fishing and excellent diving; considered one of the top dive locations in the world by the Jacques Cousteau Society, there’s even an artificial reef, the HMCS Columbia, just waiting to be explored.
Quadra Island is home to many well-known contemporary artists, writers, potters and other artisans, as well as growing community of Healing Arts practitioners. Visitors can get up-close and personal with the artists by taking a self-guided studio tour.
Quathiaski Cove and Heriot Bay, the main population centres, are postcard-perfect and round out the island’s offerings with all of their modern amenities of stores, galleries, banking, gas, gift shops, cafes and restaurants.
With all of the splendorous vistas, laid back but sophisticated lifestyle, immensely artistic culture, and combination of privacy and community, it is no wonder that Quadra Island is a sanctuary for everyone, including the rich and famous. You never know who you’ll see.
Take another ferry off the far side of Quadra, and you’ve reached the centre of an alternate universe: Desolation Sound and some of the best sailing, kayaking, and marine adventure on the planet, sunny beaches right out of Mexico, and a welcoming community of artisans and independent islanders.
The porpoises sometimes found diving playfully through the bow wave of the ferry that transports visitors from Quadra to Cortes Island give a first clue to the special nature of this magical place. Boaters exploring Desolation Sound and seeking the protected sanctuary of Gorge Harbour feel it when they pass under mysterious petroglyphs carved into the sheer rock walls of the narrow entrance by ancient travelers. In the centre of the island is a freshwater lake surrounded by improbable white sandy beaches. Nearby are the medieval ramparts of the 5 story high Wolf Bluff Castle… This is Cortes Island, centred between the spectacular snow-covered peaks of the mainland mountain range and the rugged spine of northern Vancouver Island. Surrounded by water, covered by forest, blessed by sunshine and a temperate climate, and certainly one of the most unique and interesting spots to be found anywhere in North America.
Historically, the Klahoose First Nation wintered in Squirrel Cove and then traveled by sea-going canoes into Toba Inlet and the surrounding territory during the spring and summer, sustained by the abundant salmon, edible plants and berries, and other wildlife. This maritime travel tradition continues today, with visitors from all over the world arriving in large luxury yachts, nimble kayaks, and every kind of vessel in between. Docks, marinas, boat launches and protected anchorages along the coastline make Cortes a perfect base of operations or a great destination.
The island’s central location at the top of Georgia Straight puts it right in the middle of a naturally occurring rain shadow, which protects it from Pacific storms. The result is higher than average sunshine in a region usually known for rain, warmer air and water temperatures, and great summertime swimming at Hague Lake, Smelt Bay Provincial Park, or on the sweeping sand beaches of Marina Island that are uncovered at low tide. The island is criss-crossed with hiking and biking trails, and the slower pace of life makes cycling on the island’s road system a perfect way to get around and discover the galleries, studios, roadside vegetable stands and restaurants that seem to pop up around every corner.
Fishing from the shore, a dock, or a small boat, hunting for shellfish in designated areas, or just poking around in the tidal pools of a secluded bay like Manson’s Lagoon will keep kids or adults entertained for hours. If families happen to be visiting during Cortes Days or the Sandcastle Competition, join in with the locals and become part of the fun.
A range of accommodation, including Provincial and private campgrounds, cabins, and motel units are available. Specialized kayaking/sailing lodges such as T’ai-Li-Lodge, or the alternative workshops and retreats of Hollyhock cater to more specific tastes. There are a number of restaurants and café’s on the island, with grocery stores at Manson’s, Gorge Harbour, and Squirrel Cove, which also has a liquor store and gas pumps. A Credit Union and bank machine is located behind Manson’s Hall.
Free exploration is the main attraction for the Discovery Islands and surrounding areas. Located on the coastline between Campbell River and the mainland of British Columbia, the area is home to rich history and genuine exploration. Fishing lodges, logging camps and ancient villages mark the scenic beauty, while visitors will have ample opportunities to discover some of the most breath taking and awe inspiring natural settings in the world. Activities available include camping and parks, canoeing and kayaking, wildlife viewing, fishing, diving, hiking and a whole endless list of outdoor adventure.
Getting to the Discovery Islands is relaxing and stress free experience, with not as many BC Ferries services as other areas, but safe and reliable. Reaching some of the outer islands requires private transportation through water taxis, kayaks, boats and floatplanes, all with their own sense of adventure and charm.