Sunshine Coast, British Columbia


can-sunshine_coast-largeStrung out below Syren Point on the east side of Hotham Sound is popular Harmony Islands Marine Park. The biggest and smallest of these four islands (the rest are private) are designated as a marine park, with the southernmost park providing flat, grassy spots for kayakers to beach their craft and set up camp. The adjacent waters in the channel between the islands and the mainland are also within the park’s boundaries. We headed for our favourite, sheltered spot known locally as Kipling Cove – tucked between the three northern islands, it offers dramatic vistas, good snorkelling opportunities and warm water swimming in July and August.

The “dingy pass” between the private islands is fun to explore at high water in a shallow-bottomed boat; it also provides a convenient route to the southern park. At low water an abundance of oysters, introduced to the islands by their original owners, cling to the rocky passage and foreshore. Mount Calder towers over this pleasant setting and just a mile south of ‘The Harmonies’, spectacular Freil Lake Falls cascades and tumbles ribbon-like down 1,400 ft. of sheer cliff into the waters of Hotham Sound. These falls are mesmerizing to watch and fun to explore at low water where man-made ‘baths’ offer a deep ‘dunking’ pool under the falls and a smaller ‘paddling pool’ a few rocks down.

Imposing and steep-sided, magnificent Jervis Inlet penetrates north for 30 nautical miles and is divided into three long, sinuous reaches with few protected anchorages en route. In settled weather, it is possible to overnight in Dark Cove (tasty oysters) and Vancouver Bay (logging operations). McMurray Bay in Prince of Wales Reach makes a pleasant picnic stop should you wish to break your trip and explore a little. The nook behind Patrick Point in Queens Reach makes a convenient holdover spot while waiting for the tidal gate at Malibu Rapids to open.

Beyond Captain Island Prince of Wales Reach runs due north, and then switches eastward to become the often-windy Princess Royal Reach. At Patrick Point, the inlet turns northwest and is known as Queens Reach. From here the view suddenly opens up to reveal impressive, glacier-capped Mount Albert before your arrival at colourful Malibu Lodge with its totem poles and large flags flying – a surprise but welcoming sight at the entrance to Princess Louisa Inlet. At about this time most boaters have exceeded their quota of breathtaking scenery and are looking forward to safely navigating Malibu Rapids and arriving at their final destination – Princess Louisa Marine Park and the mighty Chatterbox Falls.

Laurence and I did achieve our tranquil sail up peaceful Jervis Inlet and once the sails had been set, we filled the cockpit with cushions and books and settled down to an engine-free journey under clear blue skies, with the inlet’s lofty mountains smiling down on us.

The grandness of Malibu Lodge come as rather a shock to the first-time visitor, especially after travelling over 30 miles up a stunning, near-deserted inlet. Built as a luxury ‘rustic’ resort for Hollywood stars by an American entrepreneur during the Second World War, the lodge fell into disuse until ‘Young Life’, a non-denominational Christian group turned it into an affordable summer youth camp who welcome visitors on guided tours of their facilities. An array of multi-coloured towels drying in the afternoon sun lined the wooden balconies as we approached the rapids and the camp was buzzing with end-of-season activity. Skippers should avoid being too distracted by student’s poolside antics when transiting the Malibu Rapids; in the busy summer months it would be prudent to call-up on VHF channel 16 to alert other boaters of your intentions, as there is limited space to manoeuvre in the narrowest part of the rapids.

Once safely through the rapids majestic Princess Louisa Inlet is deep and without obstructions – although Captain George Vancouver missed it completely, concluding after all his disappointments that this was just another creek to nowhere! Named last century after Queen Victoria’s mother ‘Victoria Maria Louisa’, it was originally known as ‘Suivoolot’ (sunny and warm) by First Nation tribes who have used the site as a spiritual and sacred retreat for centuries.

Granite and tree-lined with mini-waterfalls spouting out of the rock face, Princess Louisa Inlet is a well-concealed stretch of water that was carved out by gigantic glaciers millions of years ago, and is guarded at its entrance by mountains 2,000 meters high. ‘The Princess’ seems to weave her own special magic on all who enter and many spellbound visitors have described the inlet as “the most beautiful stretch of water in the world”. This unique magnetism seems to draw people back year after year. In his book ‘The Sunshine Coast’, Howard White, a prominent local author and passionate resident of the coast, reflects on the fact that he has “visited the inlet regularly since he was a kid, and it has never failed to send him away with a renewed sense of life’s promise”.

Mcdonald Island (two-thirds up the inlet) and a section of the northern shoreline is also included in Princess Louisa Marine Park, and convenient and peaceful overnight anchorage is often available although boaters should be aware of “the rock that barely covers at high water” which lies off the north east tip, in the channel between the island and the mainland shore. The park has a trail to rustic campsites in the trees and a gravel beach. The large and inviting grass-covered rocks slope gently into the water and are great to swim off or just laze, lizard like, in the sun – keep a look out for black bears foraging on the shores of Mcdonald Island. Don’t be too alarmed to find yourself awakened rather early by the “Young Life Beyond Malibu Camp” preparing breakfast and starting off on their day’s adventures.

Our arrival at the marine park dock coincided with the departure of a similar sized powerboat, off to anchor in one of the many nooks and crannies around the falls. We slipped Dreamspeaker into the only remaining spot, tied up and took a much needed hike to the falls which tumble and roar 1,600 ft. down over vast granite boulders, then bounce and rush through a rock jammed ledge before joining the stream that continues into Princess Louisa Inlet where a low water sandy beach has been created over the centuries. Nominated as “the eighth wonder of the world”, there is little to rival the powerful beauty of Chatterbox Falls with its magnificent backdrop of lush green forest and sheer ‘mile-high granite cliffs stretching skywards. On a more sombre note, a sign at the fall’s viewpoint reads – “DANGER – Do not go near the top of the falls. The surrounding flat rocks are moss covered and slippery and 12 people have lost their lives by not observing this warning”. Sounds like warning enough to me!

The park and the wharf have a park ranger on duty and water is available but not power. It’s a busy spot, with boaters excitedly arriving or reluctantly preparing to leave and we found it fun to overnight here and share anecdotes and a glass or two with the friendly dock crowd – then we were off to find our very own nirvana, and tuck into a small hideaway with the soul soothing sounds of our personal waterfall slipping down through the trees.

The following day Laurence and I took up the challenge and hiked the 550 ft. upward climb to the original “Trappers Cabin” which begins on the initial skid road. The steep and wooded trail is marked with pink or orange ‘ties’ (sometimes a green or blue one will appear just to confuse), and should not be undertaken late in the afternoon, after heavy rains or you suffer from vertigo or bad knees! The pine and hemlock roots provide natural steps and handholds and although we consider ourselves fit, we found it to be a strenuous but rewarding climb and my thighs suffered for a good few days afterwards.

The solid log cabin is built beside a most beautiful waterfall with an uninterrupted view down Princess Louisa Inlet. Although it is in need of roof and floor repairs the structure will still afford some shelter should you be adventurous enough to stay the night and continue along the trail above the tree line where you will be rewarded with alpine flowers, iceberg-filled lakes and perennial snowfields (Bill Wolferstan’s ‘Sunshine Coast’). We were happy to meet up with an energetic couple with whom we shared photograph snapping, and thankfully their lively conversation made the tricky decent far less arduous. Although it took us about 90 minutes, the hike is officially posted as two hours each way – this would allow for a comfortable climb and include time to rest, re-hydrate and take in the beauty of your surroundings.

There is a legend to Princess Louisa Marine Park that has allowed the inlet to remain in the pristine condition we enjoy, and sometimes take for granted today. Without the passion and determination of James F. (“Mac”) Macdonald, who took possession of the 292-acre property at the head of Princess Louisa Inlet from the BC government in 1927, a very different sight might welcome visitors today. Macdonald also turned down generous re-sale opportunities and offers from large hotel chains to purchase “The Princess”. His only dream was to preserve her natural beauty for himself and the generations to come, as he believed that “this beautiful peaceful haven should never belong to one individual”.

Those who have read and re-read the adventures of Muriel Wylie Blanchet and her five children in the west coast classic ‘The Curve of Time’ will recall how the family cherished their solitude while exploring the inlet and although they resented the intrusion of McDonald, “the man from California”, he soon won them over with his generosity and friendship. Their only real regret seemed to be the loss of privacy when indulging in the families favourite pastime of rock-sliding ‘au natural’ while their clothes dried!

In 1964, Macdonald’s dream came true when his treasured home was deemed a Class A Marine Park. At this time, the not-for-profit, Princess Louisa International Society passed the administration of the property to the government of the Province of British Columbia and after much fundraising and negotiating, all the land at the head of the inlet is now marine park property. “Mac” died in a Seattle rest home at the age of 89 and his ashes were placed in a rock at the head of Princess Louisa where the bronze, moss-framed inscription reads (in part):

James Frederick Macdonald


Laird of the Inlet


Friend to all who came here

On our final evening we rowed over to the 35′ Bayliner owned by the intrepid trappers that we had met on our demanding climb. They were anchored with a front-row view of Chatterbox Falls and after sharing an excellent bottle of ‘Chianti’, a tasty pasta and enlightening conversation, we all voted for an early retirement – the two of them to their ‘queen size’ berth in the after-cabin and us to the intimate confinement of our cosy forward cabin with the soft ‘chatter’ of the falls to lull us to sleep.

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