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Monday, 27 July 2015


To get to Hornby Island you have to take two ferries. The first one is from Buckley Bay on Vancouver Island (about 75 minutes north of Nanaimo) to Denman Island. Getting on the second ferry requires driving across Denman and this one takes you to Hornby Island. Total travelling time one way on both ferries is about 30 minutes. I’m not exactly sure how many cars each ferry carries but it is not a lot. Maybe something like 30? If you don’t get to any of the ferries early enough you have to wait for the next one but you can get out of the car and wander about admiring the views.
We camped on Hornby Island for a couple of nights about 10 days ago. We kind of got sticker shock when were told the ferry rides were going to cost us 88 bucks. Linda and I stared at one another for a moment before the ticket issuer said “Are you going or not?” in a kind of gruff manner. She seemed quite pleasant only a moment before. It wasn’t like we were holding up traffic it was just that we were a bit taken aback about the cost. We had already spent 40 bucks a night for our camping spot.
This was my fifth trip to Hornby Island. My first visit was about 27 years ago when I ran out of gas in a rented boat. (I wrote a story on this blog about that misadventure in October 2012 called Lost at Sea.) When my son was about 15 I took him and a friend of his hiking on Hornby Island in the pouring rain and I kind of felt like the Robert Duvall character in the movie The Great Santini. The boys had to change into dry clothes twice. I also took Linda over to Hornby not long after we met. I have a photo somewhere of me wading in Tribune Bay with my golden retriever Cooper who passed away 3 years ago.
Cooper and I at Tribune Bay about 9 years ago.
There is something different about a lot of people who choose to live on an island. (I’m not talking about the wealthy who have decided to build a castle by the ocean.) I’m talking about those that have chosen to live in a small remote community away from a lot of the conveniences that are found in more urban areas, the folks who often have a veggie garden, who probably spend a whole lot more time reading than watching TV, who are pretty serious about being concerned about the environment, and who often choose the clothes they are wearing for practical reasons instead of making a fashion statement.
Back in the day, in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Hornby and Denman Island were popular places for hippies to establish communes or just live off of the grid. Some Viet Nam draft dodgers were among them. Living off the land isn’t the easiest thing to do and I think that after a while the shine wore off of the experience. It is one thing to spend a year or two of your twenties on an adventure and something else spending the rest of your life living an alternate lifestyle. I’m sure there are a few that stayed on but my guess is not many.
Today each Island has a permanent population of about 1000 people. Some are artists, writers, and crafts people. Quite a few have chosen one of the islands to retire to. There are a number of working farms and a few vineyards. The summer tourist season helps the revenue stream for small cafes and campgrounds.
Some of the older folks are living their dreams. They’ve sold their houses in places like Vancouver and Victoria and bought acreage. Life is much quieter and nature is all around. I’ve wondered a few times if living in a more remote area slows down time, hard to say really. Whatever, I have to give credit to those who have had the gumption to pursue what they want in life. It beats sitting on a couch and wondering what if.………………………………………………………………………………………………………
We arrived at our campsite on Hornby Island near Tribune Bay around noon time. The lady who runs the place wasn’t exactly Chatty Cathy. Ah well. We pitched our two person tent and headed for Little Tribune Bay where we launched our kayaks. This beach is where the nudists hang out so to speak.

Tribune Bay

Tribune Bay is a popular spot mostly out of the wind where expensive sailboats and yachts are moored in the summer months. We wended our way through the boats and along the shore of Hornby. We could see a number of pricey homes high up on the bluffs and interesting rock formations along the shoreline. There is an amazing trail that starts where the houses end and we could see people hiking it about a hundred feet or so above. It is called the Helliwell Trail and is part of a provincial park. It is a day park only and there aren’t any campsites within its boundaries.
We found a little cove to pull into which some other kayakers had discovered too. We sat on a log and ate lunch. I think the other kayakers, about 8 of them altogether, were from Alberta. They thanked us when we told them that a few of their kayaks were about to float out in the ocean. The tide was coming in.

We continued kayaking out to one of the points on the island and then decided to head back. All in all we were in our kayaks for about 5 hours. Luckily for us with the tide coming in we didn’t have to carry the boats that far back to the car. We sat on the beach for about an hour relaxing and watching the sun start to go down. One guy was swimming in the ocean with a rather big dog. A French Canadian gal who works at a local restaurant offered us some blackberries the second time she passed us. We chatted for about 10 minutes. We learned that she was from Montreal and that her mother was coming out to visit her. Apparently her mom had just broken up with her boyfriend and was disappointed because he had promised to take her to the Grand Canyon.

It has been a very dry summer in BC and campfires are strictly not allowed. Linda has little propane burner thing that we used to make coffee. To me camping is kind of an interesting endeavor. One would think that camping is getting away from it all and enjoying nature, often with family or friends. The reality is that most campsites have a number of kids running around or riding bikes. They can be very noisy and often don’t have any problem riding their bikes through other people’s campsites. Voices are easily heard particularly in the evening. Some adults have particularly loud voices. A few cocktails can do that. Some campers near to us had some friends turn up at about 9 p.m. and we too caught up on some of the latest gossip. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t freaked out by the noise. I’ve been to campgrounds before and knew what to expect.

Eventually the chatter next to us subsided or was it that I fell asleep pretty quickly? The next morning we had breakfast at Jan’s Café close to the campground. It cost us about 40 bucks and the food was so so. This isn’t downtown Vancouver. I liked my double expresso. I was impressed that most things on the menu were grown on Hornby Island or on farms on Vancouver Island. I also noticed that none of the staff seemed to be just hanging around like you find in some restaurants. I’m guessing Jan is in her sixties. I noticed the tattoo she had on one of her legs. Kind of funky.
We kind of ended up at Jan’s Café by mistake. I wanted to check out a bakery we had been to before in the middle of the island. Linda was driving and she took a wrong turn and ended up driving along a Cliffside road surrounded by deep forests that lead down to some spectacular farms that were right by the ocean. We got out of the car and took some cow pictures. We did find the bakery but there wasn’t anyone at the cash counter let alone other diners.

Jan's Café to the left.

We drove over to the parking lot at Helliwell Trail. There is a pathway that takes about 15 minutes to walk to get to the ocean. I forgot my camera in the car and had to go back and get it. Linda read a book while I was gone. To me, and I suspect many others, Helliwell Trail is one of the more spectacular trails anywhere. A good part of the trail leads along bluffs that are about 75 feet above the ocean. There are a number of meadows and beautiful Arbutus trees. The trail then slopes down near the water where you can check out tidal pools. Still further along you find yourself in deep forests. The hike along the trail alone is worth a visit to Hornby Island.



We decided to check out a local winery close to Helliwell Trail. It was off a dirt road and an automatic electric gate opened to let us on the property. We found the wine tasting room where an elderly gal was holding court and giving samples to a young couple. The elderly gal seemed to have a routine that included dealing with one potential customer at a time. We waited our turn and a few minutes later the young couple left with some wine in a snazzy bag.
It turns out that the owners of the vineyard specialize in sparkling apple wine. Personally I am a very casual wine drinker. I prefer a rum and Coke or a Caesar if I’m imbibing. If I’m drinking wine I like white better than red and 15 bucks is about the most I will spend in a liquor store for a bottle. That’s just me. I know there are a lot of folks that are really into wine.
The wine bottles at this place didn’t have corks but bottle caps. We were told that one had to be careful opening one of the bottles because it could explode like champagne. While we were waiting I had noticed that they had 12 dollar and 26 dollar bottles of wine for sale. I enjoyed the samples that also included something with a berry flavor. We decided to go for a 12 dollar bottle and were told that the 12 dollar bottle was for kids and was non-alcoholic. I couldn’t see spending 26 bucks for fizzy wine. Maybe 15 bucks, maybe.
We spent the rest of the day driving around the island before heading back to camp. We spotted a water tank, or was it a fuel tank, that someone had made look like a Campbell Soup can. We also saw a number of funky looking houses and signs, one of which was a huge metal bloodhound.

We decided to have pizza for dinner at a place in Ford’s Cove about a 20 minute drive away from the camp ground. Calling the place a pizza joint might be a bit of a stretch because the pizzas were on revolving heated trays under glass on the counter of a general store. They only sold large pizzas or you could order by the slice like we did. I was fascinated by how they operated this business. The guy behind the counter would take incoming orders over the phone and then phone someone else and describe the order to whoever was on the other end of the phone. It turned out that the pizzas were being made at a house up the hill behind the general store. We had a variety of slices and they all tasted pretty good.
Believe it or not, Hornby Island has its own radio station. We tuned it in soon after we arrived on the island. The station played a nice mix of music that is a little off the beaten track. My guess is that they broadcast from someone’s house. I was sitting in the car one night listening to tunes and noticed that there was something like a 10 second silent pause between songs. At first I thought the power must have gone out where the station is located. Then I thought that maybe they were stoned and trying to decide what song to play next. Who knows?

We were listening to the radio station on our way to catch the ferry leaving Hornby Island when the DJ said that if someone hurried they could probably catch the next ferry. He was wrong. We were two cars short of getting on the ferry. No worries though.

There is something that some tourists may notice right away about those small ferries. Often the ferry workers are on a first name basis with the people who live on the islands and ride the ferry. It almost seems that tourists are tolerated because they bring money to spend.
Pretty well most of the locals are pissed at the high prices of ferry rates. Their argument is that the ferries are part of a highway system. It seems that the other side of the coin which is that these short runs, particularly in off-season months are big money losers, is mostly ignored.
I’m not sure what the walk on passenger rate is, probably 10 to 15 bucks. I think some locals leave a car on Vancouver Island to avoid paying 88 bucks to bring it to Hornby. We noticed some foot passengers with their golf clubs on the Denman Island to Buckley Bay ferry. Someone must have picked them up on the other side.

We never did sit out on the beach at Tribune Bay. No big deal. It seemed that every log was occupied anyway by campers and locals.
Would we go back? Sure, maybe in another 5 years. It’s a cool place. We’ll have to save up for the ferry fare.


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