Travel: Sunshine Coast, BC

Sakinaw Lake Lodge - Waking up to the tranquil view from our luxury tent

Every time I roll through Vancouver on my way to one of the many world-class destinations in British Columbia, I am tempted by all the urban treats the city has to offer: endless amounts of good food, jogging in picture-perfect Stanley Park and shopping in Gastown.

But when my destination is Sakinaw Lake Lodge and the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver can’t hold me long before I hop on the ferry at Horseshoe Bay. My bag is full of flip flops, hiking shoes and good books to enjoy a place that is not well known to Pacific Northwesterners (in fact, a lot of Vancouver locals don’t even know much about it).

I notice strictly BC license plates in the almost full ferry and a mixture of young mountain bikers from Vancouver, couples enjoying a relaxing weekend, tourists, local retirees and other Sunshine Coast residents.

The Sunshine Coast is part of British Columbia’s southern mainland coast on the eastern shore of the Strait of Georgia, and just northwest of Greater Vancouver. It is a 40 minute ferry ride out of Horseshoe Bay, Vancouver BC, after a 4 hour drive from Seattle.

In all honesty, the Sunshine Coast itself does not initially seduce me with the same charm as some other coastal weekend getaways, but anytime my primary goal involves unwinding, the first destination that comes to mind is Sunshine Coast’s boat access-only b&b gem, Sakinaw Lake Lodge.

The lodge is a 1.5 hour drive from the ferry landing in Gibsons Landing and you go through the towns of Sechelt and Halfmoon Bay to get there.

Once we debark from the ferry, I have only one destination in mind before checking in at the Lodge: It’s a mobile food truck owned by two nice Canadians – Paul and Steve – called Feastro that parks on a beautiful vista at Davis Bay Beach.  I know some people are growing tired of the mobile food truck craze, but these guys cook up such good food I would flock to them regardless of whether or not they serve food in a truck, brick and mortar store or out of a box.

Locals go crazy for the Bonzai prawns which are served with basmati rice and a pineapple brochette.  If they run out by the time I get there, I opt for the halibut taco that is served with greens from Sunshine Coasts’ organic farm Henry Reed.

As we approach Davis Bay, I don’t see the purple truck and am hugely disappointed.  We learn from a local Paul and Steve park at a new location in Winegarden Park which is close to the ferry in Gibsons Landing.  That is great news for folks staying close to the ferry, but the view is sure hard to beat from Davis Bay.

Feastro's fried oysters atop Henry Reed greens

Even though the Feastro truck doesn't hang here anymore, the vantage point from Davis Bay is worth packing a picnic lunch, your shades and a good book

 

We begrudgingly drive on and decide to drown our sorrows and hungry stomachs by grabbing a beer and picking up our clubs at Pender Harbor Golf club, which is about 40 miles away.

Golf:

Pender Harbor golf course reminds me of the cute girl with no make-up.  She may not have the fancy jewelry, but her natural beauty make her all the more unique and appealing.  Situated at the top of the Sechelt Peninsula in a setting of forest and mountains, there is a salmon spawning creek winding through the lush fairways.  The locals tell us to watch out for deer.

Just celebrating their 25th year, I immediately notice the golf course has no Lacoste collared-shirt pretensions. I encounter a group of four guys who just finished a mountain bike (and have the mud and blood to prove it) lugging a case of beer into their golf cart.  Good ol’ Canadians.

The view is way prettier than my golf game

Like any good fair-weather golfer, we conclude our game by sitting on the outdoor patio with a beer to reflect.

We are famished at this point as alcohol continues not to be a good source of nutrition, although it does wonders for the mind.  We skip into Off the Hook - part seafood market, part takeout/eatery – and are pleasantly surprised to find it is actually open.  No one (not even locals) can quite figure out when this unassuming lunch spot/seafood store in a small strip mall is open.

The menu includes so many goodies ranging from sushi to fish sandwiches I don’t know what to get.  The owner’s girlfriend definitively tells me to order the chowder and the fish and chips.

The chowder comes out and boy does it look hearty – Meaty chunks of of sockeye salmon, halibut, mussels and bay scallops with some BC spot prawns caught the day before thrown into the mix.  No potato fillers here.

Chunkiest chowder at Off the Hook

I am just about full when the Caribou brand beer-battered fish and chips arrive.  Aside from the fries, the fish is served with cole slaw infused with a light vinaigrette dressing instead of your typical gloppy mayonnaise mess.

Fish and chips with some mighty tasty cole slaw

Instead of advertising the price of the BC spot prawns and noting it was “just caught yesterday,” the sign instead lists the boat that caught the prawns because that way, locals will know that batch came from “M.V. Miss. Nikko,” which is the boat owned by “that” young couple.

We buy some salmon to take with us.  I notice inventory is low and the girl mentions the 10th anniversary of the international world downhill longboarding championship just occurred the weekend before and she and her boyfriend (the owner of the place) decided to feed all of the long boarders after a long day of riding.

With our seafood at hand, we are finally ready to head to the dock and ask Sakinaw Lake Lodge co-owner Garrett to pick us up in his boat.

Garrett greets us in his pontoon boot with his dog Max.  We load up and off we go.  Five minutes later, we arrive at the Lodge.

The lodge, owned by hip couple Liza and Garrett and Garrett’s rad mom Donna, consists of three lakefront view units.  I always opt for the luxury safari tent because I dig the concept of sleeping – I mean roughing it outside – yet having the indoor amenities of a queen size bed with a fluffy duvet cover, chest of drawers made from restored barn wood and adorned with barnacles from the Coast (purchased from a local furniture shop on the Coast), nightstands, and a private cedar-built bathroom with nice-smelling toiletries.

"Roughing it" inside our luxury tent

You can engage in multiple activities on the Coast, but if your sole purpose is to unwind, this place is self-sustaining.  Grab some fish from Off the Hook or pick up some meat from Oak Tree Market in Madeira Park and grill it up at the Lodge’s fabulous outdoor kitchen.  The kitchen is equipped with cooking pots, saute pans and eating utensils. Liza even brings me some garlic and butter so I can cook up the BC spot prawns I scored from the market.

Breakfast is included and these people know how to cook.

Breakfast is served - Lemon ricotta pancakes with some bacon from Madeira Park's Oak Tree market

 

The decks at the Lodge

The lodge has two outdoor tables for eating, on-site kayaks you can take out for a paddle whenever you please, swimming boards, and a short hiking trail from the lodge. The hot tub, fire pit and multiple lakefront places to chill make this a place that’s hard to leave.

If your definition of unwinding involves a little bit of activity, that is not a problem.

Aside from golf, here are some more activities on the Coast:

  • Hiking – Pick up a list of hiking trails at the information center on the ferry.  One of my favorites is hiking to Skookumchuck Rapids, a tidal rapid that kayakers surf.  It is the biggest tidal rapid in North America.  Time it right with the tide and you can go on a hike to check out the adventurous kayakers.
  • Mountain biking – There must be some wicked fun mountain bike trails on Sunshine Coast, based on the number of mountain bikes I saw on top of cars in the ferry line.
  • Salmon fishing
  • World class kayaking
  • Swimming at Sakinaw Lake Lodge
  • Longboarding and longboarding watching – International championship  occurs every year in May
Watching kayakers get their adrenaline high on the rapids
Hiking – View of Pender Harbor from the top

If you are into boating and hiking, Garrett puts on his skipper hat (figuratively, not literally) and takes guests on a 2.5 hour insiders’ boating and hiking excursion as he shows us tribal markings and and talks about the history and the present status of Sunshine Coast development.  We end up docking at a hiking trail that is boat access only and walk 20 minutes through a forest into a clearing of beautiful water.  As if the hike could not get any better, we come across oysters and Garrett has thought ahead and brought a pail for us to pick up a few oysters.

Did I tell you we are the only people on this beach?  Jackpot.

Pontoon boat waiting for its skipper

Good spot to chill and find some oysters on our hike (bring your fishing license!)

Some of us then proceed another 20 minutes up a hill to a panoramic view of the mountains and water.  As we make our way down, we see a school of dolphins fishing together.

View from the top where we saw a school of dolphins

As we get back on the boat and head back to the Lodge, all I can think about is tearing into the oysters.  As Garrett is shucking the oysters, I stay close like a dog wagging its tail as the Kibble and Bits is about to get put into my bowl.

Patience pays off:

1-hour old oysters!

These guys are monsters

After relishing the oysters, we proceed to our private deck to read and take a nap.

I am ready to eat again when I wake up so I head down to the outdoor kitchen to cook up the 1-day old spot prawns and enjoy them by the fireplace with the two other couples staying at the Lodge.  Sometimes I like to keep to myself when I am on vacation because the thought of making small talk is not appealing.  However, every time we visit this place, we meet the coolest people and I cannot help but be social.

I feel like this place has a magnetic field that mysteriously draws in only cool people.  Heck, even the Lodge’s two dogs – Max and Munchie – are extraordinary.  People visit the Lodge from different parts of the world, different ages, different backgrounds, but there is one characteristic all of the guests share – They are all cool.  How can that be?  This time, we are graced with the company of a couple from the Okanagan Valley, BC and another couple visiting from the UK.

Garrett and Liza join us at the fire and we spend the evening trading stories and laughing.  To complement the warm fire and company, Garrett and Liza bring us a round of homemade Irish coffee.  Liza then tells us about how a guy pulled up in his boat the week before, really needing to get on the Internet.  He politely asked to share their wi-fi access, in exchange for a freshly caught trout.

As of today, Sakinaw Lake Lodge has 66 reviews Trip Advisor, all of them with the highest ranking of excellent.  I certainly won’t be messing with their winning streak.

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2 Responses to “Travel: Sunshine Coast, BC”

  1. June 27, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    Thanks for the great article Jen! I just came back from spending 8 days in Bliss Landing which is a little bit north of the Sunshine Coast. My boyfriend’s father owns a lovely house up past Lund, BC close to Desolation Sound and it is just absolutely beautiful up there. To get there though, we drive through Sechelt and take another ferry at Earls Cove to Saltery Bay and drive another hour and a half to get to our destination. I remember seeing Off the Hook when we drove by it. Maybe next time we’ll have to stop by and check it out, or one of the food trucks you mentioned. We were lucky enough this time to have my boyfriend’s father’s boat, so we were able to catch pots full of spot prawns, dungeness crabs and a large ling cod. There’s also an oyster bed about 100 yards from the house and we have found that the smaller ones are the tastiest. While out on the boat we spotted a few orca whales and some pictographs left by natives hundreds of years ago.

    It is truly amazing up there and it surprises me that not more people have heard of the Sunshine Coast when it is merely a few hours away from Seattle. If you haven’t already read this book, I’d recommend picking up The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet. A book that chronicles the adventures of a woman, after her husband mysteriously disappears out at sea, who took her 5 kids in a small boat and spent their summers sailing around the west coast of BC. It would be a good read while you’re up there next time!

  2. Jen (roll with jen)
    June 27, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    Thanks Jade for all of the insight. Your trip sounded ridiculously cool – fresh fish, prawns, checking out pictographs and whales? Wow. Bliss Landing sounds gorgeous.

    I am excited about your book recommendation, too. I just ordered it.

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