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Luxury Adventuring on BC's Sunshine Coast

The Rockwater Secret Cove Resort--easily reached by car, boat or seaplane--makes the perfect base for coastal hikes and kayak journeys
By Peter Potterfield - July 22nd, 2010

Amber expertly paddles her kayak out of Malaspina Strait and into the narrow north channel of the aptly named Secret Cove. This is a complicated coastline, with islands, inlets and hidden channels nestled among the rocky shore and forest, and finding this passage requires local knowledge. So I leave it up to Amber, and follow along just enjoying the moment, focused on working through the narrow channel. It’s the kind of day on the British Columbia coast you dream about: blue sky, bright sun, and only the slightest texture put on the surface of the water by a gentle north wind. 

In fact, this stretch of shoreline has honestly earned it’s moniker Sunshine Coast: just far enough north of Vancouver to enjoy a rain-shadow effect, but close enough to make for easy access. And there’s no better way to enjoy this landscape than to explore it by sea kayak. Amber and I paddle out of the sheltered waters of expansive Secret Cove, past Turnagain Island, and back into the straight before turning south to cruise along the small islands and inlets of Smugglers Cove. 

I’ll have time to explore the extensive trail system along the coast there tomorrow, but for now it’s time to call it a day. We turn our boats north and paddle into the breeze. In only an hour the unique tent-cabin accommodations of the Rockwater Resort, dotting the wooded hillside, slide into view. Soon we round the bend into the calm waters of tiny Ole’s Cove, past the flagpole and it's Canadian maple leaf flag, and finally onto the beach where Sergei helps us out of the boats. I’m home.
As I take my gear up the stairs, through the Zen garden, and down the long (2,000-foot) wooden boardwalk to my tent, I can't imagine a place better situated for a few days of paddling and hiking. Once a rustic fishing camp, the Rockwater was discovered by a former Fairmont executive who, with partners, transformed the place from funky to fabulous, and yet retained the casual vibe. The new  tents on the hill side are the Rockwater’s signature element, and a very visible one, but it's the quality of the experience that stands out after a few days. One feels immersed in the natural beauty of the place, but pampered with good food and drink, with a smorgasboard of outdoor actiivity at your beck and call. It is such a civilized destination that since it's renovation, the place has become a favorite location not just for adventurers like myself, but for families, couples here just to relax on their decks, and  wedding parties.
"Tent" is a bit of a misnomer when applied to these extensively engineered structures, which were  built to handle all types of coastal weather and are used year round.  But the tent-cabins do reflect the vision of the Rockwater owners, who wanted to avoid a heavy footprint along the pristine coastal hill, so decided on the environmentally sensitive tents as opposed to adding more cabins to the resort. The structures are not just comfortable, but fun to be in. Mine has a view from the deck over the Strait of Georgia to the mountains of Vancouver Island. The interior is light and airy, with a cool breeze blowing through. Some might call this "glamping," but to my mind it's more like staying in a sophisticated lodge. I've never experienced anything quite like it.
But in addition to the 13 tents, the resort also has 11 cabins and more than a dozen rooms in the main lodge itself, so everyone can find the style that suits them.  For me, the tent's deck is hard to beat. After a day of paddlilng, I'm glad to  read for a few hours, enjoying the view, and the quiet. As the sun dips to the west, behind the mountains,  I head down to the main lodge building for a glass of wine as I catch up on my notes, and opt for an ealry dinner of Saltspring Island mussels and a salad in the large dining room. I've got one more full day of outdoor adventure, with multliple options to choose from, including more sea kayaking, mountain bike riding, or hiking. I hope to get an early start.
But I wouldn't be here at all if the resort wasn't served by Kenmore Air in Seattle, a regional airline (with connections to Alaska Airlines)  that runs a fleet of seaplanes all over this part of the world. Being able to jump on a DeHavilland Beaver in Seattle and be at the Rockwater in just an hour or so, after what amounts to a spectacular sight seeing flight, makes this an outstanding getaway even if you've only got a couple of days. The drive from Seattle or Vancouver is only a few hours, and a ferry ride,  and most visitors choose to do that, but flying up permits one to make the most of every day. It makes my long wekend  here feel like a much more substantial getaway.
If I had more time I would opt for more sea kayaking,  a longer, overnight paddle with the outfit Amber works for, Halfmoon Sea Kayaks. The circumnavigation of South Thurmanby Island, with an overnight stop, is a popular trip for them, and an extensive trail system on the island makes it even more appealing to me. But with just a day left, I'll have to choose between a day paddle--you can rent a kayak right at the resort--or mountain bike outing--the Rockwater can arrange that as well. There's horseback riding, and of course, world class fishing. But I'm leaning toward one of several signature hikes along this stretch of coast, such as the trail out to Francis Point, or the trails in Smuggler's Cover Marine Park.
In the end, I can't resist Smuggler's Cove, having seen that wild, slightly spooky landscape from the kayaks with Amber. Since I flew up via a Kenmore floatplane, I've got no car. But that turns out not to be a problem, as that morning after breakfast Peter of the resort staff drives me a few miles down route Route 101 to the trailhead for Smugglers Cove in the van. The good weather of yesterday has abandoned me, and I hike through a moody landscape of coastal fog and hidden inlets. A few sailboats lie at anchor in sheltered coves. Walking along the trail, through madronna groves, past minor inlets and along the outside shore, reveals bald eagles in the trees and blue herons up to their knees in the shallows. The fog suits the place on this day, and I'm glad to have the marine park to myself.
I've arranged to be picked up by Peter just after lunch, and after a stop to grab my bags at the Rockwater, we're off to the drop off point near Pender Harbour, where I'll catch the float plane back to Seattle. And right on time, the turbine Beaver comes roaring through the gap, as pilot Chuck Perry puts it down and taxis over to the dock. I toss my bag on board and climb in. I'll be back in Seattle in an hour, and one thing else is clear: I'll be back at the Rockwater as soon as I can get another three or four days off work.

Getting There:

The Rockwater  Secret Cove Resort is two to three hours from Vancouver via the Langdale erry at Horsehoe Bay, or about 20 minutes north of the community of Sechelt. Or, take advantage of seasonal scheduled service to Pender Harbour (about 15 minutes from the Rockwater) via Kenmore Air. For tips on planning travel to Canada, see the national tourism web site.




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