The Discovery Coast is the southern section of the
Inside Passage that stretches from Port Hardy to
Prince Rupert, through the protected waters of
British Columbia’s central and northern coastline.
The Discovery Coast extends from Port Hardy to
Bella Coola on the Central Coast, and includes the
communities of Namu, McLoughlin Bay, Bella Bella,
Shearwater, Klemtu, Ocean Falls, and the Hakai
There are some places, luckily, that are still
inaccessible by road.
British Columbia’s Central Coast is one of them.
Until BC Ferries launched its Discovery Coast Passage
run in the summer of 1996, the Central Coast was also
largely inaccessible by water.
Now, to the delight of adventurers and locals alike,
from June to September the Queen of Chilliwack
connects the community of Port Hardy, at the
northeastern end of Vancouver Island, with
Bella Coola, at the head of the North Bentinck Arm,
making regular stops along the way.
For cycle tourists and RVers, the Discovery Coast
Passage service opens up a brand-new circle tour
through some of the province’s most beautiful terrain.
From Bella Coola, Highway 20 leads across the
Chilcotin Plateau to the Cariboo, from where any
number of routes lead back to the Lower Mainland.
But one of the bonuses of this trip is that you needn’t
take a (four-wheeled) vehicle at all.
For kayakers, backpackers and campers choose your
destination, explore some territory, then reboard
the ferry on a subsequent day.
Planning your trip, which involves detailed study
of the ferry schedule, is half the fun.
As yet, the Discovery Coast Passage remains largely
undiscovered. Book soon.
When European explorers arrived along this coast
in the 18th century, it was inhabited by Natives from
several cultural groups.
Although hunters and gatherers like the tribes of the
Interior, the coastal natives, due to their abundant
food supply, were able to establish permanent
Their complex cultures were distinguished by an
emphasis on wealth, a refined artistic tradition,
and a rich spirit life.
Travel along the coast was accomplished via cedar
dugout canoes that could be impressive in their
Although there’s nothing more inspiring than to see
one of these massive canoes in action, they are only
brought out for ceremonial occasions, such as a
paddle trip to Vancouver or the Olympic
Peninsula in Washington.
These days, aluminum-hulled, high-speed boats are
the vessels of choice among all inhabitants of the
Explorers from Russia, Britain, France, and Spain
converged on this coastline in the last quarter of the
18th century, motivated by trade possibilities or -
in the case of Spain – a desire to protect territorial
Two British explorers, Captain James Cook in 1778-79
and Captain George Vancouver in 1792-93, did the
most systematic charting of the coast.
After an international tussle, the British eventually
gained control of what would later become the coast
of British Columbia.
Colonization and settlement began in the 19th
century, although British Columbia’s Central and
Northern Coast is still not heavily populated.
Logging, fishing, and tourism are the primary
industries, though with the decline in stocks and
automation in the forest, fewer people live here
now than in previous decades.
After a disastrous decline in Native populations
(by as much as 90 percent in some nations)
that began over a century ago due to infectious
diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis, today’s
numbers match those of precontact times.
The Queen of Chilliwack, 377 feet (115 m) long,
carrying 115 vehicles and 375 passengers, sails
from its southern terminus in Port Hardy, 250 miles
(400 km) north of Nanaimo on Highway 19.
The drive from Nanaimo to Port Hardy takes four
to five hours.
Bella Coola, the ferry’s main northern terminus,
is 283 miles (456 km) west of Williams Lake on
There are scheduled flights to Bella Bella and
Bella Coola (airport at Hagensborg)
from Vancouver Airport.
Pacific Coastal Airlines in Vancouver offers
a scheduledservice into both Port Hardy
and Bella Bella.
As cruises go, the Discovery Coast Passage is
The Queen of Chilliwack is a working freight boat,
serving the needs of the local communities.
It’s just as well that luxuries aboard this refurbished
Norwegian vessel don’t distract from the scenery
which is spectacular, with long fjords and narrow
channels forming the backdrop to the Inside Passage.
The roughest portion of the trip is just out of
Port Hardy, as the ferry navigates the unprotected
waters of Queen Charlotte Sound.
This is a good time for a nap.
The most stunning scenery is between Bella Bella
and Bella Coola.
With the setting sun behind you, the monolithic rock
formations looming over the narrow Burke Channel
give the cruise a European flavour.
You’ll get an even better look at the scenic Dean
Channel during daylight hours if you board the ferry
in Bella Coola for the southbound sailing.
Weather permitting, the ship’s two upper decks
are an excellent vantage point from which to watch
for the logging camps, barge houses, and abandoned
settlements that indicate a human presence on this
Although Natives have inhabited the area for
thousands of years, the inhospitable terrain has
limited development and exploration by European
settlers until comparatively recently.
Wildlife viewing – the ferry slows for orcas – is
another bonus of this trip.
Don’t forget your binoculars.
Facilities aboard the Queen of Chilliwack include
reclining sleeper seats, a cafeteria, and small
licenced lounge, a gift shop and – a boon for
kayakers – pay showers.
Service is friendly, the food is better-than-average
for BC Ferries, and there is a staff member dedicated to
customer service who can assist you with your onboard
needs or travel plans.The Discovery Coast is the
southern section of the Inside Passage that stretches
from Port Hardy (on Vancouver Island) to Prince
Rupert (mainland) through the protected waters
of British Columbia’s central and northern
Access is via B.C. Ferries from Prince Rupert and
Bella Coola and Port Hardy on Vancouver Island
If you would like information on this work of art please feel free to contact me or go to my website http://www.cherylyoung.ca
CHERYL YOUNG, REALTOR AND BLOGGER
SAANICH PENINSULA REALTY