Posted by: cherylyoung | March 23, 2012



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

Pass area.



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

Highway 20.


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

hardly lavish.

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

rugged coastline.


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 IslandIf you would like information on this work of art please feel free to contact me or go to my website






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