BC Ferries Northern Link

BC Ferries operates crucial links for any Northern BC circle tour. Even if you’re just headed to Haida Gwaii, flying is an option, but getting around the islands without your own vehicle is pretty much restricted to lodge shuttles or hitchhiking. For me, the 15-hour Inside Passage from Port Hardy at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, to Prince Rupert on the North Coast, was a voyage I’d longed to make. And I was equally excited about the crossing of the potentially wild Hecate Strait from Prince Rupert to Skidegate on Haida Gwaii.

A heavy overcast and remnants of a light drizzle didn’t augur well for the scenic element of our trip on Northern Explorer as we boarded in the dark. The vessel felt unfamiliar (different from the short-trip ferries between the mainland and the Island) as we sought the passenger lounges via passages lined with numbered cabins. I was kicking myself for not investigating this option when I gave in to a sudden impulse and headed for the purser’s desk. What a difference it made to be able to abandon laptops and at least some of our camera gear to move freely on deck throughout the day. And I can’t say enough about the opportunity to stretch out on a comfy bunk to write my notes and snatch a little nap. In future, I’ll definitely book a cabin in advance.

Apparently the stars were in perfect alignment that day, because an hour into the voyage, patches of blue began to appear behind rips in the clouds. From then until the dazzling sunset, we sailed under clear skies. For a time we lounged on the sheltered sundeck at the stern, chatting with passengers we would meet again the next day on the run to Haida Gwaii. One family was on a combination of BC Ferries Vacations package tours that included their shore accommodations.

We dashed to the railings to watch eagles, porpoises, humpbacks and, to me the biggest thrill, a rare sea otter lolling on its back in the gentle swell.

We didn’t bother taking in the afternoon movie in The Raven Lounge, but I did browse the well-stocked gift shop, we ate breakfast and lunch in the Canoe Cafe and treated ourselves to table linens, Okanagan wine and a top-drawer buffet in the Vista Restaurant for dinner, complete with dolphin seashow beyond the expansive windows.

After a shoreside overnight in Prince Rupert, I got us fixed up with a cabin first thing when we boarded Northern Adventure. This voyage offered less mountain scenery, but I did get to know one particular humpback very well. We sailed from sunny warmth in Prince Rupert through a cool damp wall of fog to more sunshine beyond. The waters of Hecate Straight remained obstinately peaceful (I love a good blow) and sunset gold touched the totems on the shoreline near Skidegate seven hours later. It was great knowing we still had the return trip to look forward to.

First published in Okanagan Life magazine, March 2013. Download PDF.