by Dick Dace
What is romantic? Is it a secluded location with all the luxuries known to man? What about adventure? Do you enjoy canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, and hiking in the woods? When my traveling companion Richard and I discovered all this was available on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, we were thrilled that we didn’t have to choose one over the other. We had found our destination for our romantically adventurous—or adventurously romantic—weekend.
The Sunshine Coast is so remote that it is only accessible by a 45-minute ferry ride from Vancouver, or 15-minute flight by float plane. It may be the weekend/summer/winter playground of Vancouverites, but it is home to the many farms, breweries, and fisheries that provide the local award-winning locavore restaurants with their sumptuous bounty. The artist colonies and nature preserves offer some of the most beautiful views in North America, sights both miniscule and majestic, nature-made as well as hand-crafted. We wanted to see and do it all.
We boarded the ferry at Horseshoe Bay and disembarked at Langdale. After stopping for burgers at the Lighthouse Pub in Sechelt, we picked up a Purple Banner map of local art studios. The road to our hotel was hugged by pristine forests that hid million-dollar homes on the coast and the inland farms, with hanging purple banners being the only way to discover boutique galleries such as Mellon Glass and Klaywerk Studio. Mellon is a glassblowing studio using only recycled glass in their unusual sculptures, while Klaywerk showcases Liz de Beer’s functional pottery. We would have toured other galleries, but Richard had a rather artistic surprise of his own—a private tour of Target Marine Hatcheries in Sechelt, home of Northern Divine Caviar, Canada’s only land-based producer of farmed white sturgeon caviar.
Started in the 1990s by Bernard Bennett and Berndt Rindt, who began producing Atlantic, Chinook, and Coho smolts, the business morphed in 2000 when they began raising white sturgeon. At the end of the tour, Bernard opened a tin for us to sample. Thankfully, Richard bought several tins for later. (And that would be the romantic part of the trip.)
We first heard of Rockwater Secret Cove Resort & Spa in Halfmoon Bay from a friend who described it as a luxurious Ewok Village—sans the furry Lucas shill-toys. The comparison was startlingly apt. The “rooms” were tents, much like those found on an African safari, except these floated in the forest, built on stilts, set high in massive boughs of the trees overlooking the Georgia Strait. If Ewoks lived in luxurious accommodations like these, they never would have rebelled against Vader. The 13 tenthouses (as they were well-named) featured a pillow bed with a down coverlet, a Jacuzzi massage bathtub for two, heated slate floors, a propane fireplace, and a private terrace with an unobstructed view of the most beautiful coastline we had ever seen. There was no television. Who needed it? Best of all, their restaurant, under the direction of executive chef Sean Chaudier, provided room service.
The next morning we awoke, not to a rooster, but to a more majestic—and thankfully silent—bald eagle perched on the limb of a red cypress tree near the water. For over an hour, Richard and I kept watch from our bed, covers pulled tight, as the eagle looked left then right, scanning for breakfast. Then we heard “Rocky,” the resident raccoon, on our terrace, and our bald eagle lifted its wings, and was gone. While Richard made coffee, I ventured outside, and just down the hill lay a fawn, sleeping amongst the gray granite boulders. As soon as we heard room service walking on the wooden boardwalk, off she bounded up the hill. Like I said, who needs television? (And, yes, amorous neighbors, we heard you. Every. Groan. Moan. Sigh. You were in a tent, people!)
After breakfast we hiked through Smugglers Cove Marine Provincial Park, named for its nearly hidden entrance in bogs and wetlands that provided safe harbor for yesterday’s rum runners and today’s smugglers. The bridges and the well-maintained paths allowed us to see the resident beavers in their dams, various birds, and the occasional butterfly. And while Richard felt letdown that there wasn’t a cougar or bear sighting, I shared no such disappointment.
Next on Richard’s agenda was canoeing. Luckily, he had read about the very exclusive, three-room Secret Cove Treehouse Cottage and Suites, which had a private dock on Secret Cove where the waters are calm. Owner Ivan Mansanet gave us a tour of his beautiful cottages, with their breathtaking views, and invited us to use his canoe to explore the area. He even provided us with a picnic basket and blanket. Out we paddled, making our way over the waters, each turn more beautiful than the last. Soon Richard found us the perfect pebble beach on a deserted island where we lunched on some chilled crab salad, a Riesling from a nearby winery, and a tin of Northern Divine Caviar.
Another short ferry ride took us to Powell River where we stayed at The Old Courthouse Inn. Before Kelly Belanger and JP Brosseau transformed the building into a modern hotel, the 1939 Tudor was the jail, police station, and courthouse. Richard had tried to reserve a jail cell as our room, which I assumed would explain those silk scarves in his bag. Any hoped-for Oz scenarios vanished, however, upon discovering all that’s left of the jails are the 300-pound doors. Fine by me, since our two-room second-story suite overlooked the hotel’s brand-new deck.
Brosseau, a fourth-generation local, came for a family visit last year with his husband, and together they bought the inn. They recently opened Edie Rae’s Café, which pays homage to Brosseau’s mother, where Brosseau makes everything fresh daily, including homemade jams and jellies, using locally sourced produce. (We loved their Louie’s Smoke Salmon Bene.)
Last stop on our holiday was in Madieria Park at the Painted Boat Resort Spa & Marina. Lunching on grilled local cheese sandwiches at the Copper Sky Gallery and Café before check-in, we met local artist Cindy Cantelon. Cantelon uses the “lost wax” process to make her pewter sculptures and jewelry. Local flora and nearby forest creatures are her subjects. We saw plenty of these, though we just missed Joni Mitchell on her morning coffee run by five minutes.
At check-in, we were greeted by the general manager, Ryan Schmidt, who told us that this location had been a fishing village for many years and that the resort’s name is an homage to the brightly colored fishing boats that once lined the harbor. Today, the resort consists of an enclave of thirty-one 1,000+ square-foot million-dollar two-bedroom suites, complete with a gourmet island kitchen, and a balcony overlooking the cove, complete with a barbeque grill. We would get properly settled in after we hit the spa for a relaxing massage.
The chef and his staff pulled out all the stops for our last meal on the Sunshine Coast. Sitting by the window overlooking Gerrans Bay, Richard and I dined on albacore tuna with squid ink aioli, egg yolk, local petit greens and radish, paired with a Riesling from Similkameen Valley. We then shared the Ribeye for Two, with crispy bone marrow, pommes Anna, beans, truffle béarnaise, and chimichurri. A Prince Edward County pinot noir complemented the meal perfectly. Our dessert was champagne and Northern Divine Caviar.
On the ferry back to Vancouver the next day, Richard and I sat up top in the warm sun, holding hands as we sailed past snowcapped mountains. The end of any trip leaves me with mixed emotions—joy, sadness, a wistfulness bordering on melancholy.
Was that Whistler over there?
We couldn’t be sure. But we were sure we would find out next year.
Dick Dace and Richard Allen Lee were the guests of:
Destination British Columbia
Vancouver, Coast & Mountains Tourism Region
Rockwater Secret Cove Resort & Spa
Painted Boat Resort, Spa & Marina