Scenery, Climate And Wildlife
Hornby has a unique micro climate that allows it’s beaches water to be much warmer than others on the west coast. It has been nicknamed the little Hawaii. The island is sheltered from the weather on Vancouver Island’s west coast, therefore it enjoys mild and mainly dry weather in the spring, summer and fall.
The scenery of the island is beautiful. There are several beaches lined by forested parks and great opportunities for seeing wildlife. Many eagles take up residence on the island and use it as their nesting place. Ravens are abundant as well. We have seen whales, Orca, and sea lions. Opossums and deer have also made Hornby Island their home.
Seventy five percent of Hornby Island is green space. The coastline has white sand beaches and rocky sandstone formations. The interior is mainly forest, mountainous parkland, orchards, farmland, and small clusters of residential properties.
Helliwell Provincial Park, Our Favorite Part Of The Island
The 69 hectare Helliwell Provincial Park is located on the northern portion of the island. It sits on a headland called St. John Point. This is one of the best places on the island to go for a walk and one of our favorite spots on the island. Perhaps we have just been lucky, but we hardly encounter any other people during our time in the park.
The trail consists of a 5km/3mile loop that is fairly flat, so people of any fitness level can enjoy it. The walking trails take you through an old growth forest of Douglas fir trees and along the beautiful Helliwell Bluffs. Some of the landscape is reminiscent of a desert. From the bluffs you get a view of the Georgia Strait and Coast Mountains as well as Denman and Vancouver island.
Tribune Bay Provincial Park
Tribune Bay Provincial Park is 95 hectares in size. It offers a 1000 meter stretch of white sandy beach that is dubbed the “little Hawaii.” This beach has been voted as one of the top five beaches in Canada. The ocean here offers some of the warmest saltwater in Canada to swim in. The beach stretches far out to see at low tide allowing the shallow waters to reach near tropical temperatures during the summer.
There are some hoodoo rock formations at one end of the beach that have created an unusual shoreline. It’s another great spot to take some interesting photographs. In the springtime Tribune Bay Park puts on an incredible display of wildflowers. Facilities in the park include picnic tables and pit toilets.
There is another beach nearby that is called Little Tribune Bay. This beach is known as the nude beach. Don’t be surprised to stumble upon both locals and visitors that are soaking up the sun in the buff.
The first time we visited the island we had no knowledge of the nude beach. We had gone out to collect drift wood to burn in the fireplace of our cabin. I was walking along the beach picking up wood and saw that there were a few sunbathers laying in the sand ahead of me. I was shocked as I got closer to a couple that were baring it all. I quickly turned around and retreated with my handful of driftwood, I’m sure my face was very red with embarrassment.
Whaling Station Bay
Whaling Station Bay is one of the historic spots on the island. It is located on the northeast side of Hornby. It operated as a whaling port from 1871 until the decline of the whale population. There is a sandy beach here that is a quiet spot to enjoy. This is where we have come several times and rented a cabin on a beachfront piece of property. Quite often you can come here and have the whole beach to yourself.
To get to Ford’s cove take central road all the way to the end. The general store at the marina is open year-round. They have fresh baked goods in the mornings and you can order a pizza in the evening. In the summer Red’s Seaside Grill has fish and chips. The lunar looking shoreline here at Heron rock is another photographers delight.
Horny Island Festival
In early August the Hornby Island Festival showcases music, dance and art. It is the highlight of the summer activities. The music during the festival is something for all tastes. There are musicians that play at Olsen’s Farm where people get up and dance in the orchard. Classical music is played in Hornby Hall. Another part of the festival called “art in unusual places” has musicians playing at the Recycling Depot, Sandpiper Bluffs and Tribune Bay.
The fall fair is held around mid-September. In recent years a parade has been organized to kick off the fair. This year the theme of the parade was bees. The islands school children and many adults dress up in inventive costumes. The event is held on the Olsen Farm property in Ford’s Cove.
Arts and crafts are on display and for sale. There is an abundance of island veggies and lots of homemade pie. A music stage is set up with local entertainers. It’s an event that the island residents look forward to each year and attracts visitors from neighbouring Denman and Vancouver Island.
Send Off To The Tourists
The locals of Hornby Island have developed somewhat of a love/hate relationship with the tourists. Don’t get me wrong, people are very friendly on the island, but you have to put yourself in the locals shoes. They have a tranquil and peaceful existence on the island with only a small stream of travelers during most of the year.
In the summer months of July and August the amount of tourists showing up nearly quadruples the population. Even though the atmosphere of the island is transformed during the summer months, the tourists bring a lot of welcome income to the businesses.
We usually go to Hornby after labour day weekend, we prefer to have more solitude during out stay. One year we happened to come a week earlier, staying over the Labour day weekend. We left the island on Labour Day on the last ferry of the day. We sure got a surprise!
We had noticed a growing number of people along the shoreline prior to the ferry taking off. The ferry pulled away from the dock and shortly after we found ourselves getting a dizzy ride. The captain continued to spin the small ferry around in circles. As it spun another worker was shooting off the ships water canons. Huge arcs of water were streaming from each end of the boat out into the ocean. This went on for several minutes.
We suddenly became aware of what was happening as the crowd along the shoreline starting to cheer and clap. Then they all started waving and yelling goodbye. We were on the official “send off the tourist ferry!” Each year after Labour Day has passed the locals can reclaim their island. The hordes of tourists immediately drop and the island starts to return back to its peaceful existence.
The motto of the Farmers Market is to make it, bake it or grow it. You will find in season fresh fruit and vegetables as well as flowers and herbs. You can also find jewelery, cards, pottery and photography. The market is held each Saturday from 11am to 2pm from May long weekend until Thanksgiving.
In March the largest herring spawn in B.C. attracts wildlife such as bald eagles and sea lions. The herring spawn close to the shores of Hornby Island. You can view the wildlife from the shoreline or by kayak, boat or scuba diving.
Off the tip of St. John Point in Helliwell Provincial Park sits the tiny island called Flora. It is one of two locations in the world where divers can get a glimpse of rare six gill sharks. The sharks attract divers and marine biologists from around the world. There are many underwater gardens and caves to explore in the area.
We always bring our bikes when staying on the island. If you can’t bring yours there is a bike rental shop located in Ringside Market near the Co-op. Most of the roads on the island are quite flat. Trails criss cross the island in all directions. There are also expertly maintained biking trails on Mount Geoffrey along the cliff side that offer amazing views.
Kayakers can launch at Tribune Bay or Whaling Station Bay. The sandstone cliffs of Helliwell provide interesting places to paddle.
Studios, Galleries, Wineries And More
Many of Hornby Island’s residents are artists. You can make one or more days of your stay into a tour of the islands galleries and studios. Pick up a copy of the Hornby Island Studio Guide to assist you. There are potters, photographers, all kinds of painters, sculptures and metal workers.
Booze Cruise Of Hornby
On this trip we visited three places we had never been to before. It turned into a booze cruise of the island since they were all producers of alcohol.
Carbrea Vineyard is a four acre piece of property that has planted a vineyard to take advantage of the significant amount of sunshine its south facing property. They use sustainable farming practices without the use of herbicides and pesticides. Several types of wine are produced. The vineyard is located on Central road a few minutes from the ferry terminal. Tastings and purchasing are available, check with them for days and times.
Middle Mountain Mead is set on a beautiful piece of property. It offers a spectacular view of the island all the way across Tribune Bay over to Helliwell Park.
Mead is a wine made from honey and water. Many flavor variations are made with different types of herbs, spices and botanical elements. Some of the honey used for making the mead is produced in beehives on the property. The black currents, apples, Oregon grapes and botanical plants such as lavender and salal berries are also grown on the property.
In the summer tastings and purchases can be made from Tuesday to Saturday 1-5pm. At other times of the year check for available times.
Island Spirits Distillery was recently opened on the island. They produce vodka and gin with a very special process that purifies it. The owner insists the vodka and gin are so pure that you will not get a hangover from drinking it. Some of the flavored vodkas they make include vanilla, and Black Jelly Bean. The distillery is open for tours Thursday, Friday and Saturday 12:00 to 4:30 during July and August. Check with them for times during the rest of the year.
A Unique Recycling Depot
The recycling depot is located on central road. It was created to help with the problem of hauling garbage off the island. It has a very well organized set up for dealing with the recycling of everything possible, such as plastics, metal, paper, organic compost and glass. In addition to recycling, most residents have a compost on their property.
There is a free store located at the depot that is operated by volunteers. There are all kinds of household items, clothing and books. You can drop off unwanted items and take something away that will be useful to you. Nothing goes to waste.
The depot also acts as a place of socializing for the local residents. Everyone comes to it at some point during their week. It’s a great place to bump into people and catch up on every one’s latest activities.
It’s worth stopping by the depot just to take a look, it’s really quite a unique setup. There’s funny signs and drawings all over the sorting areas that will have you laughing. I think one of my favorite ones was at one of the side drop off counters where it read something like, “all hair and makeup questions answered here.”