Sunshine Coast to Vancouver Island Road Trip
From Gibsons to Ladysmith and back again
Paul and I live in Gibsons, BC and in July 2021, we decided to take a mini vacation to Vancouver Island. Paul found a vacation package with BC Ferries, which included the ferry sailings and a three-night stay at a Ladysmith hotel. We had a great time!
Gibsons to Powell River
We left Gibsons relatively early on our first day as we had to catch the first of two ferries that would deliver us to Vancouver Island. The ferry at Earls Cove on the Lower Sunshine Coast will take us to Saltery Bay and Powell River on the Upper Sunshine Coast.
Despite arriving at Earls Cove Ferry Terminal 45 minutes early, we don’t make the 10:35am sailing. That meant waiting for the next sailing at 12:55pm. Because we had some time on our hands, we decided to have an early pizza lunch at the Cove Restaurant. An Instagram follower later told me that the the food truck at the ferry terminal also has delicious food so I’ll try that out the next time I’m up that way.
After finishing our meal, we see that the ferry’s on its way back! Yahoo! It’ll be our turn once all the Powell River traffic has a chance to unload.
Waiting at Earls Cove Ferry Terminal
We were lucky and got a really good parking spot on the ferry. Our car was parked just on the apex of a vehicle ramp which meant we ended up with close to a 180º view. It was kind of like being on the bridge of the ferry!
Earls Cove to Saltery Bay is a 50-minute sailing with lots views of the coastline. We catch a distant glimpse of Harmony Falls, a beautiful waterfall coming from Freil Lake. We also pass a fish farm.
It’s a windy sailing for us and other vessels on the Jervis Inlet. No whale sighting on this ferry. Maybe the next one!
Nearing Saltery Bay, we see lots of beach on both sides of the ferry terminal thanks to the low tide. We’re soon rolling off the ferry and making the 25-minute drive into Powell River.
Sightseeing in Powell River
We had a couple hours to kill before catching our second ferry of the day. We’d only visited Powell River a couple of times before. Once for a job and another time to meet a friend. Because we had some time and weren’t very familiar with the area, we decided to do some exploring.
We stopped for some lazy sightseeing at Willingdon Beach. There’s lots of beach here, too, thanks to low tide. Willingdon Beach is very scenic with lots of beachfront. There are also lots of walking paths including a rock pier path out to the seaside. The park has a volleyball court, splash park, and various play areas.
Westview to Little River
Even with a reservation, unloading and loading the ferry takes a while. We stay close to our car so we’re ready for when they tell us to load. Sitting in a parked car with the temperature in the high twenties (which really feels like low 30s), makes time feel especially slow!
We park on the ferry and make our way to a vantage point so we’re able to look back and see Powell River along the Coast as we start to sail across the Strait of Georgia.
And guess what?! We see whales on this sailing! We’re SO excited and keep our cameras facing the water’s surface to try and catch a glimpse of what I think were humpback whales. We see their backs above the water, as well as some spouting, and the occasional tail. So awesome! What a great first day to our vacation!
After the excitement of the whales passes, we spend a lot of time on the deck enjoying the scenery all around as we make our way to the Little River ferry terminal in Comox. Once we’re off the boat, it’ll be a 1.5 hour drive to our hotel in Ladysmith.
Fast-forward to the next morning, Paul is standing in front of an old steam engine. We’re at Ladysmith and walking around and checking out Transfer Beach Park.
This park has a lot of options for hanging out and having fun. There’s a splash park and a play park for kids and there’s some beach area, too. If you’re so inclined, you could rent a kayak but we decided that we’ll stick to sightseeing spots on dry land. The park also has an amphitheater that I’m sure gets filled with wonderful live events for people to enjoy.
Leaving the park, we walk through a huge culvert that creates a pedestrian path under Highway 1. This path will take us back into the residential and commercial part of Ladysmith without having to cross highway traffic.
We’d heard that Old Town Bakery in Ladysmith was a must-visit for delicious treats. It lived up to its reputation! The cinnamon buns were so good that they didn’t last long enough for us to take a picture!
We’re a 20-minute drive from Nanaimo so we decide to visit that city and walk around its waterfront. There’s a great path lined with beautiful flowers that goes for a long way and it gives us lots to look at. We see a float plane taking off, and we cross a cute bridge that leads to Maffeo Sutton Park.
Back to Ladysmith
That evening and just outside of Ladysmith, we decide to fly the drone for a little exploration from a higher perspective. There were quite a few cargo ships in the channel. The sun is setting and it’s a wonderful end to a beautiful day!
The next day, we set out to see one of Vancouver Island’s newest tourist attractions: the Malahat SkyWalk.
I’m just touching on that part of our trip because we did a video specifically on the Malahat Skywalk. Follow this link to watch that video: Malahat SkyWalk video
The trip home
Today we’ll leave Ladysmith and head up island to catch our first of two ferries back to the Lower Sunshine Coast. On our way to the Little River ferry terminal, we detour to Coombs and The Old Country Market so we can see the famous “goats on the roof.” The parking was full and there were crowds of people lined up to get inside the store so we opted to watch the goats from a distance.
We then made the quickest of stops at Qualicum Beach before following Island Highway 19A back towards Comox and to the ferry terminal.
Back to Powell River
We sailed back to Powell River on a mid-afternoon sailing. We had beautiful 360 degree views which included the beautiful blue Strait of Georgia and the land masses of islands and the BC mainland.
On the way back, I got a better look at all the limestone mining sites on Texada Island. Mining is still operational on Texada Island but much less since the 1950s. Population also decreased since then and the island is now more of a cottage and camping destination with its warm waters and scenic beaches.
Nearing Powell River, the ferry’s big front hatch lifts and opens. We’re near the front and find ourselves off the ferry in no time. Before you know it, we’re off one ferry and on our way to the next one.
Going home to Gibsons
To our surprise, we make the very next sailing from Saltery Bay to Earls Cove. We had expected the timing to be off and we’d made peace with likely having to wait a couple hours for the next sailing. But as luck would have it, we’re on the ferry back to the Lower Sunshine Coast within 15 minutes or arriving at the terminal.
Lucky us! This means lots of daylight to enjoy this last sailing and we’ll be back home in Gibsons a couple hours earlier than expected.
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We're Val and Paul and we're a married couple who live on BC's Sunshine Coast! We moved from Alberta to Gibsons in 2014 and love our life on Canada's West Coast! Subscribe to our YouTube channel and email newsletter and you'll learn what it's like to live in the most beautiful place in Canada.