Summer Escape – Hornby Island

by Alison Malone Eathorne | July/August 2012

Turquoise waters and a laissez-faire attitude welcome visitors to Hornby Island

Home to beautiful beaches and a bohemian vibe, Hornby Island is the jewel of the northern Gulf Islands. Populated by approximately 1,000 year-round residents, the island’s population swells during warmer months with visitors eager to relax and unwind.


Thanks to its lack of a major hotel or resort, Hornby Island has retained the rustic charm that has been attracting vacationers for decades. Visitors stay in oceanfront rental homes, bed and breakfasts set on pastoral properties and the tranquil Sea Breeze Lodge; camping enthusiasts will also find several sites dotted around the island.


Dubbed “Little Hawaii,” Tribune Bay Provincial Park is known internationally for its one-kilometre stretch of white sand and its crystal-clear, turquoise waters. In July and August, the beach transforms into a playground for families, sun worshippers and pleasure boaters, who set anchor in the bay’s calm waters. Meanwhile, neighbouring bay, Little Tribune, plays host to free-spirited beach goers seeking a clothing-optional atmosphere. Whaling Station, named for its role as a whaling port in the late 19th century, is a third sandy beach located on the northeast side of the island. For stellar views of Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, pack a picnic and grab your walking shoes for a hike along the spectacular bluffs at Helliwell Provincial Park. The 2,872-hectare park is home to majestic old-growth Douglas fir trees.


Given its natural beauty and unpretentious attitude, it’s no surprise that Hornby Island inspires the work of several resident artists, artisans and musicians; during the summer, many artists feature their work at the Hornby Island Farmers’ Market—located in a unique forest setting—and open their studios to visitors on self-guided tours. (The studio of Heinz Laffin and Gerhard Kozel, whose ceramics are a personal favourite of yours truly, is one example.) The Hornby Festival—an annual event that launched in 1982—is recognized across Canada as a stellar showcase for jazz, world and classical music, along with spoken word and modern dance performances. Taking place this year on August 2-11, the festival will feature over a dozen concerts and an art exhibition.


Hornby Island is home to a clutch of artisans who craft delicious wine, vodka and mead. Wine lovers relish visiting Little Tribune Winery, Hornby Island Winery and Carbrea Vineyard & Winery, which crafts gewürztraminer, pinot gris, pinot noir and agria wines using estate-grown fruit. Middle Mountain Mead, set on a spectacular hilltop property, makes various blends of the ancient, honey-based wine. Island Spirits Distillery—the brainchild of an icebreaker captain and a professor of organic chemistry—produces a range of botanical-based gins and vodkas.

After sampling the island’s wines and spirits, make your way to the Cardboard House Bakery, a Hornby Island institution where folks line up to enjoy homemade pizza in the garden. Adjacent to the Co-op grocery store, visitors will find a collection of whimsical shops and cafés proffering everything from espresso and cappuccino to Mexican fare and gourmet sandwiches.


From Nanaimo, drive one hour north to Buckley Bay. Take BC Ferries to Denman Island, then cross the island by car to Gravelly Bay and board another ferry to Shingle Spit on Hornby Island.