Last weekend we escaped the smokey shores of Vancouver for a mini holiday on the beautiful Hornby Island! This little Island is just off Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. It is a pretty place to explore and great for seeing amazing sunrises and sunsets!
It was Marc and my first trip to both Vancouver island, and Hornby Island and although I loved our time there, I learned a few tips that I’d love to share! Hopefully this post will save you some headaches if you plan to have a similar trip!
Getting to Hornby Island
So, this is the second-worst part of visiting Hornby Island! We took half a day off, so even though we left on Friday afternoon, we thought we’d be ahead of the main rush. To get there you need to…
- Take a ferry from Horseshoe Bay (Vancouver) to Nanaimo – 1 hour 40 minutes
- Drive up to Buckley Bay – 1 hour (ish)
- Take a ferry to Denman Island – 10 minutes
- Drive straight over the island to Gravelly Bay – 15 minutes
- Take the final ferry to Hornby Isand – 10 minutes
That doesn’t sound too bad right!? However there is so much time waiting before each ferry, that this actually took 6.5 hours. On the way home, this can be closer to 12 hours(!) Yup! We could get home to the UK faster than we can get back to Vancouver from Hornby Island!!
Make sure you book a place on the ferry from Horseshoe Bay (Vancouver) to Nanaimo! You might be able to line up for the ferry without a reservation, but in summer, the lines for that were loooong. There must have been people waiting for hours and hours.
So, now you know catching a few ferries may take a long, long time, you might as well make the most of your ferry rides! Make sure you stop for some soft serve ice-cream and enjoy the sparkly views as you approach Vancouver Island.
Denman Island and Hornby Island Ferries
You can’t book these ferries, so you have to just drive to the port and hope for the best.
We drove straight to Buckley Bay from the Vancouver-Nanaimo ferry; So we were second in the queue for the Denman Island Ferry. We only had to wait about 20 minutes before being loaded onto our second ferry. Then we did the same thing crossing Denman Island. But when we reached the port for Hornby Island, there was a looong queue. We were in time to reach the ferry for 7:40pm… but there were so many people trying to reach Hornby Island, that there was no room for us on that ferry. Doh! We were actually 27th in line for the next ferry. Staff told us that they can normally fit about 27 vehicles. There were quite a few extra long cars and RVs in front of us, so as we drove to the front of the line, we were stopped. There was no room for us again.
Then a few minutes later, staff beckoned us forward! They *just* squeezed us onto the ferry. There was soooo little room, that the ramp was lifted within an inch of our car! Phew! The photo above is the back of our car shown with about an inch to spare before the ramp was lifted!
Sunsets at Grassy Point on Hornby Island
After our epic journey, we were greeted by good friends and the most beautiful sky over Hornby Island. Our crazy journey was worth it for this view!
Is this not stunning!? The running, happy people in the photo below are my best friends from Japan, Sean and Lisa.
Sunrise on Hornby Island
Lisa and Zac have the cutest baby in the world. She woke up super early, and she acted as an alarm for the rest of us. As soon as I opened my eyes I was impressed with the beautiful early morning glow. I rushed out to see my second view of Hornby Island. It really is a gorgeous place to visit!
Helliwell Provincial Park
We started our mini holiday with an easy walk around Helliwell Provincial Park. This walk was a pretty 5km loop. It starts in a forest with a cool totem pole from the K’omoks First Nation. I have been trying to find out more about the story behind this totem pole, but I couldn’t find much, other than it is in Pentlatch style. If you know more, please let me know in the comments.
I am used to seeing cool trees in British Columbia, but there were sooo many amazing old trees here! I love how the trunks make us look so tiny.
Happy trees and puppies
I just have to share these images. We found a happy tree trunk. We also found an incredibly happy and proud doggo. Look at his stick!
Loo with a view!
I recently wrote about pretty places to pee, well, Hornby Island had a pretty good outhouse in Helliwell Provincial Park. It’s a little late for my loo post, but I took a photo from the window anyway.
This is the view over to Vancouver island from Helliwell Provincial Park. It was the middle of summer, but it looks quite autumnal, with the golden grass and the bright blue sky.
Jumping on Hornby Island
These are my besties, Sean and Lisa. We’ve all been friends for yeeears, so you can tell we’ve all done jumping photos before. These piccies make me so happy!!
I blooming love this one!
Marc is so good at taking perfectly timed jump shots.
Helliwell Provincial Park bluffs
One side of the provincial park is lined with rocky bluffs and overhangs. If you decide to wander along the loop around the park, stay on the path! You can easily fall off these bluffs!
They look particularly pretty early in the morning when the light is still golden.
I LOVE peely arbutus trees! There are a few around Vancouver, but there were loooads on Hornby island!
Chilling at Horby Island’s Grassy Point
We stayed at my friend’s (Zac’s) cousin’s home. It was so, soooooo lovely! We had amazing views out to the North of the Island at Grassy Point. This is my favourite place for a cuppa so far in Canada.
Are these views not lovely!? The views are over to Texada Island, with the Canadian mainland mountains in the distance behind the mist/smoke.
Hornby Island Farmers’ Market
After relaxing for a while, we set off to explore the fantastic farmers market that takes place every Saturday in the middle of the island. It wasn’t much like a farmers market…it is more like a mini art show! There were plenty of interesting things to see. If you do come to Hornby Island, definitely do pop in here! I bought a beautiful hand-made bowl as a souvenir.
I like the old wizard-like men carved out of knobbly wood. There were also pretty cool bird feeders made of tea cups. Art-wise, there were quite a few interesting paintings for sale. I am sort of regretting not buying a cock block for my sister!!
I also looooved the quilters! Aren’t these quilts amazing!? I am hoping my Mother-in-law, Araceli, will like these…
But I think the coolest stand was this really cute hand puppet stall!
Tribune Bay Provincial Park
Later that afternoon, the smoke had started to creep over from the Canadian mainland. We didn’t let that stop us exploring a little more though! We spent the late afternoon on this sandy beach in Tribune Bay Provincial Park. The water gets deeper very slowly, so it is perfect for swimming with children or toddlers.
I’m not sure what this is about, but it was pretty cool to see the giant can of soup! It even has it’s own facebook page!
Another sunset on Grassy Point
Despite the smoke, on our second night, the sunset was pretty pink and purple. I love the way the light shines on the water making a pretty purple sea.
Grassy Point in the morning
This is the same view that we’d first seen as the sun set on our first night. Marc and I explored again on our final morning on Hornby Island.
I would have LOVED this island as a child. I mean, I had fun wandering around and exploring the rock pools now. Some of the small pools were completely full of sea anemones.
It really is a pretty coastline.
I really loved this hot-dog log! Unfortunately the smoke got worse and worse. By the time we were ready to go, the air was tasting like fire, and the sea was quite pink. These photos were about 10:00am.
Getting home from Hornby Island
Now, this is the downside to visiting Hornby Island: We planned to take a ferry from midday. The ferry was less than 10 minutes drive away, but we figured we should leave early. We set off at 11:00am, so thought we’d be there with plenty of time.
Unfortunately, it is haaard to escape from Hornby Island on Sunday morning! When we got close-ish to the pier, we had to stop in line. There were 117(!) cars in front of us, so we knew we’d never make it onto the next ferry, or the next one…or the next one! We had to wait for five ferries to come and go before we could make the 10 minute crossing. Then we were only on Denman Island, so we had to wait again for another ferry from there. It took six hours for us to make these two tiny ferry journeys.
Is Hornby Island worth the trip?
Marc and I spent an extra day on Vancouver island. However my friend Sean took over 12 hours to get home (to Vancouver) from Hornby Island. Eep!
For us, it was definitely worth visiting Hornby Island, even just for a weekend. This is mostly because we were keen to see our friends there. However, I don’t think I would want to spend 12 hours travelling to reach it on a normal weekend away! The island *is* lovely, but it is not quite worth spending so long queuing for ferries. Next time, I’d prefer to explore further afield on Vancouver Island, rather than spend such a large chunk of our weekend sitting still in the car.
Ideas to avoid the ferry queues:
If you love the sound of this island, but don’t want to wait in line for 4-6hours on a Sunday you could leave your car on Vancouver island and cycle across Denman Island and Hornby Island. Or, you could wake up really early and make sure you’re one of the first people in line on Sunday morning. Or, maybe just avoid visiting the island at the weekend. Have a mid-week adventure to this mini island paradise.