With the pandemic calling the travel shots, even the 10-minute ferry ride to Quadra Island on a tiny BC Ferries car carrier felt like a grand getaway on a luxury ocean liner.
Quadra is hardly the consolation prize for sticking to backyard travel in 2020. Largest in the Discovery Islands archipelago in British Columbia’s Inside Passage, it mixes wild, forested beauty and winding rural roads. There’s as much activity as you like on land and ocean, with the enticing option of plenty of nothing pressing to do in a tranquil place where the emphasis is on outdoor life.
The pace is slow. People are friendly, with a laid-back, hippie vibe. I spotted a few men with flowing beards who looked like long-lost relatives of Gandalf.
From the moment my husband and I got in the car, heading north from our Victoria home to the ferry dock at Campbell River three hours away, this three-night getaway felt like more than a quick break. It was liberation, a real vacation when it looked a few months prior like we would be stuck at home for the duration of the pandemic.
We planned carefully, checking to make sure businesses and some restaurants on Quadra were open. We had masks, wipes, disposable gloves, and hand sanitizer with us, as well as lunch in a cooler in case we had to wait for a sailing or two if the hourly ferry (you can’t make reservations) was busy and there was nothing open nearby. We wanted a hotel that had in-room kitchens in case we didn’t feel like going out to eat. Taku Resort and Marina fit the bill and had COVID-19 protocols in place.
Blissfully Free of Pandemic Angst in BC
Around the island, businesses followed WorkSafeBC guidelines, including hand-sanitizer dispensers and limiting the number of patrons in stores and restaurants. Customers’ names and numbers were taken for contact tracing. Very few people wore masks and I didn’t see any staff members in stores or restaurants covering their faces. The need just wasn’t there. With so few people around, it was easy to keep safe distances. The island has approximately 3,000 residents and, like the rest of British Columbia, has been vigilant about limiting the spread of coronavirus. Community support has played a key role, including temporarily requesting outsiders not visit Quadra early in the pandemic.
Measuring just 35 kilometres (21 miles) from top to bottom, Quadra is home to three wee villages. Each one is a modest commercial centre, including the main hub of Quathiaski Cove.
Our hotel was in a smaller centre, Heriot Bay. The queen bed was comfy and there was a small balcony overlooking the marina to Rebecca Spit Provincial Park (with a flat hiking trail out and back) across the bay and the snow-capped Coast Mountain range in the distance.
Taku has been owned by the Wong family for more than 30 years. Fei Wong, who bought Taku Resort with her late husband, Milton, makes sure there is a lavish bouquet of fresh blooms from local grower Dirtco Flowers in each room. Look for the artwork by her sister-in-law, Canadian master printmaker Anna Wong, on the walls.
As part of Taku’s COVID response, the hot tub was closed. Instead of daily housekeeping, we had a checklist to request refills and a large tote for used bedding and towels if we wanted to swap for fresh linens.
Hikes, Culture, and Cuisine on Quadra Island
We spent our days exploring rural roads, driving past farm stands and passing the occasional cyclist, our car windows open and often with no particular destination in mind. All level of trekkers will find hiking trails to suit them. We climbed North and South Chinese Mountain trails, steady uphill climbs that rewarded us with inspiring views. The 12-kilometre (7.5-mile) Morte Lake circle trail starts in a lush fern-packed rainforest, climbing well-tended switchbacks built for mountain bikes before dropping down to paths that lead to a couple of secluded sandy beaches with clear turquoise water. We ate a packed lunch at one beach and I wished I’d thought to bring a bathing suit for the lovely sandy beach and Caribbean-turquoise water at the end of the lake.
I’m glad I picked up a $2 trail map at Taku by the Quadra Island Recreation Society. With detailed reviews of 16 hikes and how to find trail heads, which can be tricky, it came in handy.
We reluctantly had to miss the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre at Cape Mudge. It’s part of the We Wai Kai Nation, which is closed to visitors during the pandemic. I was curious to see the centre’s collection of Kwakwaka’wakw Potlatch Treasures, carvings, artworks and ancient petroglyphs, some of the estimated 1,000 First Nation carvings on Quadra. Next time.
We’d also hoped to take a morning group paddle with Quadra Island Kayaks, just up the road from our hotel, but tours were cancelled due to COVID-19.
We consoled ourselves with wine.
(But first a word about the water: I don’t know what it is about Quadra, but the island has seriously delicious, silky tap water.)
Ben McGuffie, 43, and Jill Ogasawara, 44, started SouthEnd Farm Winery in 2009. The couple bill their business and Quadra Island’s only winery as “small farm, too many ideas.”
He’s a chemical engineer; she’s the winemaker and a landscape architect.
SouthEnd’s outdoor tasting room overlooks the vines, the four-acre farm and forest. Rescue dog Truman is likely to be flaked out nearby.
Tastings are held on a shaded patio. The long bar, made from a polished length of a felled ancient maple harvested by McGuffie’s father and grandfather, is ideal for socially distanced wine tastings, which are kept to a pair or small household group.
There are also a few places on the patio for a vineyard-view picnic with a glass of wine and snacks from Quadra purveyors and makers, including cured meats from Yellow Dog Trading Co. and smoked salmon or crab pate from SeaChange Foods. I picked up a couple tins of smoked scallops fished by McGuffie’s cousin to go with the Jimmy K sparkling wine we bought.
McGuffie’s next project is ClearCut Distilling Co. and Botanically Incorrect Gin. The name is inspired by the lack of gin’s traditional mainstay, juniper. Instead McGuffie and Ogasawara walked around the farm and chose ingredients growing there for their gin, including spruce tips, lavender and lemon balm.
With plenty of sunny afternoon left, Ogasawara suggested we try the Kay Dubois Trail, a nearby forest path that hugs the Sutil Channel. We had the route to ourselves as we listened to the waves and birds.
Hungry, we stopped at funky Q-Cove Plaza in Quathiaski Cove and picked up a pizza from The Clove. The plaza has a well-stocked Tru-Value grocery store (there’s another in Heriot Bay) that also sells wine, beer, and spirits. Kameleon Food & Drink is a good spot for lunch. The dining room is closed, with orders taken at a table in the doorway. The spicy-umami dragon bowl I had for lunch on the patio was delicious. A server delivered the meals.
We ended up at Q-Cove Plaza several times, including to explore bookseller Robin King’s fantastic shop, Book Bonanza, where we spent 30 minutes browsing the packed stacks. The store logo rightfully depicts King as a superhero with the slogan: “Fight Evil — Read Books.”
The popular Saturday Quadra Island Farmers’ Market & Bazaar is cancelled because of the pandemic, but local artists and makers have wares for sale in the pop-up Solace store in the plaza. I picked up a geometric, two-tone wooden necklace by woodworker Christine Walsh, earrings made from old watch faces by Gary Colter at Daisy Lane Studios and delicious salted caramel bonbons from L.B. Sweet Goods. There’s also good shopping in the plaza at Sacred Pulse and Works of H’Art in Heriot Bay, next to the Tru-Value.
If we’d stayed another night, I would have gone to purveyor Island Farm to Table in Quathiaski Cove to pick up the ingredients to make dinner in our room. They had a table at the door for collection of free-range beef, local lamb, poultry, and eggs, as well as pre-made meals, pastry, and local fruits and vegetables.
As for dining out, we did that, too. The historic Heriot Bay Inn and Herons dining room was a five-minute walk from Taku. We had dinner twice on the waterfront patio overlooking the marina, Cortes Island ferry dock, and coastal mountains. Service was friendly and followed all safety guidelines.
The locally caught cod was excellent and came with a free show: A pair of magnificent bald eagles, wings outstretched, swooped back and forth in a display that echoed the joy we felt at being back travelling again.