The island village of Bella Bella is located on Campbell Island, north of Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, and about 3 kilometres north of McLoughlin Bay, where BC Ferries’ Queen of Chilliwack docks.
It is home to the Heiltsuk Native Band and is the largest community on the Central Coast of British Columbia). Although it was the former site of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort McLoughlin in the 1830s, nothing remains of the fort today.
A Native interpretive centre and big house explaining the history of the Heiltsuk peoples are located in McLoughlin Bay. Five kilometres from Bella Bella is Denny Island and Shearwater.
When European explorers arrived on this coast in the 18th century, it was inhabited by Natives from several cultural groups. Although hunters and gatherers like the tribes of the Interior, the coastal natives were able to establish permanent villages due to their abundant food supply. Their complex cultures were distinguished by an emphasis on wealth, a refined artistic tradition, and a rich spirit life. Travel along the coast was accomplished by dugout canoes that could be impressive in their length. Although there’s nothing more inspiring than to see one of these massive canoes in action, they are only brought out for ceremonial occasions, such as a paddle trip to Vancouver or the Olympic Mountains in Washington.
In earlier years, the communities on British Columbia’s Mid-Coast were dependent upon marine traffic for their communication with the outside world, as indeed they still are today, as they remain inaccessible by land. Slowly, however, travel by land increased, and travel by sea decreased. With rail and road routes reaching communities like Prince Rupert and Bella Coola, the volume of sea traffic to coastal ports of call diminished. The coastal villages were severely impacted by this change, which saw the termination of ferry services in the early eighties.
Contact with these communities received a major boost with the inauguration in 1996 of the BC Ferries’ Discovery Coast Passage Route, providing a scheduled service out of Port Hardy on Vancouver Island to Namu, McLoughlin Bay (Bella Bella), Denny Island (Shearwater), Klemtu, Ocean Falls and Bella Coola. The service operates during the months of June to September only, and is served by the Queen of Chilliwack, a hard-working, refurbished Norwegian freight boat.
Services in Bella Bella include a bank, a large general store, a police station, and the only hospital and pharmacy on the Central Coast.
Location: Bella Bella is located 98 nautical miles north of Port Hardy, on Vancouver Island, and 78 nautical miles west of Bella Coola. There are scheduled flights to Bella Bella from Vancouver Airport.
Arrange a trip to the Eucott Bay Hot Springs, near Ocean Falls in Dean Channel, amongst the largest and best-known on the coast. These hot springs are popular with boaters as Eucott Bay offers good anchorage and shelter for small craft.
The Fiordland Conservancy is a 91,000-hectare paradise for sea kayakers, approximately 100 km north of Bella Coola by air – a magical world of inlets, bays, islands, and fjords. Waterfalls and glaciers are set amid the passages of a complex coastline. Some of the mountains are thickly cloaked with old-growth Sitka spruce and coastal western hemlock forests; others are monolithic domes, exhibiting their bare granite faces. Located in the Kitimat Ranges of the Coast Mountains, Fiordland is an exceptionally scenic area, with rich estuaries at the base of sharply plunging glacier-topped mountains. Salmon spawn in the many coastal rivers and creeks. There are a number of excellent beaches and interesting upland features, including glaciers, waterfalls, lakes, and rivers, along with wonderful hiking and wildlife-viewing opportunities. Sitka deer, salmon, and grizzlies have shared this magnificent area with the Heiltsuk people for centuries. Trapping, hunting, fishing, and other traditional food-gathering activities have richly sustained these people over the years. There are a number of archaeological sites located here, particularly along the shorelines. Unfortunately for paddlers, campsites are few due to the steep topography of the area. The recreation area is an important habitat area for both black and grizzly bears, which can make travel on shore risky.
Many parts of the Discovery Coast are relatively unknown to kayakers. It will appeal to resourceful paddlers who seek a sense of pioneering, which includes laying some groundwork, discovering new fishing spots, wildlife watching, dealing with unknown tidal currents, and finding new campsites. In British Columbia, the opportunities for recreation are everywhere.
Kayaking: Paddlers can enjoy the many small straits, exposed coastline, and islands accessible from the communities of Bella Bella and Denny Island (Shearwater), such as the Goose Group in the western reaches of the Hakai Provincial Recreation Area. There is good camping on the south end of Campbell Island as you make you way through Hunter Channel towards Goose. Be prepared to paddle 8 km through the open water in Queens Sound between Campbell and Goose, the largest by far of the five islands gathered here. At the north end of Goose Island is a pure white beach composed largely of pulverized clam shells that when walked upon with bare feet emit a squeak not unlike the squeal of a sneaker on a gymnasium floor. This is truly an enchanted island.
Approximately 130 km north of Port Hardy and 10 km west of Namu is the Hakai Luxvbalis Conservancy Area, British Columbia’s largest marine park, and one of the better-known paddling areas. This 123,000-hectare area encompasses a large archipelago of outstanding natural beauty and recreational value. From fully exposed shorelines to rolling, forested hills and 1000-metre peaks, Hakai offers some of the most varied and scenic coastline in the province. Special features such as lagoons and reversing tidal rapids, beaches, all-weather anchorages, tombolos, and an intricate network of coves, inlets, and channels make it an ideal area for boaters, anglers, scuba divers, naturalists – and experienced sea kayakers. The recreation area has no developed facilities, and offers wilderness sites for camping only. Over 100 species of birds have been identified in the park, ravens and ospreys among them. Feeding flocks of gulls, auklets, murres, and murrelets are numerous in the waters of Kildidt and Queens Sounds. Black oystercatchers, pelagic cormorants, surf birds, and both black and ruddy turnstones are also common.
Diving: The waters of the Hakai Provincial Recreation Area are amongst the finest in the world for underwater exploration, with exceptional viewing opportunities year-round. There are wrecks along virtually the entire Central Coast, making it a magnet for divers. Three good wrecks are just off Atli Point, near Shearwater on Denny Island, and Namu is particularly popular. Liveaboard dive charter vessels are available, which are outfitted with diving tanks and wet suits, and are based on the Central Coast between June and September.
If travelling on the Queen of Chilliwack, the most stunning scenery is between Bella Bella and Bella Coola. With the setting sun behind you, the monolithic rock formations looming over the narrow Burke Channel give the cruise a European flavour. You’ll get an even better look at the scenic Dean Channel during daylight hours if you board the ferry in Bella Coola for the southbound sailing.
Weather permitting, the ship’s two upper decks are an excellent vantage point from which to watch for the logging camps, barge houses, and abandoned settlements that indicate a human presence on this rugged coastline. Although Natives have inhabited the area for thousands of years, the inhospitable terrain has limited development and exploration by European settlers until comparatively recently. Wildlife viewing – the ferry slows for orcas – is another bonus of this trip. Don’t forget your binoculars. Facilities aboard the Queen of Chilliwack include reclining sleeper seats, a cafeteria, and small licenced lounge, a gift shop and – a boon for kayakers – pay showers.
Those taking the Discovery Coast Passage should be aware that, depending on their departure time and length of trip, they may have to ‘camp’ one night aboard ship. A sleeping bag or warm blanket will enhance your comfort in one of the reclining seats. Alternatively, bring along a camping mattress and stretch out on the floor. A small number of cots and blankets are available onboard. Hardy types are also permitted to pitch their (self-supporting) tents on the deck.
Circle Tour: See the best of BC when you embark upon one of the many circle tours that take in Vancouver Island, the Discovery Coast, the Sunshine Coast, the interior winelands or the remote Northern British Columbia. The coastal tours involve exciting rail, road and ferry trips, which is half the fun of travelling in British Columbia. Scenic highways flank the coast, taking you through charming beachside communities, rolling farmlands and majestic mountain ranges. Start your journey here and now, by selecting from one of the Circle Tours, designed to assist you in planning your journey by road through beautiful British Columbia.