Tranquil and bucolic, Denman Island and Hornby Island sit just off the east coast of Vancouver Island. Lying off the south end of Denman Island, Hornby Island is the smaller of the two and offers a rugged, seductive mix of northwest rainforest and magnificent warm-water swimming beaches.
Hornby is somewhat mountainous, and the powerful force of the sea has beaten the softer rock faces, leaving dramatic cave and hoodoo formations at Tribune Bay and other sites.
Every island is invested with magic. Those who visit Hornby Island have really bought into the dream, as it takes two ferries to reach. There are no provincial campgrounds on Hornby Island, but there are a number of commercial campgrounds, resort lodges, and B&Bs.
These Gulf Islands are a holdover from a distant time when the entire Strait of Georgia was filled with sand. In more recent geological times, glaciation gouged out the trench that is now filled with seawater.
Because of certain inhibiting conditions – lack of water and garbage facilities, as well as tinder-dry forests in summer months – many islands have no public campgrounds. In most places, private accommodation must be arranged. In summer, reservations are highly recommended. However, there are public campgrounds on adjacent Denman Island.
Even though there are no public campgrounds on Hornby Island, there are attractive parks especially for picnickers, located where you can take best advantage of the seaside environment. Whether you’re on the island just for the day or have made arrangements for private overnight accommodation, you’ll want to head for these places to complement your visit.
Location: Hornby Island is located off the eastern shore of central Vancouver Island, east of Denman Island and opposite Buckley Bay, 12 miles (20 km) south of Courtenay and one hour north of Nanaimo.
BC Ferries operates a vehicle and passenger scheduled ferry service from Buckley Bay to Denman Island and Hornby Island. Daily 15-minute ferry rides land visitors on Denman Island. A short drive across Denman leads you to Gravelly Bay and the connecting ferry to Shingle Spit on Hornby Island.
Hornby’s history of community spirit lives on at the beautiful handmade Hornby Community Hall and the Co-op Store, the commercial hub of Tribune Bay just a five-minute walk away.
Biking: Since many roads are paved and traffic is light, cycling is an ideal way to get around Hornby Island.
The Hornby Recycling Depot is a unique island institution that a decade ago turned a problem of hauling garbage off the island into a profitable program that recycles various plastics, glass, copper, paper, organic compost and metal. The Depot also operates a free store where you can pick up old things in return for your own old things.
The Hornby Festival is the highlight of summer for many, whether it is dancing under the stars down at Olsen Farm or being enthralled by a string quartet at the community hall. With an eclectic programme of world renowned and innovative artists from genres such as world beat, alt-traditional, classical or jazz, there is definitely something for everyone.
The “Make it, Bake it, Grow it” motto of Hornby Island Farmers’ Market allows the patrons to be assured of Hornby Island quality and diversity at its best. The market has grown over the years into a full bloom summer event.
Herring: In March, local waters teem with herring spawning close to the island’s shores. This is the largest and most consistent herring spawn in BC. This natural event draws bald eagles, sea lions and many visitors. Witness this spectacle of nature from a kayak, guided boat tour, glass bottom boat or scuba diving.
Diving: World-class diving is just one of Hornby’s many attractions. Divers come to St. John Point in Helliwell Provincial Park to dive with the rare and mysterious six-gill sharks off Flora Island, the only location in the Strait of Georgia with six-gills. These deep-water creatures can exceed 4.5 m (15′) in length, and are routinely sighted from May through September. You can also go scuba diving in Lambert Channel, at Maude Reef, Heron Rocks and Norris Rocks – explore underwater gardens and interesting caves.
Diving around Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands.
Mountain Biking: On the ferry ride from Denman Island over to Hornby Island, you can’t help but notice the spectacular cliffs that drop almost to the ferry landing. Imagine the exhilaration of travelling atop those cliffs on your mountain bike. Then ride the Bench Trail, which is atop the cliffs, and feel your knees go wobbly, and not just from the 1,000-foot (305-m) ascent to get there. Trails crisscross the island in all directions, and though the Bench Trail offers the best views, they are all worth exploring, especially the No Horses Trail, a half-pipe-like trail that follows an old riverbed.
Team Orb: Keep an eye out for members of Team Orb while you’re riding the trails on Hornby Island. Team Orb is the best collection of trails riders in British Columbia, and they are easy to spot on their home turf. They’re the ones doing things you thought couldn’t be done with mountain bikes.
Opossums: Watch for unusual flora and fauna: opossums, for example, have made Hornby Island their northernmost home in North America.
The warm sandy shore at Whaling Station Bay is a wonderful place for a family to enjoy a sunny day. The gorgeous beach is shallow and protected for swimming. Whaling Station Bay on the northeast side of Hornby operated as a whaling port from 1871 until the sever decline of the whale population.
Tribune Bay Provincial Park offers a magnificent driftwood-strewn white sandy beach that stretches way out to sea at low tide. Recently voted one of the five best beaches in Canada, Hornby’s Tribune Bay is known locally as Little Hawaii, and vies with any beach in the Gulf Islands as the most ideal place to frolic and swim. The sun-warmed aquamarine waters reach near-tropical temperatures in summer. Around the southern point, at Little Tribune Bay, locals and visitors relax on Hornby’s nude beach. Tribune Bay also boasts dramatic eroded hoodoo rock formations, creating an unusual and fascinating rocky shoreline. Camping is not permitted in the park, which is accessible by road and boat.
Helliwell Provincial Park guards the northern entrance to Tribune Bay, and sits on a headland (St. John Point) forested with a beautiful stand of old-growth Douglas fir. If you arrive here in spring you’ll be treated to a dazzling wildflower display. The rewards of visiting later in summer are the huckleberries and dark blue salal berries that cloak the hillside above the beach. From the cliffs there are spectacular views of Georgia Strait and the Coast Mountains. Killer whale sightings are possible from Helliwell’s high headland.
Walking & Hiking: Owing to the low elevation of most Gulf and Discovery Islands, walking routes and hiking trails are neither lengthy nor challenging. Some of the best trails are on Hornby Island and lead around Helliwell Provincial Park. A 3-mile (5-km) loop trail follows the Helliwell Bluffs that rise above the beach and lead through open fields and stands of magnificent old-growth Douglas fir. One of the best times to be here is in late April and early May, when wildflowers carpet the hillside above the beach.
A forested trail leads through Boyle Point Provincial Park at the south end of East Road on Denman Island. Although not a lengthy walk, this 1-mile (1.6 km across) excursion will give your legs a good workout, and you will be rewarded at the end of the trail with views of Hornby Island (the ferry from Gravelly Bay on Denman to Shingle Bay on Hornby is a short distance north of the park) as well as the strategically located lighthouse on Chrome Island just offshore. Cliffs precipitously drop off below the lookout at trail’s end, and you may not be tempted to follow a rough route down to the shoreline. One noticeable difference between the waters of the north and south ends of Denman is the presence of sea urchins around Boyle Point, but not at Longbeak Point and the waters around Sandy Island Marine Provincial Park.