Although Powell River is only 142km (88 miles) north of Vancouver, it feels light-years removed from the urban sprawl. It's probably because of the ferries: Commuting from the Sunshine Coast -- the name given to the rocky, mountain-edged coastline that lies in the rain shadow of Vancouver Island -- wouldn't make sense if you worked in Vancouver's financial district.
Hwy. 101 is a very scenic route, with soaring 3,048m (10,000-ft.) peaks to the east and the swelling blue waters of the Strait of Georgia to the west. The first town north of the Horseshoe Bay-Langdale Ferry is Gibsons (pop. 3,732), a bucolic seaside community that served as the setting for the 1980s TV series The Beachcombers. Much of the action took place in Molly's Reach Restaurant, 647 School Rd. (tel. 604/886-9710), which has evolved from a film set of a restaurant into a real eatery with fine home-style cooking. Wander along the Gibsons Seawalk, which leads from the Government Wharf to Gibsons Marina, and watch fishing boats unload their catch. Roberts Creek Provincial Park, 9km (5 2/3 miles) north of town, has a great tide-pool area that's perfect for picnicking.
Twenty-eight kilometers (17 miles) north of Gibsons is Sechelt (pop. 7,545), an arty little town on a sandy finger of land -- all that connects the Sechelt Peninsula to mainland British Columbia. The town is a delightful clutter of galleries and cafes. The Sechelt Indian Nation is headquartered here; the imposing House of Hewhiwus contains a cultural center, museum, and gift shop. A couple of miles north of Sechelt is Porpoise Bay Provincial Park, with a nice beach and riverside trail.
Continue north along Hwy. 101, past the turning to Madiera Park and Pender Harbour, and admire views of Vancouver Island. Drive past the Earls Cove ferry terminal to Skookumchuk Narrows Provincial Park. All of the seawater that lies behind 40km-long (25-mile) Sechelt Peninsula -- which includes three major ocean inlets -- churns back and forth through this passage in an amazing display of tidal fury. It's about an hour's walk to the park's viewing area. Tides are so fierce, causing boiling whirlpools and eddies, that they actually roar.
Powell River (pop. 13,300) is dominated by one of the world's largest pulp and paper mills. That said, the town sits on a lovely location, and if you're feeling adventurous, it's a major center for diving and kayaking.
The old portion of town is called the Homesite, a company town that grew up alongside the original lumber mill near the harbor. The only designated National Historic Region in British Columbia, the Homesite contains more than 30 commercial buildings and about 400 residential buildings, all in late Victorian style. Ask at the visitor center for the heritage walking-tour brochure. The Powell River Historic Museum, 4800 Marine Dr. (tel. 604/485-2222; www.powellrivermuseum.ca), has one of the largest archives of historical photos in the province, along with artifacts from the Native Sechelt. It's open year-round Monday through Friday from 9am to 4:30pm, plus the same hours on weekends from June to Labour Day. Admission is C$2 adult.
From Powell River, many travelers take the ferry over to Comox/Courtenay on Vancouver Island and continue the loop back south. However, Powell River isn't the end of the road. That honor goes to tiny Lund, 28km (17 miles) north on Hwy. 101. The main reason to make the trip is to say you did it, and to pop into the century-old Lund Hotel for a drink or a meal.
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