Village Hostels on the Sunshine Coast

Three coastal “backpacker B&Bs” welcome budget travelers north of Vancouver


I used to sell panniers at Vancouver’s Bike Doctor and when novice cyclists would come in and say they were going to spend a “relaxing” weekend biking the Gulf Islands, I’d cringe. There’s got to be an easier way for these people to discover the simple joys of bike touring, I thought; a destination with less gravity-defying hills, a shorter ferry ride, comparable island cachet and cheaper accommodations.

Since then I’ve thrown my bike on the #257 Horseshoe Bay bus and confirmed that this place does exist but the catch is ~ it’s not an island; it’s the thirty or so kilometers between Gibsons Landing, Roberts Creek and Sechelt known as the Sunshine Coast.

Each of the three villages are spaced fairly evenly apart and are linked by the Georgia Strait coastline, the paved-shouldered Highway 101, and a bike-rack equipped Sunshine Coast Transit System. The curious traveller can sample a day’s worth of arts, eats and adventures by bike or bus, then settle into an cozy hostel-type accommodation when it gets dark.

Now, I’d heard that backpacker digs were popping up along the Coast but I always found it difficult to find them. It turns out that ~ with the exception of Sechelt’s Upper Deck Guesthouse which is located in a business area ~ zoning restrictions require them to refer to themselves as “backpacker B&B’s”: Gibsons has the two-year-old Wynken Blynken & Nod Backpacker’s B&B and Robert’s Creek has the new Up The Creek Backpacker’s B&B.

Martin, Marney and son Coulter Prestage opened the roomy Up The Creek in June. It features a stove-heated shared kitchen, library and music room, wooden deck and hot tub, and a studio where Marney guides yoga on Saturday mornings. The couple are crazy-eager to show visitors the area’s bounty and will gladly lend bicycles for the neighbouring Mount Elphinstone trails, send you down to Alpha Adventures for a kayak or snowshoe rental, or just suggest a walk down to the Gumboot Café’s legendary desserts.

Tanya Hall, husband Paul and mum Shirley at the Upper Deck Guesthouse also harbour a wealth of local and world travel knowledge. Guidebooks, brochures and vintage travel magazines line their casual rec-room lounge, and they’ve themed each of the clean and comfortable sleeping rooms to the different countries they’ve visited. Having lived in the area for over 23 years, Tanya and Shirley have the kind of local knowledge visitors crave; on Tanya’s suggestion I visited the new timber frame Visitor Centre, walked along Snickett Park’s curvy shoreline, wandered past the Sechelt band’s townsite and totems, and dropped into the gorgeous Raven’s Cry Theatre for a boffo screening of The Incredibles.

A denver sandwich at the Village Restaurant the next day fueled me up for a southward ride all the way back to Gibsons Landing. The roadway is a bit narrow out of Sechelt but opens up to a festive beach walk of motels and snack bars through Wilson Creek. The two-lane Highway 101 has wide shoulders for stress-free riding all the way into Gibsons; but an even more relaxed ride is to follow Lower Roberts Creek Road as it glides past cottages and cedars, rejoin 101 until Pratt Road, cruise down towards Gower Point Road and then follow it along the arbutus-lined shore until you roll into Gibsons’ caféd main street.

The Wynken Blynken & Nod B&B entrance hides behind a hedge just past Coles Marine on Marine Drive. Built in 1937 and formerly a fishers’ boarding house, the main building and courtyard cabins have an enviable location right on Shoal Channel. Proprietor Suzanne Senger bought the property in 2002 and moved quite a number of historic relics over to the Elphinstone Pioneer Museum. Despite ongoing renovations WB&N is ~ at this stage ~ the most rustic of the three Coast hostels and may appeal to travellers who don’t mind sharing a bunk cabin with free-spirited wanderers and their dogs.

Gibsons Landing is a touristy but admittedly lovely village. Halibut and fresh-cut chips at Molly’s Reach Restaurant are surprisingly good for a former TV show set prop, the fresh-baked pies and muffins at the Truffles Café counter are wonderful, and the tiny shoreline walkway is a foggy-morning delight. It’s a great getaway in the winter if you’re curious to steal a walk amoung the boats on the dock or nose around in the pioneer museum.

The Langdale ferry is a scenic five kilometers east on Marine Drive. A forty minute ferry trip back across the mouth of Howe offers picture-postcard scenes of barge-hauling tugboats and curious harbour seals. It’s a relaxing way to ease back into regular life, and you’ll truly feel as if you’ve been on “island time”.

Published in Adventure West Magazine, December 2004.