GUEST ARTICLE: In July my parents moved from central British Columbia to Pender Island, which is situated in the Gulf Islands just outside of Victoria, BC. Every year we visit them and my grandparents who live up north in Terrace, BC. With my parents recent move we had to make a few travel adjustments on how we were going to get from A to B. That’s when we discovered the BC Inside Passage Ferry.
In order to take the ferry we firstly had to pre-book way in advance to ensure a spot during Canada’s very busy summer season. Being August, that meant prime time tourist season, especially for these types of ferry trips. That also meant having to check in at the ferry terminal at least an hour and a half in advance so we didn’t lose our booking.
We had to take a small ferry from Pender to Vancouver Island (Swartz Bay). From there we drove just over 6 hours north to the little town of Port Hardy. The drive was really nice and scenic with a coastal road giving us superb views of the ocean and quaint little seaside communities. Along the way we stopped in the city of Nanaimo for a quick lunch then continued on our way. The highway turned a bit inland and then we found ourselves winding through a mass of thick forest and some stunning mountainous areas.
We passed a few little towns after Nanaimo but we noticed the population became less dense the further we drove. When we arrived in Port Hardy we checked ourselves into our pre-booked hotel room (also very important to book!) and then ventured out for some dinner. There weren’t very many choices but the sports bar our hotel recommended served up a delicious salmon.
The next morning at a very early 5:45am we were at the ferry terminal waiting in line to board the big, beautiful new ship called the “Northern Expedition.” It can hold up to 130 vehicles and 600 passengers. That day we felt very lucky to be one of those passengers. It cost us C$427CAD for our car and C$187 each to take this ferry trip.
This was our first proper ferry cruise and we were eager to get out to sea. Although I have to admit I had a bit of trepidation in case I didn’t have the sea legs for it. But because we were cruising the inner passage we heard that it should be smooth sailing for the most part (my fingers were crossed!). As long as it was nothing like the nightmare junk boat ride I had in Hong Kong all should be good.
It didn’t take us long to board the ship. Once we were all neatly parked we took up what belongings we thought we would need for the 16-hour journey and headed up to the upper decks. Because the trip was so long we decided to book ourselves a cabin. Having a cabin was really nice and a great place to rest up when we needed – highly recommended!
The ship’s interior was beautifully done and had an excellent café with great affordable meals as well as a dining room that served up a delicious buffet. There were also a few good shops to browse in and also a mini movie theater. We never did venture into the theatre because it was just too hard with all the breathtaking scenery around us.
We really lucked out with the weather – it was superb and a perfect summers day. We spent hours on the outside deck areas soaking up the sun and just gazing at the beautiful Canadian landscape. The waters were perfectly calm as we gently glided through and every now and again we saw whales, dolphins and seals splashing around in the distance.
Thick green forest blanketed rolling mountains on either side of us. At times the passage was so narrow it was hard to believe how the inlet was deep enough to let us pass. Along the way we stopped at one very isolated community where the only means of getting in and out was by ferry. We heard that in a few weeks the salmon were going to start running there and that the water would be bubbling with fish. What a shame we just missed that spectacular sight!
For dinner we had pre-booked a buffet in the main dining room. Wow! The food was fantastic and our table beside the window had the best view in the house! We sipped local red wine and ate local salmon as we watched the snow capped mountains drift past.
16 hours seemed to fly past but one great thing about a Canadian summer is that the days are long and the sun didn’t set that evening until just before 9pm. That meant we had a full 13 hours of spectacular scenery.
We arrived in Prince Rupert at about 11pm that night. After unloading we drove into town and checked into our pre-booked hotel. That trip was absolutely amazing! We saw such spectacular beauty along the way, it was so much more than I had imagined.
I am happy my parents made their move because we’ve now vowed to make our yearly journey up north via the Inner Passage. This trip is most definitely worth doing and we can’t wait to do it again!
Machalle Gower’s Inside Passage – Spectacular Ferry Ride from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert, British Colombia Photo Gallery
This travel diary has been written by Machalle Gower, a friend who enjoys taking roads less traveled!