A Brief History
Vancouver Island is the product of hundreds of millions of years of shifting tectonic and volcanic processes. The Island was created through uplifting, faulting and lava deposits near the Equator approximately 380 million years ago. Much later, millions of tons of shell and marine life were deposited and layered to create limestone and coastal landforms. More recently, receding glaciers 12,000 years ago scraped and scoured the island and mainland creating landforms and mountain shapes you can see today.
The First Nations in North America and South America are believed to have come from a common Asian ancestor that used a land bridge exposed by the receding Cordilleran glacier 8,000 years ago. This land bridge is called Beringia, that would have provided access from modern day Siberia to Alaska. The Kelp Theory is now a widely accepted hypothesis as to why these brave people travelled to the Western World. Kelp forests and other marine plants provide a healthy foundation for an abundance of marine life, which would be appealing to primitive explorers.
Newly exposed land, sheltered bays and inlets allowed these First Nations on the North Island to evolve an entirely new way of life; it would have offered hunter-gatherers limitless resources to thrive. The forests provided wood to build shelters, create artwork and traditional canoes which allowed these people to become the first masters of nautical navigation on these waters.
“The ancestors of the Gwa’sala came to Earth from above. One of them came down as a brilliant event wearing the sun mask, and, taking it off became a man, Tlagalixala. Another of the ancestors landed as a whale. He came from the North end of the world and, building a house, established one of the groups of the tribe.” – Adapted from Boas and Hunt, Kwakiutl Tales, 1908.
Things to Consider before you arrive in Port Hardy
Many activities such as whale watching, bear watching, fishing, ferries, buses and tours should always be booked prior to your arrival. If you come to Port Hardy and expect to just “wing it” you may leave disappointed. Plan, research and prepare. Check our Transportation and getting around section for information about road access. Port Hardy is a very small town with just over 4,000 residents. Port McNeill has just over 2,500 residents. Common issues that may arise might be best dealt with in Campbell River or before you travel. Please feel free to contact Guest Services for specific questions.
What to pack when travelling to the North Island
The weather can change very quickly in this region so it is highly suggested that visitors check with local forecasts and pack proper outerwear. Cotton retains moisture (such as water or sweat) and can actually keep you cold during chilly trips. Synthetic materials that wick moisture away from your body will keep you significantly warmer. On a hot, warm day cotton is perfectly fine. Always dress for the activities that you will be participating in.
Information About Pets
The Pier Side Landing and Kwa’lilas Hotel are pet friendly and we are happy to welcome and accommodate your best friend. While venturing around town, some establishments will allow your pet inside while at others it will be prohibited. There are plenty of other outdoor trails and beaches to discover where your pooch is welcome. Please note San Josef Bay is the only trail within Cape Scott Provincial Park that approves dogs. Dogs in other areas of the park are strictly prohibited. Port Hardy has the excellent North Island Veterinary Hospital that is open seven days a week. Please note there is off-hours emergency services that can be contacted by calling the NIVH at (250) 949-6732.
Wildlife & Your Safety
The North Island is a beautiful place to see wildlife. There are likely no grizzly bears on Vancouver Island (although a few have immigrated here in the past from swimming across from the mainland). Even so, you will not have a grizzly bear encounter on Vancouver Island.
Black bears are very common throughout the region. Their main goal during the spring/summer and fall seasons is to feed and consume as many calories as possible. Females may have cubs which add a level of risk if you encounter her. Males partake in gorging and are solitary, while both sexes are very territorial while feeding. Some bears on the island do not hibernate since our climate is so mild during the winter months. Although they have little interest in you, they do have a great interest in your food and drinks. If you have or plan on having bear spray, please review the instructions and always take into consideration the wind direction before applying. Please review the manufacturer’s instructions for proper storage of bear spray. Air horns are also a popular, non-chemical deterrent. Groups of four or more will likely not have a bear encounter.
PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING LINK FOR BLACK BEAR SAFETY:
Cougars are found on Vancouver Island and throughout North America. They are a striking and very important apex predator in our ecosystem and one of the world’s largest cat species. Adults are not usually interested in our affairs however the juveniles can become curious when they are learning to hunt. The loss of their natural prey due to poaching, habitat destructions and logging have pushed cougars closer to human inhabitants and they may become interested in your pets and small children. These stealthy beauties are very quiet, intelligent and typically solidary so the chances of a negative encounter are small. PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING LINK FOR COUGAR SAFETY:
Coastal Wolves are also a local beauty and can sometimes be heard singing to each other throughout the night. Like cougars, wolves are a very important apex predator and their existence is detrimental to the health of our coastal and North American biomes. The likelihood of seeing one and having an encounter is very small, especially in groups of four or more. Many guests report never seeing them but find tracks and scat along the shorelines. These highly intelligent and social predators are not interested in you, but may become interested in your pets and food.
PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING LINK FOR WOLF SAFETY:
Wildlife encounters do happen and the best way to avoid a negative encounter is to practice proper ‘Leave No Trace’ ethics and to be smart with your food, drinks, garbage, human waste and toiletries. ALWAYS pack out what you pack in. DO NOT bury garbage, wildlife will still find it and it further pollutes the land.
Bears, wolves and cougars have a better sense of smell than you do, by far! They can also easily outrun you – so don’t attempt it! Negative encounters typically happen when humans and wildlife spook each other. Be sure to make a known presence while outside. Be smart and safe while playing outside, read the previous links to avoid negative encounters.
Animals are remarkable, very important and will definitely create an emotional response if you get to see them. Just make sure you are able to see them on your own safe terms.
For more information, please read through the following links:
Tipping and Gratuities
Tipping at restaurants and bars in Canada is typically 15% minimum of your total. If you are out on a tour or have a guide, tipping is appreciated but not mandatory. While purchasing goods and groceries in our local shops travelers are not required to tip.
Banking in Port Hardy
Port Hardy has a Scotiabank, CIBC and Coastal Community ATM. If you have specific banking needs with a bank that is not in Port Hardy or Port McNeill, it is advised you take care of your affairs at home or down island before you travel North.
Currency & Taxes in British Columbia
Everything you purchase in Canada is in Canadian Dollars (CAD). If you need to exchange currency here in Port Hardy, you can go to the banks located here in town. For foreign currency it is best to have the exchanges made prior to travelling to the North Island.
Canada has a 5% Goods and Services Tax (GST) for all purchases and British Columbia has a 7% Provincial Sales Tax (PST). Everything you buy in British Columbia will always have a total 12% in taxes (GST + PST). Our region also has an additional 2% tax for accommodations.
It is very important to remember that many of the trails, lakes and coastal areas do not have cell reception. Port Hardy has an emergency centre, hospital and pharmacy incase anything happens to you or a loved on. For serious medical emergencies or trauma, you will likely be transferred to Campbell River, Victoria or Vancouver by either air or ambulance. For non-BC residents, the cost for patient consultations, treatment, aftercare and transfers down Island or to Vancouver will be at your expense. It is always advisable to purchase travel insurance before touring remote regions. Port Hardy and the tri-port area has EMS services, volunteer Fire Departments and is under the jurisdiction of the Canadian RCMP. For dental emergencies there are clinics available in Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Alert Bay.
Things to do around Port Hardy
There are many different types of activities and sights to see around the North Island. The biggest thing you will need to consider is accessibility (See our Transportation and getting around section). Another suggestion is to visit The Port Hardy Visitor Centre for information, magazines, maps and souvenirs. The friendly and informative staff at the Visitor Centre will certainly help with travel inquiries.
Quatse Salmon Stewardship Centre: The Quatse Salmon Centre is a 5-minute drive from the Kwa’lilas Hotel or a one hour walk through town. The Quatse has a beautiful, interactive interpretive centre as well as a full enhancement salmonid hatchery. Take the tour to learn about salmon and the importance of them in our environment, get to see live baby salmon and steelhead and even witness the hatchery techs with their broodstock fish. A very popular and must see facility for everyone. The Salmon Centre is located along the beautiful Quatse River that includes a 45-minute easy access nature loop where you might see the resident black bears and eagles looking for spawning fish in the river.
Port Hardy Museum: The Museum is a great way to learn about the European history of Port Hardy as well as the mining, logging and fishing histories. It is free by donation to explore and has a gift shop with great First Nations jewelry, books and gifts.
Guidos Café, West Coast Community Craft Shop & The Book Nook: All conveniently tied together, enjoy a coffee and check out what all the local artists have created or snuggle in the Book Nook with a great read.
Hiking Trails: There are dozens of hiking trails in and around Port Hardy that range in difficulty. If hiking is your game, ask your local guest services agent for the local free trail guide.
Storey’s Beach: At low tide, Storey’s is a large, sandy beach approximately 20 minutes from the town of Port Hardy.
Coal Harbour: Coal Harbour is a very small coastal community but with big history that is about a 35-minute drive from Port Hardy. Coal Harbour is home to the Quatsino First Nations who have deep cultural roots set the wild West coast of North Vancouver Island. During WWII, Coal Harbour was a seaplane and radar base. Coal Harbour has a small RCAF Museum that is located near their harbor and highlights its former whaling days. Hidden paths that lead to underground bunkers are abundant near the town.
Port Alice: Port Alice is a beautiful seaside community along the Neroutsos Inlet approximately a 45-minute drive from Port Hardy. Views of the inlet and surrounding mountains are truly breathtaking. Backroads access includes opportunities to see Victoria and Alice Lake. The Marble River Provincial Park is located on the way to Port Alice and is definitely worth the stop. Bears frequent this area to feed on the large fish that make their way up the Marble River.
Port McNeill: Port McNeill is a quiet coastal district that is port to the BC Ferries that go to Sointula and Alert Bay. There are opportunities for whale watching and fishing out of Port McNeill as well.
Alert Bay: Alert Bay is home to the ‘Namgis First Nations and to the gorgeous U’Mista Cultural Centre. This small island is also home to the World’s largest totem pole. The boardwalk along the ocean through town offers amazing views, shops and restaurants.
Sointula: Sointula is located on Malcolm Island and is known for its Beautiful Bay Trail, a popular whale rubbing rock where locals and tourists can sometimes witness killer whales using the rock. This island also has a rich Finnish history, great local bakery and shops.
Telegraph Cove: Telegraph Cove has unique history here on the North Island and is currently an adorable tourism destination. In Telegraph Cove you can go whale watching, grizzly bear tours, kayaking and enjoy dinner and drinks in their restaurant and pub. Telegraph Cove is also home to the Whale Interpretive Centre.
Transportation and getting around
The highway up to the North Island is paved and accessible to all vehicles. The highways to Port Alice and Coal Harbor are also paved. If you take the ferry from Port McNeill to either Malcolm Island or Alert Bay, the majority of their roads are paved as well. Parking is free throughout the region however long-term parking must be done in designated lots for a fee which will vary.
If you’re planning on travelling to the West Coast, to the lakes and beyond, all of the roads are gravel and many are also active logging routes. If you are renting a vehicle, most of the rental agencies do not cover damages to the vehicle if you access these backroads. Conditions of these roads are expected to have pot holes, washboard surfaces, loose gravel and rocks. Logging trucks have the right-of-way on these roads so please pull over and give way. They tend to operate Monday-Friday 9am-5pm however there are companies that continue operations on the weekend.
Ferries to Prince Rupert, Bella Bella, Klemtu and Bella Coola will need to be booked through BC Ferries in advance. There is very limited space on the connecting ferries to Bella Coola so please reserve this space as soon as you can.
For Questions and Reservations call BC Ferries Toll Free 1-888-BC-FERRY (223-3779).
Port Hardy is also accessible by plane through Pacific Coastal. Please visit their website for flight schedules. http://www.pacificcoastal.com/
Guests of the Kwa’lilas Hotel and Pierside Landing can arrange transportation to and from our airport.
Drinking and Smoking
It is illegal in British Columbia for minors under the age of 19 to smoke or consume alcohol. These laws apply across all the land and on BC Canadian waters. Travelers must drink and smoke in designated areas only and adhere to Federal and Provincial laws.