By Selene Muldowney
Port Hardy, on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, borders the civilized world and the natural world. The town, named after Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, former captain of H.M.S. Victory, is the last bastion of civilization where urban wilderness meets nature of the first kind on the North Island. With a thriving population between 4,200 and 4,500 residents, this turn-of-century townsite is the largest community in the region boasting a bustling terminal for B.C. Ferries’ service to several remote communities along the breathtaking Inside Passage and Discovery Coast Passage sailing routes to Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). Visitors can also travel up the scenic Sunshine Coast to Powell River and travel by ferry to Comox, just a 3.5 hour drive from Port Hardy. Port Hardy is the closest commercial Airport providing flights to Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, and many coastal communities.
Replete with opportunities for outdoor adventure, Port Hardy offers travelers and residents alike everything from kayaking to scuba diving, abundant wildlife to First nations culture and art, and invigorating forests within a pristine, untouched wilderness. In the spring, summer, and fall, grizzly bear sighting tours depart by floatplane from the port to mainland regions of the Great Bear Rainforest. Visitors can also expect to encounter Vancouver Island North’s most celebrated residents: marine mammals including orcas known as the “Northern Residents”, killer whales better known as “Transients”, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Stellar sea lions, Humpback whales, Minke whales, Pacific harbor seals, and porpoise. Of course, visitors will encounter an impressive array of birds.
In this urban age where man and nature merge, Port Hardy stands out drawing the visitor deep into her untouched wilderness where all the natural ingredients persuade even the most devoted techie to put down their phone and explore her. She offers fishing, hiking, world-class scuba diving, and serious quantities of wildlife in coastal waters, and wilderness parks. This is the place where eagles build their homes, wolf eels and octopus share their neighboring shelters, and explorers are dazzled by the incredible array of colors and life surrounding them both above and below the waterline.
Topside visitors can walk, jog, or stroll the paths along the busy seawall where fishing and sailing boats hoist their anchor and seaplanes glide along the water cutting into the smooth surface. Along the seawall interpretive signs tell the story of the region’s First Nation history and culture. At the end of the walk Tsulquate Park offers spectacular views across the Queen Charlotte Strait. First Nation shops and galleries offer beautiful, handcrafted treasures. Murals found around town also portray the rich history of the region. For historians, the Post Hardy Museum and Archives on market street exhibits a collection of First Nation artifacts, local history items, natural history materials, and local archives.
Boating, sailing, fishing, hiking, skiing, golf, and cave explorations offer visitors time to explore nature while partaking in some much needed rest and relaxation. Kayaking offers sea fairing visitors and locals an opportunity to explore fishing spots, wildlife, campsites, and of course – new diving locales. There are hundreds of extraordinary dive sites tucked away in this waterway that flows alongside of British Columbia. If you enjoy drift dives, there is a place where you can lay back on the current. If you prefer wall dives, there is a place where the walls are painted with nature’s palette, or if you like more technical dives, there are crevices and channels that melt into the pinnacles just waiting to be explored. The waters off North Vancouver Island are amongst the finest in the world in no small part due to the abundance of invertebrate life, wolfeels, soft pink coral, anemones, sponges, sea stars, and the marine mammals inhabiting the underwater world.
Explore any number of sites including Browning Wall, Seven Tree Island, Hunt rock, Roof Rocks, Northwest Passage Wall, Crocker rock, Themis, Barry Island, God’s Pocket Bay, and Buttertart Reef. Also hidden below the waterline divers can find wrecks as they settle in their watery graves.
God’s Pocket Marine Provincial park is considered by most to offer the best underwater diving in the Pacific Coast. Most divers prefer Browning pass, said to have been one of explorer Jacques Cousteau’s favorite dive destinations. God’s Pocket is made up of a group of islands about 20km due north of Port hardy. The two largest islands include Bull and Hurst islands. Browning Pass is truly out of this world. Located in a remote current-swept channel off Vancouver Island’s Nigei Island, it is considered one the best wall dives in British Columbia. The movement of deep, nutrient-rich water combined with tidal movements produces an incredible array of marine life. The wall is a deep (250-foot), vertical and current-swept site that is covered with orange and red soft corals, giant Metridium anemones and nudibranchs.
Richard Salas, photographer and underwater explorer, highly encourages divers to explore God’s Pocket, “I have been diving around the world and I keep coming back to God’s Pocket at Port Hardy. The amount of life seems to explode out of the reefs and I just can’t get enough! If I had to choose one place on this beautiful earth to go – it would be to God’s Pocket.”
Seven Tree island is a remarkable dive site located on the northwest rim of the pass. The marine life is diverse and abundant presenting an exceptionally scenic backdrop for underwater photography. Along the eastern edge of the islet it is possible to descend deep as the steep wall cascades into the abyss, well beyond safe sport-diving depths. Divers encounter soft corals, giant barnacles, speckled sand soles, anemones, and octopus.
Barry island offers a colorful wall inhabited by large orange peel nudibranchs that meander among a plethora of colorful anemones. Kelp beds welcome divers from above while gorgorian coral can be found below.
Port Hardy is truly a photographer’s paradise offering wrecks to explore, critters to capture with the lens, and a diversity of life almost unparalleled. Make Port Hardy part of your bucket list!