As the main northern Gulf Islands, just off the east central coast of Vancouver Island, Denman and Hornby Island share an artistic flair, laid-back attitudes, and a plethora of tranquil outdoor activities. The eclectic progressive minded folks, such as academics, farmers, and artists, have found the ultimate serene spot, in an exquisite environment dotted with rocky shorelines, parks, orchards, forests, and mesmerizing lakes. Locals interact during the day in the quaint Denman village, and then cocoon at home as the evening approaches, and the island becomes a mysterious, quiet haven.
Getting to Denman and Hornby Island
Denman and Hornby Island are located 30 minutes south of Comox/Courtenay, and one hour drive from Nanaimo. You can catch a ferry to reach the Island from Buckley Bay, situated mid Island. To garner a substantial discount on fares, you can purchase the BC Ferry experience card. In addition, if you live in the Comox Valley, you can reach Buckley Bay through the Comox Valley Transit's Route 10, for just a couple of dollars. The fastest way to reach Hornby Island from outside Vancouver Island is to fly into the international airport at Comox (YQQ), only at a 30 minutes drive north of Buckley Bay.
History and Climate
Denman and Hornby Island were chartered by the Spanish explorers in 1791/92, aboard the Santa Saturnina. In 1864, the surveyor George Richards named the place on his charts after a Rear Admiral in the regional British fleet, called Joseph Denman. Hornby Island acquired its name in 1850 after the Rear Admiral Phipps Hornby. The first tide of European immigrants started arriving in the early 1870. Since a saw-mill operated in the area, logging was a profitable business for some time. However, for most Islanders, farming was the mainstay breadwinner. Poultry, sheep, and cattle were shipped to Vancouver Island, in addition to cream, milk, fruit, and vegetables. The community hall and the Denman general store, both built prior to the First World War, were the hub of Island life.
Sheltered from the savage meteorological extremities on Vancouver Island's west coast, Hornby and Denman Island experience largely dry or mild weather in fall, summer, and spring. The average regional summer highs are recorded in the mild 20°C/70°F, and winter lows at below freezing point.
Denman and Hornby Island Activities
Lined with lush forests, Chickadee and Graham lakes are prominent swimming holes, with no-motorboat policies, rope swings, and docks that favor trout fishing and paddlers. Meanwhile, Ocean Kayakers can also rent gear on Denman Island and head out for the sunny beaches of Sandy Island Marine Provincial Park and the sea lion-friendly Chrome Island.
Beach combers can scout along the Denman's rocky shoreline from myriad access points, aspiring to stay away from beaches licensed by commercial oyster operations. The sand spit at Fillongley Provincial Park is a beautiful and easily accessible place. Sun-warmed, undulating rocks welcome picnickers along the East road.
Denman and Hornby offers the easiest excursions in the Gulf Islands due to low-slung topography, especially during the low traffic periods between ferry arrivals. If you are looking to top it up a notch, a major challenge in the form of a steep hill exists just past the village, leading up to the escarpment. For those arriving by bike from Buckle Bay, a 34km/21mi route looping around the southern half of the Island is perfect for day visitors.
In Hornby Island, Mount Geoffrey's regional park and crown lands are famous for mountain biking, because of their expertly maintained trail network, single-track joyrides, and the exquisite cliff-side views. Hikers strive to reach the summit here and head out towards the island's eastern tip at Helliwell Provincial Park. Near the ferry terminal, shingle ship is a gorgeous beach to stroll around the Island.
Located in the serene protected waters of the Georgia Strait, nestled between the Vancouver Island and the mainland, Hornby is the best place to go for kayaking. Depending on the time of the year, you are likely to stumble across whales, sea lions, seals, eagles, diverse bird species, and intriguing intertidal life. Body surfers and Skim boarders can frolic in Tribune Bay's tidal rollers. Swimmers head out for deeper, more challenging waters, and delve in to the serenity of lovely spots as the Heron Rock and Whaling Station Bay.
Swimmers, who can brave the chilling ocean temperatures, can wade around the Island on rocky beaches. However, most locals prefer relatively balmy inland waters. Chickadee Lake is located at a 10-minute drive, on Lake Road north of Denman Village (off Northwest Road). The lake is beautifully lined with a second growth forest and kids can plunge into the clear, still water from rope swings, while fishermen can cast out lines for trout. Since motorboats are banned on the lake, canoeists can enjoy in peace. Graham Lake, located on the Mallard Way off East Road, also invites swimmers especially after a dock has been put up by the Denman Conservancy Association. Hornby Island diving also organizes scuba diving jaunts for the ocean lovers.
Bird Watching and Wildlife
The Denman Conservancy Association is working day in and day out to protect the Island's parks and green spaces from further logging. This is great news for amateur naturalists and birders. Central Park is one of the best breeding spots for the rare Taylor's Checkerspot butterfly. River Otters and Mink scramble over the shoreline rocks, while the Brant geese feed on herring at Cable Beach. Trumpeter swans are also seen around the Island's wetlands, especially the Railway Marsh. Red-legged frogs, Black-tailed deer, great blue herons, hawks, and bald eagles are also found in the neighborhood.
Hornby offers an exquisite sun-and-surf destination vacation for individuals magnetically drawn to Big Tribune Bay Beach. The water is shallow enough for even amateurs and kids to navigate easily and the tidal flats sprawl towards a horizon peppered with sailboats. Co-op provides all the Picnic provisions, and eateries on the beach offer plenty of beachside snacking choices and take out goodies.
Denman's festivals begin in earnest in spring, with the Garden tour and the annual Home tour being the most popular. The Island's summer art gallery and museum in the senior's activity center, open daily in the months of July and August. Other high-season highlights include artist studios, annual tours of pottery, in addition to the weeklong Denman writer and readers festival. Concerts and performances happen around the year at the community hall. A popular Christmas Craft fair, held in early December, lures in as many off-island visitors as Denmanites.
Dining and Accommodation
Depending on the location, tourists might be able to immerse luxuriating into natural hot springs or mellow out at a spa. There are a plethora of opportunities to choose from in Denman and Hornby islands, from a wealth of wineries and restaurants, or to simply order a pint of craft beer in a brew pub. Visitors have a wide choice when it comes to accommodations as well, running a gamut from high end resorts, breathtaking ocean front houses and luxe beach houses, to campgrounds and cozy cabins. While reservations are recommended around the year, they become highly essential in July/August. Minimum stays, ranging from 1 week to several months, are arranged at some vacation rentals.
Backpackers can enjoy the campground at Fillongley Provincial Park on the island's northeast coastline. An additional 10 campsites are either facing the beach for an awe-inspiring view, or are a stone throw away. The campground is undoubtedly full on summer weekends so plan ahead.
With an array of adventurous sports, striking coastal vistas, exquisite gourmet food, and year round activities, Denman and Hornby should be your next vacation destination. Perfect for couples, families or groups of friends, it makes for a beautiful experience.