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Cortes Island, BC offers adventure, romance and pristine coastal wilderness

Scenic slideshow of Cortes Island, photos by Island Light Photography. Last photo of Hollyhock garden and lodge by Sandra Tassel.

I'm on my way to Cortes Island, skimming in the water taxi over the surface of a placid Georgia Straight, rounding Quadra Island and soaking in the sight of the mountains and the ocean and the big open view.  What a relief from the city.

Regent, the owner of Discovery Launch water taxi,  names the variety of drop dead gorgeous locations he loves on the island. He's explaining why Cortes is so special and unique, and he's talking about his love of the area, as he guides the boat over the shimmering water.  

He names its proximity to other magnificent locals like Savory Island, Desolation Sound, Toba Inlet, Marina Island, the relatively pristine wilderness upon it and beyond it, for starters.  He talks about how the salmon have returned to the waters this year, making it the best year ever for fishing, and the wide variety of people who come to visit, from the "really cool" MTV cameraman and "Buried Life" host he recently ferried over, to the group he dropped in a remote location so that they could fish for three days, to the inumerable Vancouver tourists bound for Hollyhock, or for a bed and breakfast, or for one of the many ocean front homes for rent during the summer.

Three and a half hours after boarding the Canada Line at Broadway and City Hall to the Vancouver International Airport, I  arrive on the island. The tide is just draining out of Manson's Lagoon, a few clouds populate a sweet blue sky and groups of children and families scour the exposed sea bed with its carpet of oysters, sand and crabs skittering about.  Cool air has chased away the heat wave and for the first time in what seems an eternity, I put a jacket on and feel the tension of my urban existence fall away.

Cortes Island is poised on the edge of the North American wilderness. On beautiful summer days, the Georgia Straight stretches out around it like a placid blue pond. Docks at Whaletown and Cortes Bay provide moorage and easy access to Desolation Sound with its stunning passages and dramatic snow capped mountains towering above the  water.  Hague Lake and Gunflint Lake are centrally located on the island for summer swims. Hague Lake's sandy white beaches are a favourite with families and kids.  

On stormy days, howling wind rushes through the trees, white capped waves tumble onto the shores, and the Cortes Island rain forest springs to full bloom with huge ferns and soft, thick carpets of moss.  Shafts of sunlight cut  through the trees, while, on rocky beaches, a vibrant array of sea life flourishes.

City tensions begin to evaporate on the first ferry ride from Vancouver's Horsehoe Bay, if you're driving from the city. By the time you've crossed Quadra Island and boarded your third ferry, a forty minute ride, you're truly in another world:  deeply quiet, mysterious and romantic.  Driving off the ferry onto Cortes Island at Whaletown, the transformation is complete. 

Smelt Bay

It's an island that offers some of the most gorgeous beach hikes in the world, clam digging, tidal shelling, and a network of remarkable trails through a forest that feels both primeval and enchanted.  Mail only comes three times a week.

Another view of Smelt Bay at low tide...

View from Easter Bluff, one of many great hikes on Cortes Island

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