Quadra & Cortez Islands
How time flies. Almost 20 years past, on my 1st longer (~1 week) bike tour, I spent several days on Quadra & Cortez Islands, east of Campbell River. This year I went back in January, for 3 days and 2 nights. It was a lot colder - and wetter, for my first 2 days at least. I wanted to explore a little more, see how things might have changed, and go back to camp at Smelt Bay Provincial Park, to test some fond memories. The photo above is Quathiaski Harbour (you can just see the ferry dock along the left) west Quadra Island, where the BC ferry from Campbell River docks after a short (~3kms) ride. Just up from the picturesque harbour are some shops and a fine coffee shop.
I crossed Quadra to near Heriot Bay, where one catches the ferry to more distant (~12kms) Whaletown on Cortez Island, but took a side trip north (~40km) to Granite Bay and Main Lake Provincial Park, where I camped my first night. Came upon this noteworthy stump along the roadside of Granite Bay FSR. It's no doubt new, as the dolls were still standing. It may be forgotten toys, but I prefer to think of it as another roadside shrine (I've got photos of a few others), or perhaps whimsical art.
The misty photo above is from the shores of Main Lake Rec site in the NE. The provincial park here includes 7 wilderness campsites along the lake, accessible only by boat. Where I camped had a parking space, boat launch, some tent spaces set back from the road, and an outhouse. As it was winter there was no one about and it was beautiful. Not sure whether this is a site where camping is permitted in season. Nice scenic ride in as well.
Smelt Bay, approaching the provincial campsite near the point ahead. Brilliant campsite, with great beach, picnic fields, and 24 campsites set back ~1/4km up a little hill. The camping area has been recently upgraded with excellent tent pads and outhouses. I recall my first visit, sitting at dusk along the shores, and hearing the roars and blowhole snorts of sea lions.
In addition to my side trip up to north Quadra Island, I also added an extra 15 or so kms on Cortez with a side trip (hilly!) to Squirrel Cove on the west coast. I remembered a little restaurant, but it was closed for the off-season, so I had some coffee, pastries and local opinions at the local store.
The photo above is an early morning farm near Hague Lake (SW Cortez), heading back to Whaletown. Some gorgeous riding.
I told an old timer at Squirrel Cove I'd noted that as soon as I reached Cortez Island, vehicles going by started waving, a change of sorts from Quadra. He said that money was changing Quadra, as folks bought or built expensive places a short ferry hop from Campbell River - making it into a bedroom suburb. He said he was starting to see some of that in Cortez, but hoped the greater distances would keep it more rural.
The distances for this ride were not big at all: I averaged 40+kms of riding per day only. But as you can see from the chart above, the islands are mostly a succession of sharp little hills that give one a serious workout with a loaded bike.
The distance starts from Campbell River (see short starting ferry ride at left), heads up to north Quadra, takes the ferry over to Cortez (see kms 70 to 80+), then rides about Cortez, before finishing back at Whaletown on west Cortez. I didn't include the final parts back to Campbell River, as they replicated the start. The left side elevation scale only goes up to 300m, so it can make the hills look steeper than they really are over the 150+kms distance. But the hills really are worth noting!
See my ride route above. Except for the stages to Granite Bay & Main Lake Park, roads were all paved. There were no shoulders to speak of for the most part, but traffic was limited and respectful of the bicycle, so things felt safe.
So - what were my impressions? Well, I had a real sense of island time, and a more rustic world. Without intending it, this turned partly into a trip of little indulgences, as I stopped repeatedly for coffee and snacks as I waited for or timed myself for ferry connections. I really like that the cars on Cortez mostly waved. One does have a sense there of getting well away from the rush of the city. Both my campgrounds, Main Lake & Smelt Bay, were great. The islands themselves were gorgeous. This is a recommended ride for everyone.
I think I'll try to plan to drag some friends back to Smelt Bay this summer.
Looking back to Cortez Island, the mainland mountains in behind, as my return ferry nears Heriot Bay on east Quadra.