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Have you heard of Quadra Island? If you haven’t – you are in for a treat, because this island is amazing, and under the radar for tourism. Read on to find out more about the best things to do on Quadra Island, and what it is like to volunteer there…
After our positive experience on Denman Island, we were excited to explore another of BC’s beautiful islands, Quadra Island, which is one of the Discovery Islands off Northern Vancouver Island.
I hadn’t heard much about Quadra Island – we were basically just going because we found a volunteering opportunity there through Help X. But I am so glad that we did visit, because Quadra Island is incredible, and it is pretty well under the radar for tourism.
I know the term ‘hidden gem’ is overused, but it really does describe Quadra so well.
Arriving on the Quadra Island Ferry
We took the short Quadra Island ferry ride from Campbell River to Quadra Island where our host, Linda, was waiting for us. The Quadra ferry comes into the community of Quathiaski Cove, one of the three main centers on the island, along with Heriot Bay and Cape Mudge.
We stopped to look around the small shopping center in Q Cove while Linda ran some errands. There was a fantastic book shop specializing in British Columbia coastal books that I somehow managed to not buy, it always helps when you don’t actually have any money.
A Little Bit About Quadra Island
Quadra Island has 2700 year-round residents including the We Wai Kai band of the Laichwiltach People, part of the Kwa’ Kwa’ Ka’ Wa’Kw First Nation. It is the largest island in the Discovery Islands chain between Vancouver Island and the mainland.
There are a number of lakes on Quadra and over 200km of hiking trails through untouched forest – there are so many things to do on Quadra Island yet it is so relaxed as well. My kind of place.
Our Quadra Island Accommodation
Linda’s guesthouse was located on the other side of the island from Q Cove, in lovely Heriot Bay.
It is right on the water and offers a range of different accommodation choices including a float home (not in the water), a cottage, boathouse cabin, dorm rooms, apartments, and the main house with B&B rooms.
Linda has made it so cozy and I love that there are different types of accommodation at different prices. It is exactly the sort of place I would love to own myself one day.
Heriot Bay has stunning views of the tiny Breton islands, Rebecca Spit, and the snow-capped coastal mountains on the mainland. I fell in love with the place instantly.
It really is incredibly scenic. The water is so still and clear and I wish it had been warm enough to swim.
Linda put us in the float home first but as the mattress was only a single, she said we could stay in the boathouse cabin, provided we kept it tidy in case someone wanted to rent it. Trav and I are both super tidy so that was no problem.
The boathouse is along a beachside path and, although small, it is a completely self-contained studio-style apartment comprising a raised double bed, a cute little kitchen, and a dining table with an outdoor shower and outhouse toilet.
Trav was brave and showered outside every day but it was too cold for me! I used the shower in the main house and even had a couple of highly relaxing baths in one of the B&B rooms, what a treat!
The boathouse is built on stilts out over the pebbly beach. Every morning when we woke up, we made coffee in our little kitchen then sat at the table, looking out over Heriot Bay.
We saw bald eagles and seals out of the window, only meters away from us. Watching the sunrise through the morning mist was a great way to start each day.
We were also spoilt with really good food. Jess, one of Linda’s friends, was staying for the first three days we were there and made us lunch and dinner each day.
She is a Kayaking Quadra Island guide and cook in summer and is a cook at a ski lodge in winter. She is very good at what she does.
We had fresh salmon, homemade soups and salads, apple crumble, locally picked mushroom pasta, and slow-cooked stew.
If it started getting cold in Denman, then it really settled in on Quadra – Quadra Island weather is cold in October!
It was lucky I got warm clothes at the Free Store on Denman, because I needed to wear pretty much all of them to keep warm on the frosty mornings and chilly nights as the season of crimson leaves and pumpkins gripped the island.
Despite the cold, it was sunny nearly every day that we were there, in stark contrast to our soggy sojourn on Denman.
Volunteering on Quadra Island, BC
As we were at the guesthouse in the offseason, there weren’t any guests staying for the week we were there. Because there were no rooms to clean, we did some odd jobs such as weeding, creating a rock garden, cooking, cleaning, and Linda even took us mushroom picking.
Chanterelle mushrooms grow in the forests of Quadra in fall. These unusual-looking, bright orange fungi grow in clusters amongst the moss at the base of trees. We went to an overgrown section of the forest where Linda had picked before.
There were so many large mushrooms and within half an hour of clambering over fallen, rotting trees and moss-covered undergrowth, we had filled a bucket each.
I lost the others and it was fun exploring the hidden forested world by myself. I wouldn’t have been surprised to bump into a fairy or a gnome, it was certainly a fairy tale setting.
Best Things To Do on Quadra Island
If you love the outdoors as we do, then there are so many things to do on Quadra Island!
Hang Out in Stunning Heriot Bay
Heriot Bay with its natural beauty just invited a stroll. On a few afternoons after finishing work for the day we went for a wander around the streets and harbor of this tiny community.
The Heriot Bay Inn and Pub is nestled in a prime position, perched above the branch strewn and pebbled beach, awash with the colors of the season from the stately maple trees fringing the property.
We sat under the brilliant colored trees and went for walks along the curved beach, checking out the weather-worn fishing boats in the harbor.
Hiking to the Top of Chinese Mountain
Hiking on Quadra Island was number one on our list so on our day off Linda dropped us at the Chinese Mountain trailhead, one of the most popular Quadra Island hikes.
The trail leads to the summit of the north and south peaks of Chinese Mountain, with beautiful ocean and mountain views.
It was a fairly easy hike past yellow-leaved trees and exposed moss-covered rock. We went up to the north peak first which was a bit of a detour off the main loop trail.
There is a beautiful view at the top of Discovery Passage and Vancouver Island. We didn’t see anyone else out walking despite it being a beautiful, sunny Thanksgiving Sunday. Once we got to the top of the south peak we finally saw a few people around.
The view from the top of the south peak was spectacular, looking out over the west coast of Quadra Island, Morte Lake, Rebecca Spit, Discovery Passage, and the Coast Mountains of Vancouver Island.
We ate our packed lunch at the top and checked out all of the viewpoints before starting the second half of the loop to hike back down.
We hitched once we got back on the road and scored a ride straight away with another couple that had also just finished the hike.
Explore Beautiful Rebecca Spit
Rebecca Spit is another definite highlight of Quadra Island. It is a narrow 2km sand spit with trails and driftwood strewn beaches.
Linda took us there on our first afternoon for a wander. More fantastic views of the snow-capped Coast Mountains, the Breton Islands and Heriot Bay.
It was a fantastic introduction to the natural beauty of this island. We sat on the beach and watched the ferry silently round the tip of Rebecca Spit, making its trip to Cortes Island.
Kayaking Around Heriot Island
A fun afternoon was spent kayaking around Heriot Island using the kayaks from the guesthouse.
I am not a keen kayaker usually. It is an activity that I always think will be great fun but when it comes down to it, I haven’t enjoyed most of my kayaking experiences, mainly because I get seasick.
Yep, I get seasick from kayaking. Weird huh? I also get seasick when I (try to) surf. I really love the sea but it doesn’t like me.
The water is so calm in the bay so I decided to give it another try and I am so glad that I did. We only went out for an hour but it was such a beautiful experience.
We saw hundreds of jellyfish swimming at different depths in the inky black water and a great blue heron perched to dive for fish on the rocky island. I will definitely go kayaking again but perhaps only when the water is calm.
Attend a Community Event on Quadra Island
We like to attend community events when visiting small towns if possible, as it is a fun way to get more of a feel for what life is like for the people who live there.
Like on Denman, Heriot Bay is a small, close-knit community and there are a lot of fun activities held nearly every day of the week.
We attended the premiere of a short film that was filmed on Quadra by a local director with local actors. It was $5 to attend and there was a massive turnout. There were complimentary homemade goodies, popcorn as well as tea and coffee on offer.
The movie was called ‘My Cousin Lived Next Door’ and it is about two cousins who grew up together with one ending up as a professional in Vancouver and the other as a drug addict.
It was well shot and interesting but I found it a bit hard to follow in regards to the same character being played by three different people at different ages. They gave awards to the cast and crew who attended after the film finished. It was a nice feeling to be a part of it.
Another local event, the ‘meat draw’, is a raffle held at the Canadian Legion every Saturday evening. Linda took us along with her for a drink and the chance to win some meat.
The first couple of draws we didn’t win anything but on the last draw, we won a massive ham and some sausages. Trav thought that having a raffle for meat is pretty funny but as a New Zealander, this is pretty normal to me.
Linda’s friend Frank lives down the road and is a very talented Stonemason. As well as building the outdoor fireplace at Linda’s, he was building one in his own backyard along with a pizza oven and invited us all over for a drink by the fire one night.
It was a cold evening but after sitting by the roaring fire for a while we warmed up pretty fast. He had done an amazing job so far and it was nice to sit outside on a cold Fall night, kept warm and entranced by the orange flames against the black night sky.
Celebrating Thanksgiving on Quadra Island
When we were looking at flights back to New Zealand for October, I was adamant that we fly after Canadian Thanksgiving which is on the second Monday of the month.
Thanksgiving celebrates the harvest and blessings of the past year and is a time for family to come together to feast on turkey and pumpkin pie.
It is the favorite holiday of a lot of Canadians and I can see why, as it is a time to enjoy spending quality time and eating delicious food with family and friends, without the religious connotation and pressure/cost of gift-giving.
Back when we were living in Vancouver in 2009, we didn’t celebrate it so I was so excited to be part of this fantastic celebration this time around. Linda invited Frank, her son with his girlfriend and their newborn baby, her niece and husband, her friend Leslie and Leslie’s woofer.
We had a really fun evening starting with some beers out by the outdoor fireplace that Frank had built, followed by a massive turkey, a baked ham (that Trav and I had won at the meat draw), lots of veggies, and two pumpkin pies.
Everyone was so nice and we felt so welcome. It felt special to be involved in this quintessential Canadian experience.
Final Thoughts on Quadra Island
I would like to come back and work for Linda again one summer to hopefully learn more about how the business is run and to get some hands-on experience. Any excuse really to get to return to Quadra Island.
One week on Quadra Island was definitely not enough time, especially as we only had one full day off. It is such a beautiful island with so much to explore.
I recommend to anyone that loves nature and hates crowds to make the time to visit gorgeous Quadra Island – you won’t regret it.
How To Plan Your Own Trip to Quadra Island
If, after reading this post, you are now itching to get to Quadra Island – I don’t blame you. I highly recommend doing a Help Exchange through Help X or Workaway to get a better feel for the community there.
If that is not up your alley, there are tons of gorgeous places to stay, delicious restaurants and cafes to eat at, and fun things to do on Quadra Island that you can arrange independently.
The Best Quadra Island Accommodation
I highly recommend staying around Heriot Bay, although Quathiaski Cove is a lovely village too.
A great option in Heriot Bay is the cozy Heriot Bay Inn. It has an excellent location, right on the water, and the pub is a great spot to meet locals and other visitors. There are standard hotel rooms as well as one and two-bedroom cottages to rent. The Inn also offers tent and RV camping.
If you are wanting to stay in the other hub of the island, Quathiaski Cove, then Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge is a fantastic choice. The property is oceanfront with a hot tub, dry sauna, and seasonal onsite restaurant.
For self-contained and affordable rental homes, these are the best choices on Quadra Island:
- Forest Raven: An artistically crafted cabin located on a wooded property overlooking a stream. There is a sitting room, wood stove and full kitchen as well as forest views.
- Raven’s Bluff Guest Cabin: This cozy one-bedroom cabin has stunning views over the water and mountains and is conveniently located in Quathiaski Cove.
- Oceanfront Beach House: Watch whales and eagles right from the patio that has awesome ocean views. The Oceanfront Beach House is fully self-contained and is a peaceful getaway.
- Patio Suite at Kingfisher Pond Guesthouse: This newly built one-bedroom suite is located on a forested property and has a private covered patio and full kitchen. There is also a lovely Veranda room available at the guesthouse.
The most affordable option is to camp, and there is a well-positioned campground, We Wai Kai Campsite, right by Rebecca Spit that offers tent and RV sites. There are showers and laundry facilities on site.
Getting to Quadra Island
It can be tricky to get to Quadra Island if you don’t have a car, but it is possible to catch a bus from Victoria or Nanaimo to Campbell River with Island Link – there are usually a couple of buses per day and you need to book online at least 24 hours in advance.
If you are coming from Vancouver, catch the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, then either drive or catch the bus to Campbell River.
Once in Campbell River, you can catch the Quadra Island ferry the short distance to the island, either on foot on with your car (pre-book the ferry if you are taking your car, you don’t need to do this if you are just walking on).
Ferries go every hour or so from around 6.30 am till 11 pm and the crossing only takes ten minutes.
Getting Around Quadra Island
If you don’t have a car with you on the island then the best way to get around is to walk or to hitch – it’s very common on the gulf islands and I felt safe when I did it, although whether you are comfortable doing it or not is up to you.
The Best Travel and Health Insurance for Your Trip
Make sure you get travel and health insurance before your Quadra Island trip, just to be on the safe side. Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap and easy to claim with.
Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.
If you liked this post, check out some of my other Canada content:
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- The Sunshine Coast, BC: Canada’s Most Underrated Destination?
- Revisiting Victoria: Canada’s English Themed City
- What to do in Summer on Denman Island, Canada
- Hiking Through the Mountains to Stunning Garibaldi Lake
- Why you Should Visit Vancouver in the Fall
- The Best Vancouver Itinerary for 4 Days in Summer