Located on the rugged northern tip of Vancouver Island, the friendly town of Port Hardy is a great destination for outdoor lovers. It is also the departure point for ferries heading to Prince Rupert, the beautiful Great Bear Rainforest and Alaska. Its coastline offers sandy beaches, oceanfront strolls and plenty of water activities, while its rich woodland provides a fantastic wilderness for adventurers and the material for some beautiful crafts and carvings which are in abundance throughout town.
Port Hardy has a vibrant arts scene and there are many galleries and craft stores to browse, as well as open studios where you can view the local artists at work. It is also home to a collection of impressive chainsaw carvings and several street murals. The Port Hardy Museum houses a good range of local art and historical First Nations exhibits and artefacts. The main downtown area on Market and Granville Street has a good selection of local stores, restaurants brimming with delicious fresh seafood and waterfront cafés, while the Thunderbird Mall is just a few minutes’ walk away.
For those who want to get straight out onto the water there is plenty to occupy you, from chartered fishing boats and kayak rentals to guided tours and lessons. The sea here is home to dolphins and seals as well as a fantastic rainbow of coral and anemones, which live on the Browning Wall that descends 230 feet below the surface. That’s why the area justly has a reputation as one of the best cold-water locations for scuba-diving and there is ample opportunity to do this with one of the town’s dive schools, whether you are a beginner or experienced diver. Above the water, the wildlife includes a huge variety of birds from bald eagles to puffins, regular sightings of humpbacks and orcas, black bears foraging along the highway in summer, and grizzlies on the inlet shores off the island. The vast sandy flats of Storey’s Beach near the town centre are ideal for lazy summer days or winter walks, while the more secluded coves and bays, such as Raft Cove on the opposite side of the island, are popular for surfers.
The Port Hardy area also boasts some excellent hiking and has three provincial parks within easy reach. It offers a range of hikes from gentle strolls to more challenging overnight camping trips through the wilderness. There are also walks that leave from closer to town, such as the demanding Tex Lyon Trail which scrambles over the rocky coastline from Storey’s Beach, or the less strenuous trail alongside the Quatse River. A pleasant day can be spent at the Little Huson Cave Park exploring the unusual rock formations, beautiful green pools and limestone caves. For the more advanced, there are some of the finest caving adventures in the world to be had here due to the combination of limestone and evergreen forest.
The Quatse River is also home to the Salmon Stewardship Centre, which is an interesting place to tour with informative exhibits and displays on the life cycle of these fascinating fish. For a glimpse of history, take a walk around the First Nations village of Tsaxis and see the many totem poles and colourful buildings. Still home to the descendants of the Kwakiutl people, it lies to the east of Port Hardy on Storey’s Beach. You can also see the remains of the British trading post Fort Rupert.
Port Hardy is a great place to holiday. Whether you are drawn for its rugged hiking, crystal clear diving, its charming small town feel or its bountiful wildlife, you will certainly find plenty to entertain, interest and challenge you during your stay in this lovely part of the world.
Things to do
Top tips for visiting Port Hardy
Top Tip 1
• A great place to begin your visit is the Harbour Walkway. Starting at the Quarterdeck Inn, it winds along one side of Hardy Bay. If you are feeling energetic, you can continue down the Quatse River to the Salmon Centre or around the Estuary Trail for great views over the bay and Quatsesee River. If not, turn around and head back to the pub for views over the marina and a tasty meal!
Top Tip 2
• Named after Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, former captain of HMS Victory, the town also has a rich Aboriginal history with settlers dating back more than 8000 years. Visit the Port Hardy Museum to discover more about the diverse culture or browse the beautiful handmade arts and crafts on Market Street.
Top Tip 3
• If you are a diver, you must dive God’s Pocket Marine Provincial Park, which is regarded as some of the best diving in the world by experts such as the legendary Jacques Cousteau. And if you have never tried it before, well what a place to start! With many dive centres offering tours and lessons, you can be exploring the wide range of sites, and seeing the incredible range of marine life in no time.
Top Tip 4
• If you prefer the view from above the water there is plenty to see there too, from whales, sea otters and dolphins to bald eagles and puffins. Take one of the many wildlife-watching boat trips, or for a truly magical experience, join a guided kayak tour between July and October and watch awesome orcas swim just beyond your paddle.
Top Tip 5
• The area is rich in hiking trails, through forest and along shorelines. Stroll the 45 minute path to San Josef Bay, head to Raft Cove Provincial Park and follow the rugged 2km trail through the forest to emerge on the secluded sandy crescent beach. Or for a real challenge, tackle the eight hour muddy trek to the top of Cape Scott.
Top Tip 6
• The town has many festivals and events throughout the year including Aboriginal Day in July. For those visiting in the autumn, don’t miss wandering along the seawall in Carrot Park to see the many illuminated Halloween pumpkins carved by locals, which make up ‘Pumpkin Walk’.