Hornby Island from Vancouver: How to get to BC’s remote “Little Hawaii”

From the golden cliffs of Helliwell to the turquoise waters of Tribune Bay, it’s easy to fall under Hornby’s spell. But getting to Hornby Island from Vancouver is an adventure in and of itself.

Hornby Island is part of the Northern Gulf Islands. To get there from Vancouver, you’ll have to either drive and take the ferries (yes, that’s ferries – plural) or fly.

A trip to see “Little Hawaii,” as it’s sometimes called because of its white sand beaches with tropical-hued waters, demands more travel time than a weekend getaway can provide.

I recently went from Vancouver to Hornby Island, leaving my house at 5 am to arrive at Hornby Island at 1 pm. Getting there and back practically eats up a whole day, but for those committed to making the journey, here’s what you need to know about going from Vancouver to Hornby Island.

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Flying to Hornby Island

To avoid the ferries, opting for a quick flight to Hornby Island instead is a great option if you have friends or family on the Island with a car.

Indigenous-owned Gulf Island Seaplanes offers one-way fares from $250.

Although it’s possible to get through Hornby without a car, you’re more than likely to want your own set of wheels to explore. Don’t expect to find an Avis or Budget car rental on Hornby Island, either. Although a Hornby Island bus services the area and it’s also possible to cycle your way around Hornby, the vast majority of travellers opt to take the ferries with a vehicle.

Taking the ferry to Hornby Island

Going from Vancouver to Hornby Island? It’s just five simple steps:

  1. Take the ferry from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Departure Bay in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
  2. Drive approximately an hour north on Vancouver Island.
  3. Take another ferry from Buckley Bay to Denman Island West.
  4. Drive 10 minutes across Denman Island.
  5. Take one more ferry from Denman East (Gravelly Bay) to Hornby Island (Shingle Spit).

But pack your patience because while it’s possible to do the whole voyage in five hours, that’s not the reality on the ground.

This is because the smaller ferries that connect Vancouver Island to Denman Island are notoriously packed – especially in the summer when there can be multiple sailing waits at peak times.

BC ferries told Daily Hive that these routes are “traditionally busy in the summertime” and in 2022, traffic on minor routes is consistent with pre-pandemic years. They have no immediate plans to change service on these two routes.

“Overloads do occur on all of our routes. These routes are no different,” BC Ferries said.

“Wait times vary depending on time of day and day of the week. Fridays and Sundays, for example, are busy with weekenders travelling to and from the islands.”

hornby island

Google Maps

These smaller ferries take only about 10 minutes and run on a schedule you’ll want to keep handy as you voyage.

The ferries will enter shuttling mode at peak times – forgoing the schedule and going as fast as they can between the islands. But the ferry comes only about every 40 minutes, even at top speed. So if there’s a two-sailing wait, that will add at least an hour and a half to your itinerary.

These smaller ferry routes are not bookable online, either. You pay once you arrive – your ticket you buy at Buckley Bay includes return fare – and it’s first come, first served.

That’s why an early start is important – especially leaving Hornby Island because if you don’t make the final sailing of the day, then you’re spending another night there!

hornby island

Waiting for the ferry and onboard the ferry

A trip to Hornby Island isn’t cheap, either. I paid about $375 roundtrip in ferry fares on my recent trip. Fares vary depending on your number of passengers and vehicle type. But for $375, I could have gotten a flight to Los Angeles and probably arrived faster, too.

Still, once you’re there and maybe after you’ve had a nap to recover from your early start, there’s nothing else like it in BC!

Is Hornby Island on your BC summer must-see list?


Karen J. Simmons

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