Ever contemplated taking a cruise up through the Inside Passage from Vancouver Island north along the British Columbia pristine coastline to Haida Gwaii or even Alaska?
Well, did you know that B.C. Ferries Northern Coast route from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert covers a similar geographical route?
This blog post explores our experience on the Northern Expedition B.C. Ferry in mid August, 2021.
My husband and I were travelling with my mom, who requires mobility support, so our experience will also be beneficial if a member of your group requires wheelchair accessibility.
This ferry trip is lengthy (about 15-16 hours) but the pristine coastline offers a scenic mode of transportation up the British Columbia coast from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. The majority of the trip occurs during daylight during the summer and during the night during the winter months.
The cost for this experience depends on the ‘extras’ you add, and the season you select to travel in. Check the B.C. Ferries website for more thorough information. https://www.bcferries.com/ We travelled one way during the summer (peak season).
Our reservation included: 2 adults and 1 senior over 65, plus 1 vehicle. We added 1 inside cabin as mom requires lying down periodically (only cabin choice available when we reserved) $100.
Plus we purchased 2 reserved seating spots in the Aurora Lounge for $40 each. Our total cost was over $1,000 CA for the 1 way trip.
The Northern Expedition Ferry has a maximum capacity of just over 600 passengers and crew and 115 vehicles. Our experience in August was a partially full ferry with plentiful physical spacing. Perhaps this was due to Covid lockdowns severely limiting international visitors permitted in Canada?
After making our way from the car deck to the wheelchair accessible elevator, we headed up to the passenger decks. First stop was the Purser’s Office to pick up a route map, and receive the pass key for our assigned cabin and reserved recliner seats in the Aurora lounge.
The walkway areas were wide, modern and attractive. It was easy to maneuver mom’s wheelchair in most areas.
However, we quickly discovered that some of the Northern Expedition areas were now closed to passenger use.
The lovely Vista Restaurant was closed. We wondered if it was related to Covid safety restrictions? The Gift Shop was closed too. It only opened once, for about an hour, during the entire trip. This is a shame because B.C. Ferry Gift Shops usually have a varied and quality selection of clothing, books, souvenirs, First Nation’s art and designs, and miscellaneous items.
Food was only available from the Canoe Cafe. This cafe was open 3 times during the trip during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Lunch and Dinner menus were nearly identical–with very limited choices.
This was a surprise to us and quite different than our previous experience on the B.C. Ferry Northern Expedition prior to Covid lockdowns in March of 2019. If we travelled on this ferry again in the near future, we would definitely bring food items with us for the journey.
During the trip there were 2 different movie/documentaries shown in the Raven Lounge. The movies portrayed characters unfolding stories about the local history and culture of the small isolated communities along the coastline of B.C. It was really powerful that the settings in the movies were reflective of the coastline just outside the ferry windows! We found the stories entertaining and educational.
In addition to walking around on the decks, we spent the majority of time during this trip through the Inside Passage relaxing in the Aurora Lounge. It is a comfortable location, with ceiling to floor windows, which encourage full advantage of the pristine beauty seen along the British Columbia coastline, coastal mountains, and surrounding islands.
The high point of the trip up the Inside Passage for us was the beauty of the coastal scenery and the whales! Yes. We saw whales at #4 Boat Bluff on the Points of Interest Map shown above.
After leaving Port Hardy on northeast Vancouver Island we journeyed north through Fitz Hugh Sound passing Egg Island, Calvert Island, and Namu. Namu is a tiny community about 3 1/2 hours from Port Hardy.
The name Namu is a Heiltsuk First Nation’s word meaning ‘place of high winds“. It is claimed to be the oldest settlement on the coast. (More information is found on #8 of the Points of Interest map). The population statistics there vary, but there seems to be 50-100 people living in the area at present.
I have read 2 books including: Namu Quest for the Killer Whale by Ted Griffin, that recount Orcas being captured at this location and sold to aquariums for exhibition and performances in the mid 1960’s and 1970’s. Gratefully, this is no longer permitted or practiced in Canada.
Continuing north maneuvering through channels and sounds we passed King Island, and Fishing Resort areas, such as, Shearwater prior to stopping briefly at Bella Bella, on Campbell Island. (5 hours from Port Hardy).
Bella Bella, also known as Waglisla, is the home of the Heiltsuk First Nations people. The population of this remote community is approximately 1,600 people.
As we wove around beautiful islands in channels off the Great Bear Rainforest of B.C. we observed a few tiny logging/fishing camps and 2 regent historical lighthouses. The water was very interesting in this area creating color changes and unique rippling effects.
Just over 8 hours from our departure at Port Hardy we were informed to glance outside the windows and observe picturesque Boat Bluff. This famous and scenic lighthouse complex, established in 1907, is about one-half way between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert. The light is visible for approximately 32 km and marks the entry into Tolmie Channel when heading northward.
My husband and I raced outdoors to take photos of scenic Boat Bluff lighthouse and were further blessed with the sound of expiration and sight of ‘seasmoke‘. Whales!!! There were 2–3 whales near us.
The low curved dorsal fins indicated they were not Orcas, but probably a baleen whale species. They did not breech or spy hop as they passed by so the type of whale was difficult to determine. My best educated guess from living in northern Vancouver Island for 50 + years, combined with their approximate size, was Humpback, (maybe too small?), Grey, or Minke whales.
Whichever species we had the good luck to share the channel with, whales always bring excitement and awe as they journey near by.
This video depicts the beauty and fog we experienced during the second half of the journey from Boat Bluff to Prince Rupert.
Passing through narrow Grenville Channel during thick fog with fog horns blaring is quite an adventure!
One final collage illustrates highlights as the fog thickened, before night darkness blocked our views.
The Northern Expedition arrived in Prince Rupert after 10:30 pm. It was dark as we all disembarked and headed to our respective accommodations.
The next blog post will illustrate our exploration from Prince Rupert heading northeast to Smithers, British Columbia.
Keep safe and optimistic my friends.