The lure of the Thormanbys


One of the easiest and most rewarding places to visit on the ocean along the Sunshine Coast is the Thormanby Islands. The two islands are wonderfully distinct offering a range of options from expansive sand beaches to secluded coves to explore, and all within a short distance of launches from nearby Halfmoon Bay, Secret Cove or other launch spots on the nearby shore.

This makes it an ideal day paddling trip or weekend excursion. But beware of the very different opportunities and consequences of where you decide to stop.

One advantage of the pair of islands is it offers two different provincial parks to choose from. On smaller, sandier and more heavily populated North Thormanby is Simson Provincial Park. It occupies the sandy spit linking the two islands, and so is just a smidge of foreshore and beach. 

Because of the quality of the sand, it is a magnet for locals and visitors alike, most of whom will arrive by power boat or water taxi, making this a family-friendly party destination, with boats lined at anchor or dragged up on the beach on most sunny days during the summer.

The traffic can be overwhelming. For instance, on the May long weekend, over 30 tents were crammed into an area designed for six. Granted, the majority were part of one large group, but it means a drastically different camping experience for those who gave to watch sunsets and stroll the beach.

Far different is Simson Provincial Park, which occupies the south side of the south island. The shoreline by contrast to Buccaneer Bay is largely rock bluff, but that is a huge part of the attraction.

There are two main chronicled beaches. Pebble Beach is on the northeast shore and faces the channel towards the Sunshine Coast mainland. It is the most easily accessible for kayakers and also arguably the best protected from southeasterlies, which will hit during the worst weather.

The other most-recognized beach is Farm Bay, located on the middle west side of the island. It features a typically rocky beach for this side of South Thormanby Island, then a trail up to a level grassy area set back from the ocean.

Continue along the path and it will lead you to a lake and the old homestead site. The lake is more a lilly pad bog, and the only remnants of the homestead are an old foundation, trees from an orchard and other odds and ends for clues, but at least it offers a chance to explore.

The island itself is criss-crossed by old skidder roads, and where they lead from any access point is most often a mystery. but more often than not just to the adjacent bay. A few are used by the residents of the west side of the island for transportation. You just never know -- a road may appear to go from nowhere to nowhere, and yet it will have recent ATV or truck tires. It's all a mystery as to the where and why.

While Pebble Beach and Farm Bay as the main recognized camping areas, the actual use of the park is dispersed. The bay immediately south of Farm Bay has two beaches with camping possible on the rock bluff between; the bluff will even provide partial wind cover. 

Tents can also sometimes be found on the rocky islet off the park's southwest point. A rough beach provides access to the rocks and you can choose your spot according to the view and the weather.

In fact, you can pretty much pick any bay with a beach (the quality is almost always about the same -- best at higher tide but still rough), then find a level bluff for your tent. 

Boaters have options for anchoring, with good holding at most bays but exposure if you place yourself incorrectly. Even the most secluded anchorage behind the Surrrey Islands in Buccaneer Bay is prone to westerlies even when the prevailing wind is southeasterly. Simply put, it is hard to avoid the weather here.

Most residents cluster around the shoreline of North Thormanby, but if you follow the trail up the bluff and deep into North Thormanby you will find enclaves that are so remote they are almost creepy. On a walk we noticed two hidden security cameras at two properties within a fairly short walk along Hairy Elbow Road, the name for the forested access road leading up-island. We also found a tennis court complete with bleachers and a picnic shelter. We couldn't be sure if it was a community resource (hard to believe for 20 or so properties) or a private owner hoping for good turnout where that eventuality was highly unlikely. Maybe he ships in lots of people for weekend tourneys. Who knows?

In all the exploration was extremely odd and almost unsettling. But luckily you don't have to explore that part. The shoreline and parks have enough to offer without tripping the camera alarms.

See the map at bcmarinetrails.org for additional information on launch and camp locations in this region. The Thormanby Islands provincial parks are available for public camping and along the Salish Sea Marine Trail, but awaiting formal status as a marine trail site pending archaeological assessments. Follow the progress at bcmarinetrails.org.

 

1 comment

  • Allan Edwin

    Hello. Lovely article. I was exploring Google Maps a few weeks ago and had made a mental note to put these islands on my see-next list for this summer. I was quite pleased to see this commentary (linked from BCMTN) on what to expect. Clarification please, do you not mean Vaucroft Beach in paragraph 3? I definitely noticed the lovely beach there on satellite view, plus the many boats there logged in different images over time. Definitely signs this is a popular spot.

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