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Staycation on the Sunshine Coast
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The Sunshine Coast is named for bright days, but the nights here bring a living kind of light.
I wonder if the six strangers in this Sprinter van can tell I got engaged three days ago.
My parents and sister know, as does my partner—who, of course, engineered the whole thing. But the proposal (and acceptance) happened right before I was scheduled to hop in this van and board a ferry to the Sunshine Coast. So, I had a choice: either copy-and-paste a mass text to my friends and family—expedient, if impersonal and anticlimactic—or wait until I return to deliver the news in person and indulge in all the screams, gasps and happy tears.
I opted to wait. So now I’m on a work trip with a half-dozen other people who work in media, in what I’m quickly learning is one of the most romantic places in the world.
And it’s not just the rose-coloured glasses that are metaphorically sitting on my freshly engaged face. After ferrying over to Gibsons and then navigating the winding coast road for about an hour and a half, we arrive at the luxury cabin-style West Coast Wilderness Lodge in Egmont (and a truly breathtaking view). Standing on my patio just before sunset, I’m surrounded by a gold glow that radiates off the evergreen-covered mountains over Skookumchuck Narrows. In a few hours, the whirlpools and whitewater of the nearby Sechelt Rapids will be at their peak. For now, the water is calm and the serenity is unreal.
The hotel restaurant, called Inlets, is dotted along its windowed perimeter with couples eager to catch these last few moments of sunlight. Our haphazard crew of seven stands out, both in our number and in the obvious fact that we’re far less in love with each other than the rest of the clientele. I learn that all of the other journalists in my group are married, and after a single glass of sparkling wine (bolstered by my natural inability to shut up), I tell them that I just got engaged. “Less than 72 hours ago,” I specify over a beautiful heirloom tomato salad. “Yes, I’m very happy,” I confirm while extracting a juicy mussel from its shell. “No, we have not set a date yet,” I answer, trying not to choke on the crunchy yams topping my delicate lingcod. (I make a note for the future to refrain from replying to insane questions while eating delicious food.)
I’m working very hard to manage my expectations for this evening. It’s difficult, because the activity on tonight’s schedule is the one I’ve been most looking forward to—the thing that, if I’m honest, made me completely comfortable with abandoning my partner as he was barely getting up off his one knee—and that is bioluminescent kayaking.
The kayaking is part of Metta Eco-Experience’s “Into the Night” tour. The company is run by Greg and Meriel Rushton—another couple. There’s gotta be something in the water here… and in fact, there is: bioluminescence. Apparently, the narrows are full of tiny organisms that emit light, creating a gentle glow that, when night falls, becomes visible to the naked eye.
I’ll soon see for myself. While the last bits of daylight fade from the sky, our tour group of about 15 (us and three—you guessed it—couples) stands in a circle near the push-off point as Greg and Meriel give us a dry-land paddling lesson. We’re each also given a red light to clip on to our lifejackets.
As we hoist our two-seater kayaks from a small storage tent and carry them toward the shore, Greg points out that each one has two sticks carefully woven into the bungee straps. “I tell kids these are magic wands,” he announces. I use the cover of darkness to roll my eyes. Once we’re all bobbing around near the shore, you can really only see the dots of red from our lights—I can barely make out the shape of the person sitting directly in front of me in the kayak.
Luckily, that blurry shape is as needlessly competitive as I am: we’re right behind Greg, our paddles slicing through the black water as we leave the others trailing behind. Meriel is at the back, acting as caboose for our bizarre floating train. In the distance, we can see the bright lights of a ferry coming into the narrows as it returns from Saltery Bay, south of Powell River. It’s not close enough to cause us alarm, but it still looks freakishly massive from our dinky little kayaks.
“If we paddled in front of that ferry, could it see our lights?” I call to Greg. “Nope!” he replies jubilantly.
As we get farther and farther from shore, the seascape actually becomes brighter. My eyes have fully adjusted now, and a full moon is causing all the little islets to cast shadows on the ocean. Greg stops in one of those shadows, and we wait with him as the other, slower (not that that matters) kayakers catch up to us.
I’m absentmindedly resting my paddle in the water when I first notice it. It looks like little white sparks are dancing off the blade. I plunge my whole hand in and swirl it around: sure enough, tiny flecks of light appear and disappear with my movement. I whip out the “magic wand”—a.k.a., the stick—and drag it through the water. The flickering lights trail softly behind.
As a person who grew up in B.C., I often feel like I’ve been sadly desensitized to the beauty of West Coast nature. But this is one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen. The bioluminescence isn’t bright or spectacular, like fireworks; it’s subtle and enchanting in a way that requires you to stop what you are doing and simply stare.
For the rest of the journey, I am an effectively useless paddler, taking advantage of my backseat position to do little else but wave my magic wand (which has very quickly become a prized possession). My deep focus over one side of the kayak forces my partner to lean in the opposite direction and counteract the weight. I try to take photos and videos, and end up with nothing but pitch-black rectangles and some crisp audio of myself breathing.
It’s dark, it’s cold, and I’m with a bunch of people I barely know, but this is the most engaged (pun very intended) that I’ve ever felt with nature. The bioluminescence is quiet and miraculous and undeniably romantic. It’s a romance that I’m perfectly happy to indulge in by myself, though I’ll certainly drag my partner through an insufferable slideshow of pointless photos later.
I’m in no rush to go home, but now I have two life-altering experiences to share with my family and friends once I get there.
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