MALCOLM ISLAND—The trail to the Pulteney Point Lighthouse is not the longest or most grueling hike on North Vancouver Island.
But it is the first on which I’ve been followed by a ghoul.
Seeking to investigate a reportedly low-intensity, family-friendly day hike in the region, I took a break from the entertainment, games and food of Sointula’s annual Salmon Days celebration and headed out to see the lighthouse.
Situated at the Southwest tip of Malcolm Island, Pulteney Point is home to one of the handful of remaining staffed lighthouses on B.C. coast.
There are a variety of ways to reach the lighthouse from Sointula, including a roughly 10-kilometre beach hike from the marina and an even longer overland trek.
The easiest way is to take your vehicle over on the ferry and take the first left off the dock, onto 1st Street. Stay on this road through town, past the Burger Barn and marina, then turn right onto Bere Road (well-marked by signs to Bere Point Park and Campground. A kilometre later you’ll reach a ‘T’— hang left onto the gravel Pulteney Point/Bere Road.
Ignore, for now, the Bere Point turnoff (we’ll get to that on a future Daytrip) and you’ll find yourself arrowing due west to the end of the island before fishhooking south toward the lighthouse. You’ll know you’re close when the thin scrub of young hemlock and pine gives way to towering second-growth fir. And you’ll know you’ve arrived at the trail head when you spy a pair of signs— one on a gate stating no admittance, and the other high on a tree next to a modest pullout, reading “Lighthouse Trail Parking”.
I arrived to find the parking area deserted, but had no sooner opened the car door when two more vehicles arrived.
The Pulteney Point Lighthouse Trail is easy enough to take a one-year-old along, and Adam and Alison Barber of Campbell River proved it with young daughter Ava, strapped in a pack on dad’s back. They were joined by six-year-old Liam, the aforementioned ghoul, who stopped previously at the Salmon Days face-painting booth to get a full-faced, black-and-white skull applied.
Adam and Alison said they had taken this hike two years ago, and loved it so much they returned with the kids’ grandparents, Marylou McCaskell and Harold Peill of Comox.
On a hot, sunny day the trail from the parking lot runs downhill through the blessedly cool shade of the firs. But that part of the hike lasts barely two minutes before the trees give way to a sun-drenched beach, littered with driftwood and looking out across Queen Charlotte Strait to Vancouver Island and the smattering of buildings at Cluxewe Resort.
What, that’s it?
Not quite. The rest of the “trail” is actually a beach hike to the lighthouse and surrounding complex of outbuildings. The rest of the trip is about 20 minutes of walking; somewhat longer depending how much time your six-year-old wants to spend seeking out shells, rocks and various beach creatures.
Before you turn left at the beach and strike out for the lighthouse, turn around and look where you emerged from the woods. The trail has already disappeared from sight in the thick undergrowth, but look up and you’ll find it situated under a conveniently placed, bleached snag towering overhead.
Halfway to the lighthouse, a lone picnic table appears to your left. However, it’s perched perhaps four metres up on a bluff, with no obvious path to reach it from the beach. No problem for our little troupe, which has not come equipped with a lunch.
That fact is not lost on a bald eagle that glides in, a few minutes later, to perch atop the lighthouse and watch our approach. When no spare food appears forthcoming, the big raptor lifts off and returns inland.
The first building you spy from a distance is the lighthouse itself. As you get closer, you pass a boathouse at the upper reach of the high-tide line, then spot the various other buildings of the complex, all painted bright white and topped with red, metal roofs.
We stuck to the beach and the point which juts out a surprising distance from the lighthouse, particularly at low tide. But some visitors have been known to get an impromptu tour from the lightkeeper.
The point offers perspectives otherwise only available by boat to sights like Cluxewe Resort, Haddington Island, Ledge Point, and the massive ship-loading facility of Orca Sand and Gravel.
By coincidence, one of the giant tankers happened to be tied up and taking on a load of construction-grade gravel and sand, eventually bound for the San Francisco Bay area. As I had performed contract photography for the mine during its construction and early days of production, I was able to provide something of a tour-guide service to the Barbers and their parents, which they seemed to appreciate.
When young Liam could finally be coaxed from his beachcombing, the Barbers and the scribbler were ready to head back to the big snag and the short hike back through the trees.
If you find yourself on Malcolm Island with some spare time on your hands, consider a visit to Pulteney Point.
Who knows? You may have a spooktacular time.