Access: Take the bus to Horseshoe Bay and catch the ferry to Langdale [BC Ferries] on the Sunshine Coast. Crossing time is 40 minutes. As you step off the loading ramp of the Langdale ferry you'll find the tiny ferry to Keats Landing immediately on your right. Since this ferry services both Gambier Island and Keats Island make sure you get on the correct sailing. Published schedules are sometimes altered on the fly to accommodate weekend rushes. The trip to Keats usually takes just 10 minutes. Getting a good connection on the return trip is often impossible so be sure to bring a book or magazine to make time stuck in the ferry terminal bearable.
Dockside at Keats Landing.
Like Newcastle Island, Keats Island is home to a Provincial Marine Park. Though well-known among mariners, the park at Plumper Cove is a well-kept secret among landlubbers. Similar also to the previous getaway, two ferries are required to get there. Unlike Newcastle, however, only a small portion of Keats has been accorded park status. From Keats Landing it is a 2 km hike to the park itself. Walk directly up the hill from the dock, taking a short-cut across the expansive lawn dotted with summer cottages. At the top of the hill you'll come across a gravel road. To your right you'll see a large kids camp. Go left along the road instead for a few hundred metres until you see a building with a sign that says simply: "BC Hydro." A trail plunges into the bush just to the right of this building. Since there are numerous branch trails watch signs carefully to ensure you take the correct route. Follow the mainline marked with yellow squares and a few decrepit signs that indicate "Marine Park." The trail is maintained by the local resident who originally constructed it to keep trespassers off his own property. Still, expect to have to scramble over or under numerous deadfalls along the otherwise well-kept trail.
Unlike Newcastle Island and most other parks in the islands of the Gulf of Georgia, fires are permitted at all of the 20 walk-in campsites at Plumper Cove. Since prevailing winds come from the direction of the yacht anchorage choose your site wisely so your fire pit is on the lee side of your tent and picnic table. Arriving midweek or early on the weekend will ensure you have choices to make. Late comers may have no choices at all during busy, summer long-weekends. Worry not, however, as there is plenty of overflow camping space in the grassy field that serves as a picnic area. No fires allowed here however. Reservations are not possible at this time on Keats Island. Cold drinking water is only available from a hand pump. Pit toilets will provide a rustic element to your camping experience but be forewarned to bring toilet paper as supplies, though replenished daily, sometimes run out.
Dusk view from Keats Provincial Marine Park.
One of the finest features of Plumper Cove is the grassy headland that overlooks Shoal Channel to the west. Use this romantic vantage point to witness the slow summer sunsets that have made the Sunshine Coast famous. As the sky colour deepens from orange to red to purple, stars flicker on as do the lights of Gibsons across the Channel and, further off, Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. And while consuming alcohol is forbidden-if tolerated-in all provincial Parks a robust Bordeaux in a coffee mug goes a long way towards satisfying both park regulations and the mood of the moment.
There are three trails of note on Keats Island. The first one is a simple loop trail that extends past the last campsite, climbing up to an elevation of 120 metres to a treed ridgeline before doubling back to reconnect with the park proper. Yellow ribbons and plastic squares mark the Loop Trail. From the summit it may be possible to spot deer grazing in sunny forest glades below. Trail length is a mere 1½ km. A second trail climbs 216 metres to the top of Stony Hill. Follow the trail back towards Keats Landing for about 20 minutes in order to access the Lookout Peak Trail. An old, somewhat faded wooden sign marks the trail that then branches off up the slope from the main trail. Follow green markers to the summit after another half hour of upward plodding.
The third route starts out the same as the Loop Trail but branches off to the left after just a few minutes. Watch carefully for the intersection as it is not marked in any way. This unnamed route follows well-above the shoreline until connecting up with a one lane forest track that soon leads past a place called, for obvious reasons, simply "The Farm" by locals. From The Farm the road turns inland and uphill for some 40 minutes or more sometimes paralleling an electric powerline on the right. Eventually you'll reach the main gravel road that connects Keats Landing with the village of Eastbourne. Take a left here and continue up and down a number of rolling hills. After a further 25 minutes or so you'll see a llama farm of all things. Feel free to stop and take pictures of these woolly cousins to the camel but beware: the fence is electrified and llamas, being territorial by nature, spit as a defence mechanism against intruders. Better pack along some lens cleaning paper as a precaution.
From the Double K & J Corral, as the llama farm is called, another 25 minutes will take you as far as the "bus stop" in Eastbourne. Though the bus stop sign looks suspiciously like one of Vancouver's old BC Transit signs don't plan on taking the bus back this year at any rate. The bus stop is an example of local humour, providing the occasional bit of light-hearted retribution against the seasonal invasion of city slickers to this quiet rural backwater. Tourists sometimes wait for hours for the bus that never comes.
Lumbering car-encumbered barge departs Keats Island, clueless and without a life-jacket in sight.
Eastbourne, site of a tiny government dock and the best beach on Keats, is just a further five minutes to the right and downhill from here. A fourth trail, an alternative to the Eastbourne route just described, will be mentioned but is not recommended. Called the Farm Trail, this poorly marked and overgrown path cuts across the island from near the beginning of the Lookout Peak trail to the Farm. Ironically the Farm Trail slices through by far the most beautiful forest scenery on the island. Following a number of dry and not-so-dry stream beds, the farm trail often disappears altogether and only a careful search for orange trail markers or ribbons will reveal its course. Fear not, though, since Keats Island is so small that after stumbling around in the forest lost for a couple hours you are bound to happen upon one of the routes that crisscross the island. Use common sense however and don't stumble alone.