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It’s a bit of a scramble to get down there. There’s a wide switch-back path from the parking lot for most of the way but as you get down to the beach every step becomes a negotiation of logs and rocks; fitting feet carefully in narrow spaces alongside some, climbing over others, slowly moving through the obstacle course until you get to the pebbles. More step by step negotiation; the pebbles are strewn with fallen debris from the dense leafy wall of trees that defines the limit of the beach; while carrying towels, sarongs, bags and backpacks with drinks and sunscreen and layers of clothing, and the cooler full of luscious picnic food. You’d better be wearing sandals.

And then finally sand; space to move freely along by the water and find the spot.

I’ll not gonna lie. Being an Aussie I’m a bit of a beach snob, but I’ve come to love the beaches of the rugged Pacific North West for their grandeur and beauty if not for the water temperature. Vancouver has some fabulous beaches: Spanish Banks for a long low-tide amble and volleyball, Jericho for hot summer evening picnics, and barbecues, and volleyball, Kits for laid back crowds and music, and clothing-optional Wreck Beach. There are several beaches in the West End, including English Bay and Sunset Beach. And many more, some well known, some not so much, some with amenities, others secret and hidden and you’d better bring your own TP. And diminutive Whytecliff Park beach on the North Shore, way out west near Horseshoe Bay.

The beach itself is not so special being narrow and not very long, and the sand a little gritty, but the setting should win awards!

This view (above) is looking towards the rocky outcrop that forms the northern end of the beach, and is part of the wild and jagged coastline facing Howe Sound. Looking south is the rock, as in The Rock! Whyte Islet is definitely the star of the show.

We’ve been several times over the years with a group of friends, all of us making the long trip out there often enough that it has almost become a tradition,

and the food almost legendary. We know how to put together a good potluck picnic! Salads and salmon and sushi, berries, cherries, and fresh peaches, French bread and pakoras. It really is a feast. We all dive in, the conversation being passed around with the dishes as we fill our plates and bellies. Contentment. Happiness. A summer blessing.

Behind us in the shade are more logs, for leaning against, for sitting on, with the trees overhanging and gracing us with shade when we need it.

We spread our blankets and sarongs and get settled in. There are a couple of us who swim. And I mean swim, for an hour or more, way off shore, so that I start to worry for them, seeing their tiny heads bobbing like harbour seals way way out. But they are strong swimmers and it’s a calm safe bay. Soon they return to shore drenched and happy, assuring us all how refreshing the water is. But I’m a Aussie and I know better. I know it’s brass monkey temperature out there and nothing will get me in past my ankles.

On warm summer days this tranquil secluded beach, the water appearing green from the reflection of the trees,

provides endless beach theatre. I sit back and enjoy the show: children playing,

sail boats floating by,

an intrepid paddle boarder (I worry a bit about him too – he’s so far from shore!), a flotilla headed to the starting point for a small regatta,

and best of all – the endless rock hopping out to the island, demanding of each person a constant focused dialog between body, rocks, and water.

There are always people headed up, or at the peak,

and of course most of us on one visit or another do our own dance across the rocks to the island and scramble-climb to the top.

The other side of the bay also calls to me. There’s a trail, then some rock steps, then a climb over the rocky bluff to the crest. More of the theatre of Life – a compelling performance: three adrenaline junkies hurling themselves off a channel marker, indicating just how deep the water is here, deep enough to be one of the best places in the area for scuba diving. Over and over and over they jump, three thrill seeking missiles hurtling down into the water in a display of sheer audacious daredevilry. The joy and excitement is palpable as they egg each other on.

When they’re done they crawl barefoot straight up the rock face to the top of the cliff.

And a seagull swallowing a sea star bigger than its head.

I didn’t watch this one right to the end but I did watch one in Lighthouse Park once. It was a young seagull, but fully grown. I came upon it when it had just put the sea star in its beak. I watched as it swallowed and swallowed and swallowed seeming to make little progress. On and on it went, by tiny increments getting it further and further in, but still it seemed as if it would not be successful in the endeavour. For a while I felt like I was about to witness the choking death of a bird. I was riveted, like watching a harrowing but compelling train wreck I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t see how it could be successful, until suddenly it was! Suddenly the sea star was gone, dinner for an adolescent seagull.

I see kayakers far below,

and seals – in the water

and sunning themselves on the rock shelf beneath me.

Back on the beach: some people are naturally elegant no matter where they are or what they are doing. Alas not me.

On one excursion there is a luxurious birthday lunch for a friend at West Vancouver’s deluxe Boathouse Restaurant,

where I have Chinese/Japanese/Mexican fusion at its best – tacos (Mexican) made from crispy wonton (Chinese) filled with a seared-tuna salad, covered in ponzu sauce (Japanese) and all sitting on a bed of guacamole (Mexican) – and swoon over the best dessert ever.

Quick change artists: our fancy restaurant clothes give way to beach clothes for a late afternoon visit to nearby Whytecliff where we hang out, walk the trails a bit, get our feet wet, watch the kids and the rock hoppers, until the late summer sunset comes

and we gather up our things and head home.

Whytecliff Park is part of the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Coast Salish (Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, and Musqueam).

Next post: Christmas stories

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2022.