Safely Indulging in an Indigenous Cultural Getaway at Kwa’lilas Hotel in Port Hardy
The first half of 2020 was certainly a tough time for the travel industry and travel enthusiasts alike. While there continue to be some challenges and restrictions in place, I couldn’t wait to plan my first trip for when things slowly began to reopen and feel safe again. I knew I was going to want to choose somewhere relatively close by that would offer the same type of cultural, dining, and adventure experiences I look for in all of my trips, but that it also needed to be somewhere with many outdoor activities and where I knew it would be easy to practice social distancing without feeling like I was missing out on anything.
The Kwa’lilas Hotel in Port Hardy, Vancouver Island, offered exactly that and more. Located in the traditional territories of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw people, this property provides the same luxury and comfort that I look for in any upscale hotel while also honoring the history and the people of this area. The word “Kwa’lilas” means “a place to sleep,” with a wish that travelers and guests to this area of Northern Vancouver Island would find both peace and rest in their journeys. That beautiful description perfectly sums up the vibe of this hotel, which is adorned with local art and traditional features such as a smoke hole at the top of the building that welcomes guests. The property has 85 guest rooms ranging from the comfortable standard suite to a breathtaking ocean view suite. There are also two great locations to enjoy a meal or a drink at Kwa’lilas Hotel. Ha’me is an amazing restaurant that offers Indigenous-inspired west coast cuisine (though it is currently closed, it will be opening back up soon with a revamped menu), while the nax’id’ Pub provides the perfect bar atmosphere for hanging out with friends.
There are so many things to do in the area that are especially ideal while social distancing is still being practiced. After you settle into your hotel, your next stop should absolutely be the Port Hardy Visitors Center. It may sound a bit touristy, but trust me on this one—the staff here can provide amazing tips and tricks when it comes to local events going on, things to do and see, and even means of transportation.
If you’re seeking a serious cultural experience, look no further than k’awat’si tours. Experience the wild beauty of British Columbia’s coastal rainforests through the eyes of your First Nations guide as they share their culture, history and traditions. Get out on the water to view wildlife, roam remote beaches, and learn about the indigenous history of the region. k’awat’si Tours offers an array of unique experiences and they are your connection to Indigenous culture in Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. My group had a blast on their tour while taking in all of the beautiful scenery that Port Hardy had to offer. It was truly an impressive and unforgettable experience that any culture junkie must try. It was also an eye-opening experience full of learning and unlearning.
Whether you need to wind down after the rapids or are just looking for a more chill way to spend your time in Port Hardy, Storey’s Beach is a pleasant spot for sunbathing, picnicking, or passing a football with friends. There are also several hiking trails that start for this beach at various levels of difficulty and length, but all offering stunning views of nature.
And of course, it’s important to support local small businesses whenever possible during the unprecedented year we’ve been having (and really, this is great to do any time!) Cafe Guido was by far my favorite place to stop by while we were in the area. The coffee and snacks were amazing, but we also loved checking out the Book Nook inside the cafe where we could browse hundreds of new and used book. It was nice to be able to pick up something to read for the beach while supporting a local business!
This area had so many fun things to do and made for a perfectly quaint and safe getaway. In the year of “staycations” and trips that focus on time spent outside, I highly recommend the Port Hardy area for anyone who is able to make it here.
PS – Be sure to visit the world renowned Telegraph Cove on your way back to Victoria. It is a former cannery and fishing village of only about 20 inhabitants. It is stunning and quaint – you won’t want to miss out!