Port Hardy (population 4,600) lies along sheltered Hardy Bay, 235 kilometers (146 miles) north of Campbell River  and 495 kilometers (308 miles) north of Victoria . It’s the largest community north of Campbell River and the terminus for ferries sailing the Inside Passage to and from Prince Rupert .
The ferry is the main reason most people drive this far north, but Port Hardy is also a good base from which to explore the wild and untamed northern tip of the island or fish for salmon in the sheltered waters of “King Coho Country.”
As you enter the Port Hardy area, take the scenic route to town via Hardy Bay Road. You’ll pass several original chainsaw woodcarvings and skirt the edge of peaceful Hardy Bay before entering downtown via Market Street.
One of the most enjoyable things to do in town is to stroll along the seawall to Tsulquate Park, where you can appreciate native carvings and do some beachcombing if the tide is out. Many bald eagles reside around the bay, and if you’re lucky you’ll see them swooping about in the neighborhood.
At Quatse Salmon Stewardship Centre (Byng Rd., 250/949-9022, daily 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. May–Sept., adult $5, child $2), the fancy name for a fish hatchery, you can wander through a gallery realistically depicting typical salmon river habitat and observe incubation and rearing facilities for pink, chum, and coho salmon, as well as steelhead.
In a town of boring, overpriced motel rooms,
Bear Cove Cottages (6715 Bear Cove Hwy., 250/949-7939 or 877/949-7939, www.bearcovecottages.ca , mid-Apr.–mid-Oct., $160 s or d) stands out—but as there are only eight of them, you’ll need to reserve well in advance. Located right near the ferry terminal, 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) out of town, they sit in a neat row high above the ocean but with stunning water views. Each modern unit comes with a compact but well-designed kitchen, fireplace, a bathroom with jetted tub, and private deck.
South of downtown, two hotels overlook Port Hardy’s busy harbor from the marina. The Quarterdeck Inn (6555 Hardy Bay Rd., 250/902-0455 or 877/902-0459, www.quarterdeckresort.net , $125–150 s or d) offers harbor views from each of its 40 smallish rooms. Facilities include a fitness room, sauna, and laundry. The adjacent Glen Lyon Inn (6435 Hardy Bay Rd., 250/949-7115 or 877/949-7115, www.glenlyoninn.com , $135–195 s or d) has older rooms in an original wing and larger and much nicer rooms in a newer addition.
Both of Port Hardy’s commercial campgrounds are south of town, halfway around Hardy Bay to the ferry terminal. The pick of the two is Quatse River Campground (8400 Byng Rd., 250/949-2395 or 866/949-2395, unserviced sites $20, hookups $25) that is operated in conjunction with the adjacent salmon hatchery. Sites are shaded by a lush old-growth forest and you can fish in the river right off the camping area—then move over to the communal fire pit and recall stories of the one that got away.
In the vicinity is Sunny Sanctuary Campground (8080 Goodspeed Rd., 250/949-8111 or 866/251-4556, $20–24), also on the Quatse River. Facilities include a nature trail, barbecue shelter, modern bathrooms, firewood and fire rings, and a small store.
Port Hardy doesn’t offer a large variety of dining options. Wander around town and you’ll soon see what there is. At diner-style Captain Hardy’s (7145 Market St., 250/949-7133, $7.50–11), the advertised breakfast specials are small and come on plastic plates, but cost only about $5. The rest of the day, it’s fish-and-chips and other simple seafood dishes.
Dine at the Oceanside Restaurant, south of downtown in the Glen Lyon Inn (Hardy Bay Rd., 250/949-3050, daily 6:30 a.m.–9 p.m., $9–18) for the opportunity to see bald eagles feeding right outside the window. The menu is fairly standard, but well priced, with many seafood choices.
Port Hardy Visitor Centre (7250 Market St., 250/949-7622, Mon.–Fri. 8:30 a.m.–6 p.m. and Sat.–Sun. 9 a.m.–5 p.m. mid-May–Aug., Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–5 p.m. the rest of the year) is right downtown.
Port Hardy Airport, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) south of town, is served by Pacific Coastal (800/663-2872) from Vancouver . It’s a spectacular flight, with stunning views of the Coast Mountains for passengers seated on the plane’s right side. Greyhound (250/949-6300) operates once-daily bus service up the length of the island, scheduled to correspond with ferry departures. The departure of the southbound bus links with ferry arrivals. The journey between Victoria  and Port Hardy takes a painful nine hours and costs around $120 one-way. The depot is the North Island Transportation Ltd. ticket office (7210 Market Street).
Most people arriving in Port Hardy do so with the intention of continuing north with BC Ferries (250/386-3431 or 888/223-3779, www.bcferries.com ) to Prince Rupert  and beyond. The ferry terminal is at Bear Cove, 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from downtown Port Hardy. The Northern Expedition departs Port Hardy at 7:30 a.m. every second day, arriving in Prince Rupert the same evening at 10:30 p.m. The service runs year-round, but departures are less frequent outside of summer. Peak one-way fare is adult $170, child 5–11 $85, vehicle $390. (These peak-season fares are discounted up to 40 percent outside of summer.) Cabins cost $85–115 for the day.