There is an ethereal beauty to Sombrio Beach. Perhaps it is the salt spray and ever-pounding surf, or the endless miles of cobble beach, the waterfalls and caves, the never-ending horizon that looks out to the wild Pacific. Or maybe it is the unique history of the place. Whatever it is (and I suspect it is a combination of all of these factions) it has become one of my favourite spots on the southwest coast of the Island.
Sombrio Beach is situated along remote Highway 14, part of the Pacific Marine Circle Route. Sixteen kilometers (10 miles) south of Port Renfrew, it retains much of the wild splendour that first attracted surfers and a community of squatters to it in the 1960s.
The surfers continue to come to the beach; the squatters, including one family that raised 10 children there, were kicked off the beach in 1997 when the provincial government moved in to create park space. Several of them continue to live in the Port Renfrew area and often visit Sombrio, to surf and to reminisce.
Getting to Sombrio takes a little perseverance. The access road off paved Highway 14 is 2.8 kilometres (1.75 miles) of totally unmaintained, pothole-filled gravel disaster owned by a logging company. Once you get past that however there is plenty of good parking and a wide, easily traversed gravel trail down to the beach. You can take one of two directions, each half a kilometer (1/3 mile) to the beach.
We chose the left fork in hopes of seeing some of the waterfalls along the beach. There is an exceptionally lovely one located back off the beach, a First Nations sacred site that, unfortunately, has been defaced and in the not-too-distant future may have access blocked because of the disrespectful graffiti that now adorns the moss-covered surroundings. There are also a couple of other waterfalls well over a mile along the beach, but the tides were working against us and we were unable to access them on this trip.
We had a long discussion with the park ranger, who pointed out a very rocky outcrop with caves hidden in it. Exploration of that area certainly brings home the power of the sea and of nature – sheer cliffs with huge trees hanging off them loomed over us as we clambered around.
But for me, the stunning cobble beach was what captured my heart. Every step brought a profusion of photo opportunities – the stones along our pathway came in all shapes, sizes, colours and textures. The power of the ocean and an eternity of wind and weather were revealed in every step. (The rocks made for some tough walking, but it was well worth it).
We lingered for a long while during our visit, reveling in the wild, sweeping vistas, the untamed and ever-changing surf and the timeless mysteries of the natural world. We were mesmerized for so long, in fact, that we didn’t leave ourselves enough time to take the right fork of the trail to explore the second area set aside for wilderness camping. But that’s just fine with me – there is always next time, and my heart tells me that there will, indeed, be a next time.
If you can’t get to Sombrio Beach, I highly recommend Manly Media’s one-hour documentary ‘Sombrio’, available for rent through Vimeo or for purchase. It is an excellent piece chronicling the beauty of the place and the history of the squatter community.
The best way to find Sombrio Beach is to keep your eyes peeled for the directional signs on Highway 14.
GPS co-ordinates are (roughly):
Lat. 48.479236 Long. -124.272294
N 48 28.754 W 124 16.338