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Island time on The Southern Gulf Islands

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The Southern Gulf Islands – British Columbia’s best backyards are back in business. How about a visit to Salt Spring, Pender or Galiano Islands – or maybe all three.

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I have great memories of past visits to these islands but this time everything was better, mostly because I had been cooped up for so long.

Galiano Island

We drove to Montague Park and strolled the white clamshell beach and the shell middens are evidence that Indigenous settlements were here thousands of years ago. For the best views, go southward to the bluffs – you can drive to the top of the high rock cliffs and see Mayne Island just across Active Pass.

A white shell beach at Montague Park, Galiano.
A white shell beach at Montague Park, Galiano. Photo by Jane Mundy

With time to spare before our guided-kayaking tour we poked around the Montague Marina gift shop and bought a few books about the island.

After a dockside lesson with Galiano Kayaks our group of six paddled close to the shoreline, past prickly pear cactus and other succulents sprouting from incredible rock formations made even more fascinating with Ben Miltner, our kayaking instructor’s geology commentary.

When the wind picked up we tucked into a bay on Parker Island.

Kayaking connects people; it brings them together but at a distance.  “Unless you’re in a kayak for two, which can lead to divorce,” chuckled Miltner.

Kayaking instructor,Ben Miltner of Galiano Kayaks.
Kayaking instructor,Ben Miltner of Galiano Kayaks. Photo by Jane Mundy

We checked into the Galiano Inn within minutes we were perusing Atrevida’s dinner menu. I get excited to see local and foraged items and the nettle soup with poached duck egg didn’t disappoint. (Nettles aren’t available until spring but they are involved with the Gleaning Project, partnering with residents to pick excess fruit and veggies.)

Despite COVID protocol that moved Bodega Ridge from indoor dining to counter service at Nimma Nimma Restaurant, an outdoor shipping container, pre-ordered “heat and eat” meals prepared by chef Elmark Andres and delivered to your log cabin—with a hefty stack of wood by the fireplace– are outstanding.

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Our “Rise and Shine” kit, complete with fresh squeezed orange juice, sourdough and delicious waffles with chocolate-lavender sauce was enough to tide us over until dinner.

Produce comes from their kitchen garden and local farms, and fresh seafood from Tofino. I’ll come back to this island for Chef Elmark’s cuisine alone.

If you’re a city dweller Bodega’s rustic cabins surrounded by swaths of green space are heaven. “Green Acres is the place to be, farm living is the life for me…” we belted out at the top of our lungs and nobody heard us.

Bodega Ridge on Galiano has seven self-contained log cabins, all with three bedrooms, living room, full kitchen and bath.
Bodega Ridge on Galiano has seven self-contained log cabins, all with three bedrooms, living room, full kitchen and bath. Photo by Jane Mundy

Lovely to see a row of canned garlic scapes in the Sturdies Bay Bakery window. Judging by people milling about sipping lattes with their croissants and humungous cinnamon buns it’s a local hotspot.

Fueled with sugar and caffeine we drove Porlier Pass Road to Marcia DeVicque Glassworks which attracted us like crows to shiny things.

She’s a dynamo and a wealth of information about the island, glass, and gardens… “I live in paradise, I do what I want to do and I meet folks from all over the world,” she says.

And like kids on an Easter egg hunt we discovered Marcia’s glasswork in hidden havens throughout her wondrous woodland garden.

At Sturdies Bay ferry terminal Cara greeted us from her booth with a puzzled look when we asked if this was the lineup for Pender Island (we were the only vehicle). “Pender?” she asked and frowned like we were nuts. It threw us for a loop before she burst out laughing. Island dwellers are different.

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Pender Island

The easiest to reach with BC Ferries, Pender Island boasts coastal forests, secluded beaches with 40 public ocean access points, 60 forest trails to explore (including a hike up 244-metre Mount Norman, “Norm” to the locals) and a lot of peace and quiet.

One of many lookouts near Pender Harbour.
One of many lookouts near Pender Harbour. Photo by Jane Mundy

We drove the main road, flanked by gnarly arbutus trees, to the museum at Roseland and an orchard with a sign that reads: Picking fruit and nuts from orchards welcome. Treat trees gently and with respect… limit of 6 pieces per fruit type pick only apples, pears, cherries, plums, quince and nuts.

Driving around we drooled over manicured farms, people take pride in their property. Tiny stores and farm standsselling everything local, from eggs and veggies to candles and creams, run by the honor system. Carol put $20 in the money box and bought a t-shirt and paw wax for the dog.

Poets Cove, with its upscale cottages and private hot tub, is paradise for rural dwellers.

A cottage at Poets Cove Resort
A cottage at Poets Cove Resort

“I feel fancy,” said my friend Carol as she tossed her French cashmere scarf over her shoulder and swanned over to Syrens Bistro & Lounge.

“Do you think they’re extra happy to see tourists again? People are so friendly and they’re going out of their way to make us happy,” said Carol as we tucked into Poke Nachos (wonton chips and wasabi) and a few craft brewskies.

Salt Spring Island

If you’re not quite ready for prime time, a dreamy glamping experience awaits on Salt Spring Island. Surrounded by forest is a 16’ wide Bell tent, raised off the ground by a platform, with a queen bed and day bed, and I haven’t slept this well since I was a teenager. The outdoor kitchen has hot water and all you need to cook with – grab groceries at Ganges Thrifty’s or the Country Grocer.

Hiking in Duck Creek Park.ccccccrjeenivbifvcjdthvnlncehjijubflvifethkv
Hiking in Duck Creek Park.ccccccrjeenivbifvcjdthvnlncehjijubflvifethkv Photo by Salt Spring Tourism

You can runaround starkers and dive into your private pond with sweet, fresh water. Further along the platform is a composting toilet, sauna and gorgeous outdoor shower with hot water on demand. A short walk takes you to forested Duck Creek Park.

If you don’t want to drive, grab the bus to “downtown” at the ferry terminal and transfer to the Vesuvias bus route. Airbnb “Superhost” Aija Steel will pick you up. Like everyone we met on this trip, she goes “above and beyond” for guests.

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