I love to travel the world but now that I’m retired and on a budget, I realize that I can’t travel overseas every time I get the urge, which is pretty much every week. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be on this side of the retirement fence. But when it comes to summer, there’s nothing like British Columbia and Vancouver Island (although I could be biased!).
I recently heard that in Travel & Leisure World’s “Best of” survey, readers ranked Vancouver Island as Nbr 10 out of the 30 best islands in the world! People come from all over the world to visit Vancouver Island, so why do I feel that I have to travel halfway around the other side of the world for an interesting vacation? I decided to give local travel a chance. Staycation is not a four letter word.
There really are a lot of fantastic places to go on Vancouver Island, so we made a list of our top “must see” locations and put an itinerary together since summer has a way of ending before you know it. They include kayaking the wild West Coast of Long Beach and Clayoquot Sound, as well as the calm and peaceful Gulf Islands, cycling the 55 km Galloping Goose Trail from end to end, and Alpine hiking on Mount Washington – just to name a few.
We decided to start with a cycle/camping tour on Salt Spring Island. Of the major southern Gulf Islands; including Gabriola, Galiano, Mayne, Saturna and The Penders, each offer something unique. Salt Spring Island is the largest and busiest of all the Gulf Islands (pop 10,500 in 180 square kilometres) with a busy and vibrant community – we thought we’d cycle the other quieter Gulf Islands (although no less interesting), in the fall.
Besides its amazing natural beauty benefiting from both rain forest and pastoral land, Salt Spring has 130 kms of shoreline with tons of beach access for swimming, kayaking and other ocean activities. Salt Spring is also a very artsy community. In fact, Coastal Living Magazine ranked Salt Spring Island as one of the Top 10 artist colonies in North America.
Of the three small communities on the island; Ganges, Fulford Harbour and Vesuvius, Ganges is the largest with loads of quaint shops, a vibrant farmers market, great bakeries, countless cafes and restaurants of all sorts; and a talented local music scene; a perfect place to spend some relaxation time.
We decided on a 3 day/4 night cycle/camping trip. We parked our car in Crofton on Vancouver Island, loaded up our bicycles with our camping gear and took the ferry to Vesuvius Bay which conveniently sailed about once an hour.
From Vesuvius, it was only about a 6 kilometre cycle to Ganges. It was a bit hilly with very narrow shoulders and lots of cars, but a pretty ride nevertheless. We stayed at the Mowhinna Creek Campground which was about a mile south of Ganges and straight up a steep hill, but well worth it because the campsite was private, roomy and the facilities were nice and clean (an absolute must for me).
The first day, we went took a 3 hour kayaking tour with Island Escapades from Ganges Harbour to Chocolate Beach on Third Sister Island. The waters around the Gulf Islands are home to Eagles, Blue Heron and a multitude of sea birds, River Otter, Seals, Sea lions and sometimes even Orcas so you never know what you might see on your tour. Our tour was made up of 2 guides plus 8 people from various areas in Canada and the US. We meandered past a few islets where we explored numerous intertidal areas before we landed on the beautiful white shell beach called Chocolate Beach. This beach got its name from the Chocolate Lilly that grows here in the spring. It was a perfect place to enjoy refreshments while soaking up the sun and to do a little shoreline exploring; check out the outhouse !
The next day we explored several bakeries, the local farmers market, intriguing gift shops, eclectic galleries, interesting bookstores and many unique cafes. We enjoyed a picnic in the town centre park and took time out for some people watching. While visiting the tourist information centre in Ganges, we learned about the popular Salt Spring Studio Tour and picked up our free self-guided tour for our third day.
Salt Spring is quite hilly, so you should be in pretty good shape before you try cycling or it could be slow going. We decided to do the southern part of the studio tour which took us on a loop starting at Beddis Road heading toward Fulford Harbour and Ruckle Provincial Park then back over the Fulford-Ganges Road back toward Ganges because the hills seemed a bit more manageable that way (total distance round trip was only about 26 kms).
The entire tour takes you to over 30 home studios of potters, weavers, sculptors, painters, gardeners, photographers, and more! We didn’t get a chance to see every studio since we only cycled the southern end of the island, but it’s a good excuse to come back…maybe for Christmas presents!
We picked up some wonderful locally made artisan cheeses from Moon Struck Organic Cheese and Salt Spring Island Cheese to have with our locally made bread and had a picnic overlooking Fulford Harbour. We continued our tour along Fulford-Ganges Road where we stopped by Garry Oaks Winery and Salt Spring Island Vineyards. Here we enjoyed a refreshing glass of sparkling wine overlooking the beautiful vineyards and Salt Spring scenery.
We spent our last evening on the beach in Vesuvius Bay watching the sunset with a delicious plate of locally caught halibut and chips from the Seaside Restaurant beside the ferry terminal.
We left feeling like there was still tons more to do on Salt Spring… a good reason to go back!
My top 5 things to do on Salt Spring Island:
- Explore the Salt Spring Island shoreline by kayak.
- Discover the creative side of Salt Spring; a truly unique experience
- Taking a wine tour in a beautiful setting is a great way to experience Salt Spring
- Get with the pace of Salt Spring Island life! Enjoy a beach walk, relax, meditate or just watch the world go by – enjoy the Beaches
- Watch a breath-taking sunset from the beach at Vesuvius Bay – bring a picnic, have a bbq or buy fresh local halibut and chips from the Seaside restaurant near the beach.
For more great photos, check out this photo gallery.