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    by ibobi Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 20, 17 at 01:24 PM
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Sidney, Pender, Galiano, Saturna - best route?

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We are coming from Vancouver and plan to take the ferry (with a car) around the gulf islands. I know about traveling west to east (east being free), but am not sure how to accomplish this as ferry travel through there looks north/south rather than east/west. Are there any bridges or must travel be all by ferry? Best island for "base camp" with day trips on foot ferry to other islands? We have only been to Salt Spring Island, loved it, and want to explore the other islands.

We were actually hoping to begin at the southern tip of Whidbey and drive north to depart from Anacortes. This is all new to me, so any help is SO appreciated!

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    My first recommendation is to study the BC Ferries website, as this is how you're going to access the Gulf Islands.

    Study its ferry schedule and pricing, and the map. This will influence your itinerary. I'm afraid the ferries aren't really set up so you can visit multiple islands per day - that's not realistic, unless you have your own boat.

    Note that there are no bridges to the Gulf Islands - you can only take ferries or fly by seaplane.

    The only ferry terminal from Vancouver to the Gulf Islands leaves from Tsawwassen, a 15 minute drive from the Peace Arch border crossing, approximately a 45 minute drive south from downtown Vancouver.

    Anacortes has a ferry terminal, but it goes to Sidney on Vancouver Island, as well as the San Juan Islands. None of these places will take you to the Gulf Islands.

    Sidney is a town on Vancouver Island - it is not a Gulf Island. You can access Sidney from a Washington State ferry from Anacortes, but there are no ferries from Sidney to the Gulf Islands. To get to the Gulf Islands from Sidney, you'd have to drive a few minutes north to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal.

    Also, as far as I'm aware, there are no free ferries to/from the Gulf Islands. If you want to get off the islands, you have to pay coming and going, east or west. For some ferries, you'll want to make reservations to guarantee a spot as the ferry schedules are very limited, often with only 2 or 3 ferries per day. As a result, the islands aren't really set up so you can "base camp" at one to explore the others, again, mostly because of the limited ferry schedule. And the islands are too big/too spread out to get around on foot - you'd want some sort of mode of transport, ideally a car. Because the islands are so hilly, bikes are often not the answer unless you're a serious cyclist - the type who cycles through mountain ranges and thinks nothing of it.

    My personal favourite Gulf Island is Galiano, mostly because of all the public parks and waterfront access, in places like Montague Harbour Provincial Park, the view from the Bluffs, as well as the artsy side to life there. There are some good restaurants and cafes too. It just feels a lot more wild than Salt Spring, but it's smaller so easier to explore if you've got only a few days.

    I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't been to Saturna Island yet, but it's the least populated of the Gulf Islands. I've only spent one long weekend on Pender (it's split between North Pender and South Pender, the two connected by a bridge). It felt like a place people retire to - lots and lots of homes. Shopping plazas and scenic waterfront pubs - the occasional rocky beach.

    Anyhow... you said it's all new to you and any help's appreciated. Hope this points you in the right direction!

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    Thank you Robyn! Yes, it's all new to me. I assumed the ferries run like the San Juans which are just south (I.e. you pay on the westbound travel, not the eastbound and interisland ferries are free to walk-on passengers). The Gulf Islands have no interisland ferries?!

    I have heard others rave about Galiano, too. Thanks so much :)

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    Hi cheezz,

    There are some BC Ferries routes (ie: the ferries between Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast, and the ferries between the Lower Sunshine Coast and the Upper Sunshine Coast) that have that system, where you pay one way, but you don't pay coming back. Unfortunately the Gulf Islands aren't one of those routes.

    There are certainly inter-island ferries, but usually they're a part of a longer route (ie: There's a ferry that goes from Vancouver, stops at Galiano, then stops at Mayne, then stops at Pender, etc.) Again, it's just a matter of looking up the BC Ferries Gulf Islands schedules (like really, digging in there) and making an itinerary that works with those ferry schedules. Those will be the anchors (no pun intended!) for how you get around.

    If you're set on the Gulf Islands, don't bother with the Washington state ferry system. When you get to Anacortes, head back to I-5 and drive north to the Peace Arch border crossing, and then once you get through, you're a 20 minute drive from the BC Ferries terminal in Tsawwassen. The trick, however, is that the border's a wild card.

    An aside, but the nice thing about Galiano is that it's the first island you stop at from Tsawwassen. It's only a 40 minute ferry ride. However, the last time I visited Galiano (just last month), there were only two ferries: 8:30am and 8pm. We made a reservation too to guarantee our spot, which meant we had to be there at the latest 30 minutes before. Needless to say, it was an early morning.

    Once on Galiano, you could then take a ferry over to Mayne Island the next day, and then take the ferry over to Pender the following day. Again, it depends on the ferry schedule. Depending on what island you want to go to next determines what ferry you go on - there might be a few hops on other islands first before you arrive at your final destination.

    Another idea is to simply rent boats from the boat rental shop on Galiano's Montague Harbour and take it over to Salt Spring Island's Ganges. Ganges is really the only Gulf Island town - all the other Gulf Islands have everything spread out over the island, so it's not really as central. But with a good marine map, you could jet around to the different harbours. The owners of the boat shop can recommend the best places to explore.

    Again, hope this helps! :)

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    Reservations and notes all set! We are bypassing Whidbey Island and going straight from Tsawwassen to Saturna, Pender, Galiano, Vancouver Island. This trip is end of June so I will be sure and report back.
    Thank you for your help Robyn :)

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    Here is our agenda for the Gulf Islands. If anyone has any critiques or suggestions, let me know! I know we will not be able to do half of these things, but we are going to try :)


    Day 1:
    Tsawassen ferry to Saturna Island.
    Lunch and sightseeing on Saturna.

    To do on Saturna Island:
    Fog Alarm Building at East Point, recognized as Canada’s premier land-based whale- watching site.

    Scan the bulletin boards for island goings-on.

    the Free Store a must. It's an exchange/recycling center, open Wed & Sat 10:00am-noon, on Central Rd

    Saturna Island Vineyard, tastings & bistro open 11-6pm, 8 Quarry Rd,

    Mt Warburton Pike - drive to top for great view

    East Point (very southern tip) for whale watching

    Narvaez Bay trails - easy hikes on south island

    Not good for biking. Accessible only by ferry or float plane.

    Saturna Café or Lighthouse Pub. Evenings, relax on the pub’s patio to take in one of the best sunsets in the Gulf Islands.

    Ferry to Pender Island.

    Day 1,2:
    Pender Island, 1 night
    Corbett House Country Inn B&B

    To do on Pender Island –
    Driftwood Centre (North) and 5 min away is Hope Bay stores.

    Pender Farmers Market, Saturday morning @ the Community Hall on north Pender, 4418 Bedwell Harbour Rd, 9:30am-1pm

    Just North of Hope Bay is Southridge Farms Organic Foods, a grocery store featuring fresh Paninis and Coffee.

    Medicine Beach has stores and a bakery that hand-makes it's bread - where north and south Pender meet.

    Magic Lake, pretty lake and park, bird watching

    Narrow, windy roads difficult for cycling.

    Hiking trail to Mt. Norman - The trail from Ainslie Point to Mount Norman on South Pender Island wanders through some pretty forested areas before branching into the Mount Norman, Beaumont Park fork. Some gorgeous old arbutus trees are mixed in with fir trees along the trail. While not overly difficult the climb to the peak is good exercise.

    Brooks Point Park, southernmost end of south Pender - Orcas, seals and river otters are often seen offshore

    Pender Chamber of Commerce across from Tru Value Foods @ Driftwood Centre, 4605 Bedwell Harbour Rd

    Pender Island Museum, Sun 1-4pm, NOTE: doesn't look at all interesting

    Printable map of Pender:

    Pender interactive photos:

    Day 2,3,4,5:
    Ferry from Pender to Galiano Island, 3 nights
    Rocky Ridge B&B Galiano

    To do on Galiano Island –

    Galiano Island has one gas station, grocery stores, a pub, no bank, and a few stores, including some interesting craft galleries and craft shops, all clustered at the southern end of the island. Many of the island's amenities are found near the ferry terminal at Sturdies Bay, but little treasure spots are dotted throughout the island.

    Dionisio Point Provincial Park - at the northeastern tip of Galiano Island. Much of this park has a weathered-limestone shoreline, characteristic of both Galiano and Gabriola Islands. Dionisio offers spectacular mature forests, rocky points, sandy beaches and a tidal lagoon, explore the sandstone caves and spectacular views from the 141-acre park.

    Old wooden bakery boat (converted from a ferry) anchored out in the marina. We kayaked to it (you can rent kayaks at the marina). The cinnamon buns are to die for and the bread and pies are out of this world.

    Hummingbird Pub - Take the old pub bus. The bus picks up people at the park and marina. Depending on the driver, it can be a white knuckle experience. On the way, the driver plays zippy music, but no one signs along. On the way home, everyone sings along.

    Bellhouse Provincial Park - southern end, watch whales-boats-picnic? Named in honour of the first innkeepers on the island. Besides the small beach here, the park's main attractions are the wildly shaped limestone formations on the shoreline of Active Pass and the parade of large ferry boats that squeeze through the waterway that separates Galiano and Mayne Islands. This is a dream location for photographers. Bellhouse is only a short walk north from the ferry dock at Sturdies Bay and is well marked. Pause here to rest and picnic before heading uphill to Bluffs Park, another good picnic location at the south end of Galiano.

    Bluffs Park, southern end, drive to top or easy hike, picnic

    Pebble Beach Reserve - Walk through the rainforest to Cable Bay - beautiful rock formations.

    Mount Galiano - difficult 1 hr hike to top (steady elevated climb), see for miles and miles - enjoy awe-inspiring views of the Coast Mountain Range, Vancouver Island, the Gulf and San Juan Islands, and Mount Baker and the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.

    Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park, one of the largest provincial parks on any of the islands. Galiano Island has the most dedicated park land of all the Southern Gulf Islands. There are seven beautiful parks, and miles of old logging trails and country lanes. on the west side of Galiano Island. The 89-hectare park is one of the Gulf Islands' most popular parks, lying 5 miles (8 km) north of the BC Ferries dock at Sturdies Bay. Some of the walk-in sites are located in an ultra picturesque wooded setting on a small ridge above the harbour. Shell beaches and warm summer swimming are particularly attractive to families, and hikers can hike the trails at Gray Peninsula.

    Galiano Travel Centre, 2635 Sturdies Bay

    Bodega Ridge Nature Preserve - with its nesting bald eagles and peregrine falcons, and a separate 5-mile (8-km) section along the shore. Take the Bodego Ridge Walk, toward north end, flat 1-1/2 hr hike.

    Serenity by the Sea Retreat, 1-1/2 hr core relaxation for $75; 225 Serenity Lane off of Porlier Pass Rd, middle of island

    Madrona del Mar Spa @ the Galiano Inn, 134 Madrona Dr, open 10-6pm daily,

    Galiano Inn for wood-fired pizza or dinner, 134 Madrona Dr,

    Cable Bay Organic Farm @ Retreat Cove - open when flags are flying, 13050 Porlier Pass, south side of island bet Bodega Ridge Park and Montague Harbor - pick up stuff for picnic

    Harbor Grill, just south of Montague Park, breakfast-lunch-snacks- ice cream, casual

    Galiano Grand Central Emporium, breakfasts look yum, 8am-2:30pm daily, 2740 Sturdies Bay Rd (old fashioned diner)

    Day 5,6,7:
    Ferry from Galiano to Vancouver Island
    Amazing Dome - east shore other side of Duncan on Vancouver Island, 2 nights

    To do on Vancouver Island –

    Old School House Arts Centre, Artisan Market - Fri 3-8pm
    Farmers Market, 8:30-12 Saturday

    Parksville Visitor Centre is conveniently located just off Highway 19A (Exit #46), between the Craig Heritage Park Museum and Rotary Peace Park.

    Summer by the Sea Street Market being held every Tuesday night from mid June to the end of August, from 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm. Over 140 exceptional artisans offer everything from wrought iron work, rock candles to wooden toys.

    Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park's high tide offers the warmest ocean swimming opportunities in Canada.

    Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park will thrill you! Though there are two small caves you can explore on your own, a guided tour through part of the large chambers will be more enlightening and a great introductory tour is available, as well as more adventurous ones.

    Holland Creek trails; Trolley to downtown

    Farmers Market, Thurs 2-7pm, 2720 Mill Bay Rd

    ArtBeat- Friday, June 28, 5-9pm,
    A weekly art walk and street party, featuring local artists and a sparkling line-up of music, entertainment and demonstrations.

    Farmers Market, Wed, 5-8:30pm, Waterwheel Park

    Chemainus Theatre Festival, 9737 Chemainus Rd,
    June - Singin' in the Rain, show times 2&7:30pm on 26th/27th; 8pm on 28th; 2&8pm on 29th; 2 tickets = $54.60

    Wineries map:

    Drop by the Duncan-Cowichan Visitor Centre for more information about food and wine, farmers markets, and specialty shops in the area

    Duncan Farmers Market, June 29, 9-2pm @ City Square
    With our "you make it, you bake it, you grow it, you sell it" philosophy, you will find a wide variety of local products to fullfill your "100 mile diet" needs year round! Every Saturday morning, rain or shine, come for the freshest local fruits and vegetables, baking, jams & jellies, honey, crafts, clothing, pet treats, and more!

    Hilary's Cheese & Deli (numerous runny and blue varieties made in Hilary Abbot's cheese factory:
    1282 Cherry Point Road, Cowichan Bay, BC.

    True Grain Bakery (organic bread baked daily on the premises along with cookies and pastries);

    Udder Guys homemade ice cream shop (try the zesty ginger and red wine grape varieties)

    Providence Farm (1843 Tzouhalem Rd), a sprawling therapeutic community farm with a history dating back to 1864; its farm store sells veggies, herbs, and flowers grown on site. Don't miss this remarkable place

    The Old Farm Market (Trans-Canada Highway east of town) and the Community Farm Market (at the back of the downtown Duncan Garage) also offer the freshest local produce. So do such farmgates as Cali Farm Organic Produce (2328 Koksilah Rd) and Valhalla Farm Herbs (3693 Gibbins Rd).

    Merridale Estate Cidery, (800) 998-9908 or (250) 920-9453, www. largest cider apple orchard in BC dedicated to cider production.

    Averill Creek Vineyard, 11-5 daily,

    Zanatta winery, 5039 Marshall Rd, open 12-4 Fri-Sun (also has their own restaurant)

    Little Qualicum Cheeseworks & MooBerry Winery:
    Open daily 9-5

    NANAIMO (Departure Bay)
    farmers market Fri morning 10-2pm @ Pioneer Waterfront Plaza on Front St in downtown Nanaimo beside the bastion

    MacMillan Provincial Park - contains Cathedral Grove (old forest)
    West of Qualicum Beach on Hwy 4 which runs thru the park

    Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park (easy hike to falls)

    Englishman River Falls Provincial Park (easy hike to 2 stunning falls)

    15 min west of Parksville on the way to Little Qualicum Falls

    Old Country Market - goats on the roof
    Very fresh produce, extensive deli dept,

    Coombs Emporium, on Alberni Hwy, next door to the Old Country Market
    Giant stone sculptures; arts & crafts shops

    Butterfly World, 10-4 daily, about $11??
    From Qualicum, take Memorial Hwy south, past 19 fwy, left ay Hwy 4a
    Also turtle pond, reptiles, water gardens and indoor tropical plants garden. hummingbird patio with drinks and snacks.
    Tripadvisor gives it 2.5 stars

    World Parrot Refuge, 2116 Alberni Hwy
    10-4 daily, $14

    Cobble Hill is a creative community for painters, sculptors, and potters.

    Kinsol Trestle - beautiful old wooden railway trestle; the largest wooden trestle in Canada and one of the highest in the world, can now be crossed on foot.

    Maple Mountain Centennial Park has trails for all levels.

    Mount Tzuhalem has hiking and biking trails for all ages and levels of ability, including wonderful wildflowers and spectacular views (south of Maple Bay)

    Day trip to Thetis Island for Howling Wolf Farm Market, 1/2 mile from ferry landing, small wooden store known for their pies and produce

    Day 7,8,9:
    Vancouver Island, Inn the Estuary 2 nights
    Inn the Estuary, Nanoose Bay

    Day trip To Gabriola Island

    To do on Gabriola Island:
    Perhaps the most amazing limestone formation on the Gulf Islands is located just south of the beach and picnic grounds at Gabriola Sands Provincial Park. This grassy, open, breezy location on Taylor and Pilot Bays is rather unique on the islands for its manicured ambience. It's an easy 1.2-mile (2-km) jaunt from the ferry dock at Descanso Bay to the park along Taylor Bay Road. Walk the beach at Taylor Bay to the limestone formations called the Malaspina Galleries, carved by surf and frost. An easier approach to them from the park is via Malaspina Drive, which leads east off Taylor Bay Road. A trail leads from the drive's end to Malaspina Point and the Galleries. Exploration of the seaside formations is due to the deteriorating stability of the overhanging formations and concerns for public safety. At low tide, visitors can still stand on the foreshore at one end and look into the cavern, but the best way to view the Malaspina Galleries is by kayak.
    Many petroglyphs.
    Calm waters to the southwest of the Gabriola provide an excellent area for kayaking.

    Gabriola Island Winery, 575 Balsam St

    Day 9:
    Ferry from Nanaimo (Departure Bay) to Horseshoe Bay

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    Glad I could help! :) Your itinerary looks ambitious, and having never done before, can't really comment - but have fun with it!

    For Galiano, put Montague Harbour Provincial Park at the top of your itinerary - it'll be the most scenic beach out of all the Gulf Islands you visit. Be sure to go for the perimeter walk around the park - doesn't take long.

    Also, La Berengerie is a must for dinner. Make reservations - there aren't many tables, but it's possibly the best dining experience on the island and a worthy experience:

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    Also, the drive up the Bluffs provides an incredible view, and it's not too far away from Montague Harbour.

    Dionisio will be the most challenging to get to, as you can't drive to get there - you can drive to a trail head and walk in, but it's a fairly long walk down an abandoned road. Here's a nice little overview to give you taste:

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    While you are at Goats on the Roof, eat at Cuckoo's restaurant...awesome pizza ...and the outside patio feels like Italy! Black Goose Pub by Rathtrevor Park is fun, and there is a Bistro in the Quality Inn on the main drag in Parksville that has surprisingly good food, and a wonderful waterfront view. Just carry on to the Cathedral forest from Coombs...not too far from there.
    When are you coming? You'll love it!

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    The restaurant is located within the B&B. The website looks like it hasn't been updated in eons (which is actually pretty apt for Galiano Island - everyone is on island time and the online world is merely an afterthought):

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    To provide more details, the owner of the B&B, Huguette, is from France and has been living on Galiano for a long time now. She runs a casual bistro every evening where she makes 3 items: something meat, something fish, something vegetarian. It changes every evening, there is no real printed menu that will show up on the website. I remember having an amazing Moroccan-inspired lamb dish and a homemade tomato soup as a starter, and it exceeded my expectations. Galiano isn't a culinary hotspot by any means, but this place was fantastic. Encapsulated the spirit of Galiano in many ways.

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    Hi! Here is some insider info that seems to be missing from the already collected notes. You CAN in fact go to the Gulf Islands from Vancouver Island. Swartz Bay sailings are more abundant than those from Tsawwassen however they do not take reservations. When traveling from Tsawwassen to the Gulf Islands, as stated in an earlier post, a reservation is a must otherwise you will travel standby and most likely be disappointed. AND BE ON TIME FOR YOUR RESERVATION - when they say "to claim your reservation arrive 40 minutes ahead of sailing time" they mean every letter of the "rule". As a 'part-timer" and property owner on Mayne Island, this is sage advice. Also, be prepared for the ferries to run late - it is a notorious (sad) fact and happens more often than not. I am curious why you chose to skip Mayne Island? Mayne Island has lots to offer in terms of beaches, hike up Mount Park, the Lighthouse, galleries, farmers market (Saturdays starting May long w/end), restaurants and wonderful B&Bs/cabins, kayak rentals etc. Perhaps another trip? :) Your itinerary is ambitious to be sure, but that's what is fun about a vacation - you can choose what you want to do as you go - no timetable or schedule to keep. Well, that is, unless you need to connect with a ferry. ;) You will love Vancouver Island AND the Southern Gulf Islands...of course, I am biased. Enjoy your trip.

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    Hi JoAnne,

    We may very well do Mayne Island too! We are going to island hop as much as time allows. I think my daughter has been to Mayne - or is going later this year - which is why we didn't make it a priority.

    We already have our ferry reservations, and I remember from our Salt Spring trip that it's a necessity and yes, to be on time! We discovered (by a LOT of digging) that we can get a 'private cabin' for an extra $15 on the Tsawwassen to Saturna outbound trip. No explanation except that each has room to lounge and it's own bathroom. We sprung for it just to see what it's all about :)

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    First off, thank you ALL for your invaluable help!! We had the best vacation ever and fell in love with the Gulf Islands!! We tried to do more, but managed five. We really wanted to see Lasqueti, but the times didnt work out. We also did not get to Thetis or Protection Islands, but .... next time!

    Here is our trip in pictures. I would be glad to try and answer any questions.

    This is in the order of the Gulf Islands we visited...

    Saturna Island:
    Population 300; just under 12 sq miles

    Pender Island:
    population 2,500; 13 sq miles

    Galiano Island:
    Population 1,000

    Vancouver Island:

    Newcastle Island:
    4.6 miles around perimeter - no one lives on the island except park personnel as this entire island is a provincial park

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    Finally got my notes and pics together and spent the day writing out a report. 8 pages....I apologize beforehand!

    Gulf Islands
    Saturna Island > Pender Island > Galiano Island > Vancouver Island > Newcastle Island
    June 22-30, 2013

    Day 1:
    We left Vancouver at 8:35am on the Tsawwassen Ferry headed to Saturna Island, in our rental car ($101.85 for 2 people & car). To start our adventure, we splurged on a stateroom for an extra $15. BTW, it is almost impossible to find ANY info on ferry staterooms, but the larger ones have them. They are a smallish room with desk, lamp, sofa, coffee table, private bathroom, and porthole to view the passing scenery (with privacy curtain). The sofa turned out to be a good place to take a nap for the 3 hour, 20 minute trip. You can book the room ahead, or head for the pursor’s office onboard.

    The ferry makes one stop at Mayne Island where we switched ferries before continuing on (all but ONE of our trips involved a stop at Mayne Island).

    We disembarked at Saturna’s Lyall Harbor ( population 300 and is just under 12 square miles). We got in a little late and headed to the Free Stores, but it closes at noon and we just missed it. Looked really interesting from outside the fence, though. Next, we made a beeline for Saturna Island Winery for a tasting and light lunch. The owners there are new and trying very hard to get the kitchen going. This was the loveliest winery we visited.

    Fortified, we headed to East Point at the southern end of Saturna, which is renowned as a whale watching site. No orca sightings our entire trip, unfortunately. At East Point we had a beautiful walk down to the rocky beach and amazing limestone formations. We watched the seals and took lots of pictures.

    Scurrying back to the harbor, we caught our 4:15 ferry to Pender Island (population 2,500; 13 square miles), arriving at 5:30pm ($24.10 for 2 people and car). We had booked the Corbett House Inn B&B for one night – not usually done, but Eve & John had no other bookings that night so they graciously booked us.
    We arrived to Eve walking in from the garden with produce in hand and Lucy, their dachshund, barking her greeting. Lush, green, beautiful property with apple trees (which Gertrude the goat was pruning from the bottom up), 2 billy goats and 2 sheep. We settled into the room and Eve greeted us with wine while we strolled around the orchard and met Gertrude. Eve had kindly made us a reservation at the Café at Hope Bay where we had the most delicious meal: dill cream sauce with scallops and shrimp over linguine and an apricot glazed turkey with preserved lemon quinoa and pumpkin seeds with roasted veggies. We shared a salad to start which was dressed with strawberry mint basil dressing and hazelnuts. Wow – just fabulous – all the while facing the water and boats.

    After dinner we drove around and saw at least a dozen deer. We saw Magic Lake (pretty) then headed to Stanley Point to watch the sunset (which was at 9:20pm). The tide was in so we couldn’t walk on the beach, but we sat at the end of the steps and were treated to an amazing sky.

    Day 2:
    Comfy beds, and a good sleep after our first full day. Eve had prepared a lovely breakfast for us – fruit, omelets, English muffins, cinnamon pastry, sliced tomatoes. With that, we had to pack up and say goodbye as we wanted to see as much of Pender Island before catching the afternoon ferry.

    We arrived at the Mount Norman trailhead, donned our rain jackets (drizzling) and started up. I didn’t know it (good thing I didn’t), but this is a 16,404 foot climb – some of it pretty steep. That may seem like nothing to a hiker, but this 61+ year old city girl barely has stairs to climb. There are capillaries in my lungs that had never seen the light of day but, after many stops, pictures and gasping like a fish out of water, we arrived at the summit and were greeted with a stupendous view. Would I do it again? YES!! Coming down was easier, but hard on the knees and I took it a little too fast – aching knee the rest of the day. We headed back towards Poet’s Cove Resort, stopped at several beach access trails on the way. This was lovely as the trails would end at fantastic limestone formations, driftwood, rocks, shells and great views. We stopped at Poet’s Cove for lunch salads and sandwiches at their restaurant, Syrene’s. Good, filling lunch options.

    From there we went to Ainsley Point, Gowlland Point and Brook’s Point where we hiked the trails to the water’s edge. Gowlland had much more impressive rock formations.

    We hurried back to the harbor to catch the 3:30pm ferry to Galiano Island (population 1,000), stopping on the way for sustenance at Pender Island Bakery – apple pie! Very, very good pie which we took on the ferry. ($24.10 for 2 people & car). Arrived in Galiano at 4:30pm. Right off the ferry in Sturdies Bay we drove to the Madrona del Mar spa to make appointments for a little pampering.

    From there we went to Bellhouse Park (a short walk north from the ferry dock) and hiked down to the ocean. The wild limestone rock formations here were some of the most impressive of our trip – don’t miss these!

    We arrived at the Rocky Ridge B&B and met our hosts, Chuck & Judy Garland.
    We had the ocean blue room on the second floor, with en suite toilet and a shared shower. The other suite was unoccupied, so we didn’t have to share after all. The room had a private deck overlooking the ocean and use of the indoor sauna and outdoor hot tub. Binoculars on the ledge were a nice touch so we could watch the eagles and seals. Downstairs is a cozy room with tv and videos. Very welcoming, gracious hosts. We settled our luggage and headed to dinner. We were going to go to the recommended La Berengerie for dinner ($35 prix fix menu) but we called and didn’t care for the choices that evening. Our hosts mentioned that behind the restaurant is Café Boheme, although it is open air seating and it was drizzling (still). We decided to check it out anyway and are SO glad we did….it is open seating on a covered deck with cushions on patio chairs and cozy fireplace. They offer 4 options on the chalkboard and 1 dessert – all made by the same chef that is cooking for La Berengerie, from the same kitchen! We had the Thai green curry with saffron rice and Indian tali with dal, pappadum, roasted veggies. The dessert was caramel custard. All fresh, local ingredients and just fabulous!

    Day 3:
    Surprise, surprise I was able to move this morning! Chuck & Judy are quite a team in the kitchen preparing full breakfasts with Judy’s homemade yogurt, jam, bread and granola! Chuck makes a mean omelet, too.

    As we headed out to hike Dionisio Point, we saw an Eco Reserve on the map and stopped to investigate. This wasn’t mentioned in any of the online forums I saw, but turned out to be the most interesting hike of all. There are no signs for it, so we just found a place to pull off the road next to it and found a log bridge that began the trail. It is fairly flat, although at times the trail seemed to fade. It is a rain forest and some of the ferns and plants were almost as tall as me. We could see the ocean through the forest on our left so as not to get too lost. It was a 1-hour loop around.

    We then headed on to Dionisio Point Park. Again, no good signage and even our host, Chuck, was not able to give us a good starting point. It is further complicated in that Dionisio used to be an Indian reservation (although no one lives there anymore) and a man owns the road alongside the park and doesn’t want anyone on his road. This road (mostly too narrow for a vehicle) goes for about an hour’s walk toward the point of Dionisio. We walked quickly and quietly and never saw or heard anyone. It ends at the park gate to Dionisio Point where you have another 1 hour walk to the point – all flat. Apparently, the only way you are supposed to reach the point is by boat. We were told to go ahead and try the private road and if some guy doesn’t come out and yell at you, you’re good. On the way back to town, we stopped and explored the Pebble Beach Reserve for yet more fascinating limestone rocks and tidal pools.

    After 5 plus hours of walking we were beat and headed to the Hummingbird Pub for fish & chips and scallop pot. My fish & chips were very good and we had never seen scallops served in their shells before so it was interesting. The stock was too watery for my daughter’s taste, but the scallops were fresh. As mentioned in other posts, you can take the old pub bus which picks people up at Montague Harbor Park or from the marina (free) and takes you back again. If you are camping at Montague, you can get the bus at the marina, right off the ferry, eat at the pub then get the bus to the campground, all for free.

    Refreshed, we stopped at the local bookstore (well-stocked and fabulous, by the way!!), the grocery store, and around Montague marina before heading back to the B&B (and sauna, and hot tub).

    Day 4:
    After another lovely breakfast we headed out to climb Mount Galiano (a mere 1,033 feet). This was a steeper climb I think, with much huffing and puffing on my part. At the top, it was the most impressive view yet as you could see most of the islands from there. The moss covered everything on the trail, quite spectacular, and made it feel very Jurassic. The only prehistoric-looking things we saw, though, were the huge banana slugs. After the hike down, we drove a little ways and came across the Galiano Island Cemetery where many of the pioneers are buried. Lovely viewpoint and we saw a tiny island covered with seals sun-bathing.

    Next stop, Buy Local (as it is advertised) which is actually Cable Bay Farm. This is a small but interesting little farm where the owner’s daughter gave us a tour and was quite interesting to talk to. They had artichokes as tall as us, kale, potatoes, lettuces. A good place to stop for organic produce.

    Lunch was at Grand Central Emporium – great bread! We tried a couple times to eat at Galiano Inn (woodfired pizzas are supposed to be terrific) but they were never open when we stopped by.

    Time for our spa appointments as we headed back to Madrona del Mar Spa. I must say, if you want a good massage, Eric is fabulous. As for the package we bought….eh…. such a waste of money. It included 30 minutes (!!) in the sauna (which was barely room temp to begin and took half the time heating up), then 1 hour (!!!!!) in the float tank before the massage. I could barely stand 15 minutes and my daughter lasted 5. It was NOT relaxing as it feels as your nose, mouth and eyes are just barely out of the salty water. The earplugs don’t keep the water out and you keep floating around, bumping into the sides of the tank. We were both out, showered, and waiting half an hour for massages. So, don’t waste your money on the packages – just ask for Eric.

    Hungry, again, we got a picnic lunch from Max & Moritz which is a fixed food truck at the ferry landing. Indonesian-German, of all things! We both went for the Indonesian food and had a hard time not woofing it down, it was so good. We got the stir fried rice (veggies, chicken, peanut sauce), and the fried noodles with veggies. Do try this – you won’t be sorry!! We took our lunch to Bluffs Park for a quiet, peaceful meal and great view.

    Day 5:
    Farewell to Rocky Ridge B&B and Chuck & Judy as we packed up and headed to the ferry for Vancouver Island. Before the ferry we stopped at Pebble Beach Reserve to walk through the rain forest and view yet more crazy limestone formations and finally get an eagle-in-flight photo.

    Ferry from Galiano, Sturdies Bay, to Vancouver Island’s Swartz Bay at 11:55am (free for passengers & car traveling this direction), arriving 1:15 (with the inevitable stop at Mayne Island).

    Just a few minutes off the ferry we saw a sign for a lavender farm, from the highway. We quickly detoured off and pulled into the parking lot of Saltspring Lavender Farm. Before the engine was turned off, we were greeting by 4 barking, exhuberant sheep dogs (2 puppies) that made us laugh out loud with their friendliness. We met John, the farm keeper, and had a wonderful tour learning about all the varieties of lavender, his honey bees, raising sheep dogs, peacocks, sheep, miniature palomino horses, geese and chickens. We stocked up on lavender products and honey before continuing to lunch down the highway at The Roost (part of Highland House Farm) in North Saanich.
    Pizza and salad were fabulous, and the “free range” chickens under the table were entertaining. I bought my first butter tart and took it to go (too sweet for me, but good crust).

    We continued on to Sea Cider Winery for wine tasting, chatting with other travelers, and enjoyed the views before driving up to Brentwood and catching the 3:35pm ferry to Mill Bay, arriving 4:10pm. This cuts off the long driving time around the peninsula from Swartz Bay. Swartz Bay to Brentwood is a 20-minute drive. Ferry=$31 for 2 passengers +car.

    I must say, after the smaller islands, it was like re-entering city life going to Vancouver Island. I was already missing the lushness of the rain forests. From the ferry we drove to Merridale Estate Cidery <www.> where we stopped for lunch. They had quite the impressive chicken pot pie, loaded with chicken and veggies all surrounded by puff pastry. I had the famous Canadian local beef and fries which weren’t as wonderful. I was full, but disappointed.

    Next, The Amazing Dome B&B which we booked through This isn’t a B&B you will find through a Google search and is only mentioned through this website, but got great reviews. John & Linda bought this property and built the dome houses themselves – so, incredibly interesting and well-decorated. Linda is an artist and the walls reflect her beautiful work. They live for the tango and are always happy to tell you all about their dancing life. Quite the characters and very charming. The guest part of the house is a separate dome with 2 floors. The lower floor has a bedroom (with the thickest feather duvet I’ve ever seen) and huge bathroom. The upper floor has a breakfast area and one huge room with sofas, fireplace, desk, and is where they hold tango parties. The views out every window are like works of art themselves. Rather than serve breakfast, they stock the fridge and pantry for a continental breakfast (including Linda’s own homemade muffins and jams). I slept like a baby.

    Day 6:
    Finally, we slept in a bit. I tried to have some quiet devotion time but was constantly interrupted by the view. Three does came with their fawns, followed by a rabbit, grouse, squirrel and various birds.

    Stuffed with delicious muffins, we headed out to Providence Farm in Cobble Bay. This is a beautiful old farm which is now employing and training the disabled. The farm store features the items made. It was a lovely stop and we came away with gifts. From there we headed to Duncan and walked around the shops a bit. It was pretty quiet and we finished in an hour. Onward to Cowichan Bay, and a very good lunch at Cowichan Bay Seafood. According to my daughter (who had the crab sandwich), the crab salad was absolutely perfect. We tried to find Udder Guys ice cream shop, but no one seemed to know where it was…even those with shops in town!

    I wouldn’t recommend following my itinerary as we seemed to do a lot of zigzagging back and forth, not sure of what we wanted to see first, and how far things were apart.

    Next, the Kinsol Trestle in Cowichan Valley which is an old wooden trestle completed inn 1920 for the railway. It was closed in 1979 then restored as a historic landmark and reopened in 2011 for foot and bicycle traffic only. It is quite a sight as it is the oldest trestle in Canada and one of the highest in the world. The trail is flat and about a 5 minute walk which brings you right to the trestle so you can walk across if you wish, or walk down steps to view it from below.

    Surprisingly, we were hungry again so we stopped off at the Old Farm Market along the highway east of town in Duncan. Besides their fresh produce (huge variety), they have a store with packaged items and a sandwich counter where you can get items to go. We ended up with raspberries, chili and garlic bread to take back to the B&B for dinner and a movie.

    Day 7:
    Up early, packed and said goodbye to John & Linda, we headed back to Cowichan Bay. We wanted to get fresh bread at True Grain Bakery (all organic, they mill their own flours) and, on a recommendation, we got some of their apple strudel. Besides a baguette, we got some of their cheese-sesame-poppy seed twists (YUM!) <>. Next door is Hilary's Cheese & Deli if you like blue cheese.

    We drove to Ladysmith hoping to ride the trolley downtown that someone recommended. It turns out the ‘trolley’ is just a little bus the seniors take to get around town. We stopped at an outdoor amphitheater in the park where we polished off the apple strudel.

    Driving north again we went to Qualicum Cheeseworks & Mooberry Winery for fresh cheese and onion jam to complete our picnic. You can watch them making cheese and walk around viewing the animals.
    We stopped again at Cathedral Grove, MacMillan Park in Nanaimo to see the giant Douglas fir <>. Fifteen minutes there, then we stopped at beautiful Cameron Lake for our impromptu picnic.

    Enough relaxing…on to Little Qualicum Falls and a short hike to the beautiful falls <>. There were two teenagers jumping off the rocks into the water….crazy! Back on the highway again, we spotted a barn sale so made a little detour to check this out. Next stop, Butterfly Gardens <>. TripAdvisor only gave these gardens 2.5 stars, but we spent a lot of time there and really enjoyed ourselves. The butterflies were spectacular and there were tortoises, frogs, quail and orchids.

    We were determined to make one of the farmer’s markets, so we headed to Errington’s which is from 3-7pm. It was larger than expected with lots of local produce, handmade items and music.

    On to Coombs where we walked around the shops and saw the goats on the roof. Some interesting shops.
    We’d had a long day but, not willing to stop, we drove back through Qualicum (I told you we zigzagged a lot!) to the Friday evening Artisan Market where my daughter bought a gorgeous cutting board.

    Finally, calling it quits, we headed to our next B&B….the most spectacular of them all!
    Inn the Estuary, Nanoose Bay <>. This was the most expensive in our budget, but we are so glad we did it. Harold & Marianne built this house and restored the estuary around it – the house seems to be floating in the water. There are 3 suites and we were able to tour the newest one, The View Suite, which was beyond wonderful. Our 500 sq ft suite had a kitchen with fridge (stocked for breakfast), floor heating, soaker tub, private deck, tv, movies. A washer and dryer are available right outside the suite, plus use of kayaks and bikes. The floor-to-ceiling windows across one wall offer amazing views of the estuary, animals, birds and sky. The pictures I took just couldn’t do it justice.

    Day 8:
    Beautiful sunrise I could watch from bed…deer and eagle spotted. We made breakfast from our stock of eggs, sausage, toast, fruit and orange juice and sat awestruck as we ate.

    The day was calling so we went off to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Center in Errington <>. This was such a great place to stop. We started off by watching 6 bear cubs, just rescued, as they played on a closed-circuit camera. We saw eagles, and owl and falcons all being nursed back to health for release into the wild. There are many permanent residents here that are not able to be released and it’s like a small zoo. You could spend a couple hours here.

    After that we went to Englishman River Falls Park <> with an easy hike to two stunning waterfalls. They end in a clear pool for swimming. Better than Little Qualicum Falls.

    We were hoping to take the ferry over to Lasqueti Island but the timing wasn’t to be. It is supposed to be a tiny island populated by hippie-types and quite unique. Guess we had to save something for next time. We hung around the ferry dock and ate at Creek House – ugh – really lousy fish & chips….they fish was fresh but that’s all I can say. We then took the 10-minute ferry from there (Departure Bay) over to Newcastle Island for the afternoon’s hike (ferry=$9 each). Newcastle is 4.5 miles around and unpopulated (except for park service). There is one little store that has ice cream, nachos and ice…plus a few essentials I think. We got an ice cream and proceeded to walk to the opposite end of the island, including a lot of back-and-forth in and around a lake. The signage is awful so be sure you have a compass or gps working on your phone. We were on some trails 3 times. There is an interesting old stone quarry. When we got to the end and looked down to the water’s edge, we saw a family of raccoons clam-digging. They were having quite a feast. We ferried back then walked up a couple blocks to Modern Café (recommended by our ferryman). This was a real treat as the food was wonderful- steak salad and jerk chicken. Yum!

    Back at our B&B we watched a movie and were regretting it was our last night.

    Day 9:
    A leisurely breakfast then time to load the car. We hated saying goodbye to Harold as he was already like an instant friend, so warm and welcoming. Marianne was recovering from surgery so we didn’t seem her after the initial meeting. I wish we had gotten to know her, as well. We could have stayed at this B&B for the rest of the year.

    Finally the weather had warmed and rain was gone so my daughter wanted some beach time. Most of the beaches are rock and pebble, but Rathtrevor Beach had sand so we headed there. It was low tide and we walked and walked and walked and walked forever to the edge of the water, watching it slowly creep back in. An hour or so there was enough as it was a hot day so we left and drove to downtown Qualicum to spend some time in antique shopping. Around the corner was Lefty’s where we had a good lunch: burger and sandwich. Last stop was Beachcombers Beach (Dorcas Point), recommended by Harold, where we found tons of oyster shells. This was a fun beach to walk.

    Heading to Departure Bay in Nanimo for the 7:30pm ferry back to Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay ($97.55 for 2 passengers +car). Bittersweet, hating to end the vacation but knowing there are plenty reasons to return. After all, we never got to Lasqueti Island, Thetis Island, Sidney Spit, Protection Island…….

    Summary (or, things I’ve learned):

    Late June – the absolute perfect time to do the islands if you want to 1) hike and never see another living sole; 2) drive for miles and never see another vehicle.

    When hiking, watch out for the stinging nettle. Google a picture and memorize it. Also, growing next to it is (almost always) a plant with smooth elongated leaves. If you break off a leaf and rub it on the nettle sting, it will ease the itching.

    Also, when hiking, the best thing you can do is take a picture of the trails map with your smartphone or camera. Trust me, you will refer to this often. AND, there will be 3 times as many actual trails as is shown on the map so…again….compass or GPS.

    In June the sun sets about 9:20pm – this gives you MANY more daylight hours to get everything done. It was lovely!

    When you ferry with a car, make sure you have reservations ahead for the long rides – the inter-island ferries don’t reserve so just get there a little early. We got to one ferry 20 minutes before departure and had to wait for the next one (it only help about 24 cars).

    Signage in the islands is really, really awful. Often you just have to know something is there, or run across it accidentally – even restaurants or shops.

    Take a small collapsible cooler and ice pack with you. Every place we stayed had a fridge where we could keep the ice pack frozen. It came in very handy for the impromptu picnics and after visiting the cheese factory, etc.

    BC Ferry schedules:

    If your route works out for this better than ours, the BC Ferries Card can save you money on ferry rides. When you look at the BC website fare and see fares highlighted in blue, that would be your cost with this card:

    Galiano and Pender Islands have the car stop program. Little white signs say “car stop” and when you stand by them, the next car will stop and pick you up. Good way to get around the islands on foot when you’re not in a hurry. Even the locals use this.

    Driving distances chart:

    And mostly, remember…don’t overplan. Half of what you find will be by accident, not on your agenda. Many of the towns are one or two streets so it’s not like you’re going to get lost. Take time to talk to the amazing island people and find out what drives them to live on an island. I was blown away to find so many people still grow their own food, can their own jams, bake fresh bread everyday. It was refreshing and part of me never wanted to leave. It forces you to slow down and re-evaluate….everything.

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