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Trip Report Trip Report!! Gulf Islands, BC

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

Day 1:
My daughter and I 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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