Getting away from it all: Fun in the Gulf Islands

April 10, 2017

By Mike Archibald

Nestled in between mainland BC and Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands are one of the province’s best-kept secrets. They’re all treasures, but it’s Galiano, Mayne, Pender and Salt Spring that offer the most for visitors. [Image credit:]

Getting away from it all: Fun in the Gulf Islands

From Vancouver, all four islands are accessible through the BC Ferries terminal at Duke Point, in the southern suburb of Tsawwassen. It’s an easy drive down: take the BC-99 South, then the BC-17 South, and before you know it you’re there. The vessels embarking from the terminal are large and have plenty of room for cars, but it’s always a good idea to make reservations. Routes to each of the Southern Gulf Islands are often direct, depending on the destination. Remember to check the schedules!

If you want to keep it simpler, and catch a breathtaking view in the bargain, consider traveling by seaplane! You can catch a flight from the Vancouver Harbour or YVR airport – check out Seair Seaplanes or Harbour Air Seaplanes for rates and routes.

Alright, now, let’s get to the fun part:

Galiano Island

Warm, inviting and quiet, this thin strip of land looks across the Strait of Georgia to the mainland. It’s an evergreen-heavy spot, with great hiking opportunities in its numerous provincial parks. Add pebble beaches, a beautiful marina, and a pervasive laid-back attitude, and you’ve got a slice of paradise on your hands.
Where to stay:

Driftwood Village Resort
Rustic but very classy, this spot offers studio and one- or two-bedroom cottages in an idyllic location. There’s a beautiful orchard on the premises, and the place is great for deer spotting!

Galiano Inn
Right on the water, this small resort features spectacular views, spa treatments, great food and drink, and top-notch service from a friendly staff. One of the Inn’s big selling points is the Flores del Iris Gardens, which boasts streams, waterfalls, and gorgeous plants.

What to do:

Galiano Golf & Country Club
This Island treasure gives you nine holes on beautiful fairways and greens. Hit some balls and then relax with a drink on their patio. The rates are very reasonable and, needless to say, the natural environment is pretty and serene.

Eco Tours at the Galiano Conservancy Association
Make the most of the island’s forests, wetlands and wildlife with these excellent excursions. You’re likely to see beavers, marine life, towering old-growth trees, and much more.

Eat, drink and be merry:

Hummingbird Pub & Restaurant
Festive, folksy and unpretentious, this is a great spot to unwind. The kitchen serves fantastic burgers, and the drink menu represents B.C.’s craft beer culture as well as offering excellent wines.

Babes in the Woods Eatery
Known for its healthy, artisanal cuisine, this restaurant specializes in wraps, tapas and some of the most delicious gluten-free pizza you’ll ever get your hands on.

Mayne Island

Host to around 1,000 residents, this unassuming locale nevertheless contains enough culture, scenery, and recreational opportunities to satisfy anyone looking for a great time. It’s home to scenic Mount Parke and Oyster Bay, as well as some beautiful Blacktail deer.

Where to stay:

Oceanview Vacation House
Great for couples and groups, this four-bedroom beauty is in a great location – ideal for nature lovers, birders, or anyone seeking secluded lodgings. Perhaps the best feature is the large covered upper deck space. Bring binoculars!

Blue Vista Resort
This getaway features nine cottages, right near the beautiful Bennett Bay beach. Strong selling points include an excellent picnic area and tours on a 26-foot powerboat.

What to do:

Japanese Garden
Visit this austere, beautifully manicured area for an afternoon of tranquility. It has a meditation hut, a traditional yatsuhashi bridge and, of course, some wonderful cherry blossom trees.

Bennett Bay Kayaking
One of the quintessential Gulf Islands activities is kayaking, and this outfit provides guided tours as well as rentals. The tours present great opportunities to check out the local bird and sea specimens. Also offered is stand-up paddleboarding, an activity that grows in popularity with each summer season.

Eat, drink and be merry:

Springwater Lodge
This hotel features an excellent restaurant, where you can look out on the ocean while you sip wine and munch on some excellent entrees. Relaxed, congenial and casual, this is one of Mayne’s finest attractions.

Sunny Mayne Bakery Café
This has to be the commercial treasure of the Island. From espresso drinks and pastries to savoury bites and more, Sunny Mayne is the go-to spot for taste bud pleasure.

Pender Island

This locale actually consists of two small islands, North and South Pender. Together they make up one of the area’s most popular destinations, with a strong local culture and many opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Where to stay:

Poets Cove Resort & Spa
This is about as luxurious as lodgings get on the Gulf Islands. Three excellent restaurants, spa facilities, a fitness centre, a private marina, tennis courts, an outdoor pool and hot tub … are you sold yet?

Woods on Pender
Who’s up for some glamping? This upscale campground offers a unique outdoors experience. It’s set in the forest and features cabins, air-conditioned campers and a lodge painted in yellow and black for a colourful contemporary look.

What to do:

Pender offers a multitude of options for outdoor activities, and among the best of them is Richard Fox’s Tour de Pender, an all-day bike excursion across the island. Athletes will love the challenge, and nature lovers will feast their eyes.

Dog Mermaid
This outfit offers eco tours, kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals, retreat packages and more. One of their specialties is Paddle Yoga. Yes, that’s right: patrons stand on their paddleboards and perform the ancient art. It’s supposed to be a blast!

Eat, drink and be merry:

Jo’s Place
Super-Duper Skillets, brisket burritos and some seriously juicy burgers – Jo’s offers these plus great sangria and a dazzling variety of Eggs Benedict dishes. Highly recommended for breakfast.

Vanilla Leaf Bakery Café
Just a mellow spot for coffee and chow. Open until 5pm daily, the establishment serves great roast, delicious pitas and crowd-pleasing pizzas. Vegan and vegetarian dishes are a specialty. 

Salt Spring Island

While still a rural, relaxed locale, this is the most populous and commercially oriented of the Gulf Islands. For some people, that makes it the best of both worlds. Any way you slice it, Salt Spring is a blast to visit.

Where to stay:

Cedar Beach Resort
Cabins, campsites and suites are available at this lakeside spot. Great location, great service and great facilities are on offer for vacationers, and this is also an excellent place for social gatherings.

Seabreeze Inne
This island gem offers superb rates, but it’s the cozy, intimate vibe that’s its key selling point. It’s a great place for families and couples. The rooms come in Standard or Deluxe modes, and both options offer a superb value.

What to do:

Salt Spring Adventure Co.
This outfit makes for a simple route to the island’s key sources of fun. Kayaking, surfing, fishing, bicycling, marine tours – whatever your preference is for outdoor recreation, chances are the Adventure Co. can hook you up.

The Fritz Movie Theatre
Yay, a movie theatre on the Gulf Islands! This local labour of love features the latest flicks, live theatre broadcasts and real butter for your popcorn. Ticket prices are very reasonable.

Eat, drink and be merry:

Oystercatcher Seafood Bar & Grill
This farm-to-table establishment gives you bang for your buck with delicious fresh fruits of the sea. It’s hard to pick the best feature of this joint: is it the patio with fireplaces, the delicious burgers, or the sunset views? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Moby’s Pub
This place features good pub grub, great harbour views and a relaxed ambience – it’s a great spot for winding down or partying it up. Live events highlight the best of local and regional talent.

As you can see, the Gulf Islands offer plenty of options for pleasure, and believe me, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Off the beaten path there are Gabriola, Saturna, and more in the south, and in the north, Denman, Texada, Lasqueti, and Hornby are also beautiful places to visit. Just remember: anywhere you land you’ll be breathing the same wonderful seaside air.

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