Carefree Days on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

One of the island’s three peaks, Mount Erskine, reins over the bay’s numerous beaches and mussel farming, seen here as dotted posts in the mist

We travel to this famous Gulf Island by ferry from Swartz Bay, north of Victoria, Vancouver Island. Arriving at Fulford, a protected harbour at the south end of Salt Spring, we are instantly welcomed by fresh marine air and mewing gulls, to be absorbed into the casual culture of island time.  Our car rolls off the ferry and we are soon engulfed in tall evergreens as we curve up the hill and into dense forest. 

First stop is Ruckle Park, which adjoins the oceanfront on the south-east point of the island.  Here we walk its broad pathways, dwarfed by monster-sized Douglas Fir trees and occasionally spot Arbutus trees with twisted branches stretching out over the beach.  It’s fascinating to imagine what swims in the depths of the great channel in between us and Pender Island.  Gazing out with binoculars, we watch for Orca fins and humpback whales spewing water into the air as they surface. 

In Ganges, the largest habitation on the island, we visit local artisan galleries, then dine at the Tree House Café, built around a huge live tree.  This afternoon we head out to James Bay, a quiet inlet off the north-west point of Prevost Island, where we anchor and make merry with friends.  Always keen for an active excursion, we slip into the zodiac and motor over to a main island trail which follows shoreline to the point.  This rarely used trail is covered in forest debris, so every step is softly cushioned underfoot.  Back in the sun at our windless spot, I plunge into the cool waters beside our boat, refreshed in a world of slow-motion buoyancy.  Heading back to Salt Spring it’s impressive to see all the grand homes that fringe along the ocean’s edge.

Tonight, we walk to Vesuvius beach, taking in the magnificent cliffside view, looking out  through huge tree trunks overlooking the bay.  It’s low tide so we toddle along the exposed  ridges of rock on the edge of the beach, looking for trapped marine life like oysters and starfish in the long creases.  Along the back of the sand beach lie numerous giant smooth driftwood logs, entrapped by the narrow bay entrance, and stranded in high tides, where they now lay still, weathering with time.  Walking back for the evening, in the fading light of dusk, we miraculously meet several deer wandering in the private gardens where we are staying. 

Today’s misty wet morning is perfect for hiking in the rainforest, especially meandering beside  the adorable Duck Creek, an enlarged gully on the edge of Vesuvius.  Once the rain comes in, we continue our exploration by car, following the twisting roadways through the forest to various artisan studios, discreetly hidden around tree lined turns. A favourite stop is Salt Spring Cheese, visiting the goat barn to examine the variety of goats who have created such delights, then choosing several rounds to take home. The vistas from Walker’s Hook Road, which hugs the shoreline along the north-east coast of the island, has magnificent views towards Galiano Island, with the mainland mountains in behind.

Out on the water again this afternoon, we go to the small, protected harbour on Wallace Island, in the channel between Salt Spring and Galiano Islands.  On the island we eat our picnic lunch, take a tranquil swim, then head into the woods again, exploring a wild coastal pathway on this uninhabited island. 

On our return to the docks, we consult tide charts to equate depth allowances in everchanging waters and we survey the surface for rogue floating logs.  Several times I find myself smiling as we come upon seals frolicking in the currents nearby. 

Our final morning, we set out in damp fog hiking up Mount Erskine, through a rainforest with diverse intriguing mosses and dramatic rock formations.  Grey squirrels scold our passing presence as they gather nuts in the dappled sunlight filtering through the firs, then as we ascend the peak, overlooking Vesuvius, the mist dissipates, and a cool breeze refreshes us. 

Our last night on Salt Spring Island, we drive north, along Sunset Drive, to the end of Arbutus Road, beside Southey Point.  This is an infrequently seen promontory where the solid rock beach displays dramatic and unusual striations and formations telling of its violent and tortured past.  It’s a captivating location at any tide level and especially mesmerizing to watch the ocean starfish glimmering below through clear gently rippling waters.   

I always feel at peace here, whether I’m driving winding roads, walking meandering pathways, or strolling along a deserted beach.  There’s a freedom in the marine air and it gets me thinking about our next fresh salmon dinner.

WRITTEN BY: WILDERNESS WRITER CYNTHIA PERCIVAL

Author: LivingSpaces

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