Island Hopping Part 2: Salt Spring & Galiano Islands

In my previous post about our little island hopping adventure, I wrote about a few days on the Pacific Rim, between Ucluelet and Tofino. That post was reasonably light on words and very heavy on photos. I’m hoping this will be a shorter and lighter weight post.

After our time on the west coast of Vancouver Island, we were spending two nights each on Salt Spring and Galiano Islands. Salt Spring is the largest and most populous of the southern Gulf Islands, while Galiano is far less so. We were about to enter the quiet phase of our week away. Or, should I say quieter

map image, salt spring and galiano islands
Salt Spring and Galiano, in the southern Gulf Islands

Ucluelet to Salt Spring

Getting to Salt Spring entailed us driving east back across Vancouver Island and catching the ferry from Crofton (left on the map left/above) to Vesuvius on Salt Spring. After two nights there, we’d ferry from Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring to Swartz Bay and then take another ferry from Swartz Bay to Sturdies Bay on Galiano. Since the first part of day one for each of the Gulf Islands was spent traveling, at best we had a day and a half of usable time on each. If I do another Island hopping trip, I’d make sure there were at least two full days on each island.

While we planned these two islands because of the theoretically short ferry ride between them, we didn’t know that the direct sailing from Salt Spring to Galiano was removed on Fridays for the summer. That’s what necessitated the two ferry trip through Swartz Bay. We ended up being fine, but it turned what should have been a 20 minute sailing into a four hour trip from Fulford Harbour to Swartz Bay to Sturdies Bay.

Crofton is a nice little coastal pulp mill town and the ferry terminal is like pretty much all the other small BC Ferries terminals. While getting to Crofton from Ucluelet was probably a five hour drive, I doubt the actual ferry trip between Crofton and Vesuvius was more than 20-30 minutes.

Goodbye Crofton

Salt Spring Island

While the Crofton ferry arrives in Vesuvius, the main hub of Salt Spring is the town of Ganges and its harbour. Ganges is a few kilometres southeast of Vesuvius on the other side of the island and our Airbnb was roughly a two minute drive or ten minute walk past Ganges. After our Ucluelet experience we weren’t sure what to expect with our second accommodation. Imagine our surprise, then, when we were greeted by our lovely host Shannon with a beautiful, clean, well-appointed room with a great Ganges Harbour view. Her home is sort of an English country cottage with beautiful oak finishings. As a guest you have access to a fair bit of the house, with breakfast in the garden included.

Our first morning there we were treated to a tasty vegan breakfast and had a lovely hour-long chat with our host.

Salt Spring Island Ales

On the remainder of our first day we took a drive further south on the island to find the Salt Spring Brewing tasting room. I think of it as what a moonshine distillery might look like in Middle Earth. Out in the middle of nowhere and down at the end of a dirt road, it’s like a little wooden hut at the base of a hill, almost as if built into the rock. There is lush trees and greenery all around. Salt Spring has some of the tastiest ales I’ve ever had (and we tried just about all of them).

We’d actually been infatuated with their Nettle Ale since we tasted it at the Breakwater in Victoria, so we were primarily visiting them to find out if we could still get it. We couldn’t, but it didn’t matter. Everything in their tasting room was delicious and we came home with a bunch of it.

As they say (and we both have the T-shirts to prove it), “Drink Beer with Nature.”

The Tree House Cafe

While on Salt Spring, we ate fairly lean. Our only breakfast was at the Airbnb, coffee and lunch was where we could find them, but dinner both nights were at The Tree House. Not that it was a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, but we could get some great noodle dishes and salads and really tasty tofu was an option for many dishes. It gets its name because it’s actually built around a tree. A nice touch there is live music every night during the summer.

Mount Erskine

Aside from eating, coffee, beer and relaxing we had a few options for a hike on Salt Spring while we were there, but it had to be a hike Brody could handle. We chose Mount Erskine as there were a couple different routes to the summit; a very steep 4k assault route and the less intense Trustees Trail, both of which ended in some pretty spectacular vistas.

Referring to the map below, we took the route in blue from the Trustees Trail trailhead, then took the left route in green to the summit first and down to the other viewpoints. We caught the fairy doors, but apparently missed the cave.

In fact, there were a few fairy doors on the hike up.

And, there were some pretty good views once we got there.

Looking North Toward Vesuvius
Looking South

As I said, we really only had a day and a half of usable time, so that covers the Salt Spring highlights.

Salt Spring to Galiano

This little segment was, perhaps, the only annoying part of the whole trip. As I indicated earlier, BC Ferries removed the direct sailing from Salt Spring to Galiano on Fridays, and we only found this out AFTER we’d booked our accommodations. Plus, as the Gulf Islands ferries aren’t reservable AND have limited frequency, we’d be somewhat at the whim of luck in our travels.

There are lots of sailings from Salt Spring to Swartz Bay in Victoria, but only four per day from Swartz Bay to Sturdies Bay on Galiano, and there was no way for us to get there in time to make the 6am boat. As such, we were down to three sailings, but they were so far apart and with two of them at 4:40pm and 9:50pm, the only real option for us was the 10:30am sailing. The only Salt Spring sailing that would allow us to make that boat was at 7:50, so circumstances kind of determined our travel time.

Goodbye Salt Spring, Hello Five Hour Trip to Galiano
We were up at about 6am and waiting at Fulford by about 7am. We arrived at Swartz Bay by about 8:30, with the 10:30 sailing for Galiano leaving a little late, at about 10:45. As the boat to Galiano stops at Mayne and Pender first, sailing time was roughly 1:45, with us arriving in Sturdies Bay around 12:30. Aside from all the waiting, everything went smoothly, but we certainly learned our lesson about ensuring there’s a direct sailing if we ever do this little hop again. I could have done without the five hour trip.

It was a pretty nice morning on Salt Spring when we left though.

Fulford Harbour at 7am
Fulford Harbour at 7am

Galiano Island

We’d been to Galiano twice before; once for a friends’ wedding a couple decades ago and then a weekend getaway a few years later. Both were located at the Galiano Inn, so our entire experience of the island was really the little area around Sturdies Bay. After spending a couple days there this time, I suspect it’s likely our last trip. Not that Galiano isn’t imbued with the natural beauty typical of the Gulf Islands, just that once you get out of Sturdies and see a few things, there’s almost nothing on at least half the island. It’s quiet. I mean … Really. Quiet.

Airbnb

Once again, we were pleasantly surprised by our accommodations. We were only a couple minutes from the ferry on a very quiet private acreage. While the surroundings were a bit rough and in flux, the house we had was beautiful. Our host paid us a visit on our first morning and brought us some delicious homemade blueberry scones. We had a nice twenty minute chat and this newish house will actually become their retirement space. Had we been staying longer, I suspect we would have bought a few groceries and made use of the full kitchen.

Food

Somewhat surprisingly, food was actually pretty decent for such a reasonably uninhabited place. Dinner the first night wasn’t quite vegan, but a veggie quesadilla at Babes in the Woods at Sturdies. We discovered a delicious new (to us) beer, Hoyne Brewing Queen’s Rook Hefeweizen (pictured below), so that counts as a success. In the same little mall was Bowline Cafe with its typical baked fare, but really solid espresso for our morning fixes.

A little further up the road north is a small hub of markets and eateries, where we did a lot of our eating. From buying vegan cheese at the Galiano Saturday Market, to a delicious burger at Flying Black Dog for lunch our first day, to a typical pub lunch at the Hummingbird, to smoothies at Solomon Rose Cafe, to a really tasty Pad Thai right next door at Wild 1 Cookhouse for our last dinner, we managed to eat pretty well.

We took a little drive up island on our first afternoon, but as I said before there really isn’t a lot beyond twenty minutes outside of Sturdies Bay. We found the bluffs, where the view was nice but nothing like we found on Salt Spring or on the Pacific Rim, and once a little further up the road, it was really just endless trees and driving. It would make for a nice, short cycling adventure or a peaceful run, but beyond that, not much.

Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park

I don’t know if it would have been too intense to do with Brody in tow, but we didn’t stumble across Mount Galiano until it was too late, so the only place we ended up doing any significant walking was around the full Montague Harbour Marine Park loop. It’s a nice place with a really good provincial campground, nice marina, a large harbour/bay and some good beach space.

The hike loops close to the shoreline and runs the perimeter of the park, which is effectively a small peninsula on the southwest side of Galiano, not far from Sturdies Bay.

I took the pics of the dock below when we drove to the park on our first afternoon, while we did the small trail hike on our full day on Galiano.

The Dock at Montague Harbour Marina

I can’t recall exactly how long the hike took, but the park perimeter trail isn’t that long and has some nice views.

Quiet Seasides

Leaving Sturdies

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