Day 1 – Fly to Victoria
When you plan around the cheap seats on WestJet, flying from Regina to Victoria can take most of the day. We took off from Regina early in the afternoon, but with a two and a half hour layover in Calgary, we weren’t scheduled to land in Victoria until 7:15 in the evening. To top things off, the connecting flight from Calgary to Victoria was a half hour late because of headwinds. That wouldn’t have been such an issue, but we were on a tight schedule once we landed on the Island. We planned to camp on the Gulf Islands, but, of course, we couldn’t take camp fuel on the plane. And to tighten the timelines even more, we planned to take the ferry to the Pender Islands at 8:30 the next morning. Translation: once we finally landed, we had to retrieve our luggage, locate our rental car, and drive down the Saanich Peninsula to downtown Victoria to pick up camp fuel at Mountain Equipment Coop before it closed at 9:00 p.m. So we were a bit tense when we hit the tarmac at Victoria Airport at around 7:45. And when I say “hit the tarmac,” I mean that literally. We were surprised by how small and quaint Victoria International Airport is. We actually unloaded from the back of the plane, down a set of outside stairs onto the tarmac. While I picked up the luggage, Irene went to get the rental car; fortunately, neither one took very long, and we were on our way into Victoria shortly after 8:00 p.m. We actually made MEC and picked up our fuel with about 20 minutes to spare. Then we headed back towards Sidney and the ferry terminal, to a small private campground on the ocean, Island View Campground, where we had pre-booked a campsite. We knew the place from a previous trip we had made to the coast with the boys back in 1997. Although we had to set up the tent in the dark, we were relieved that we had camp fuel for the next few days of camping
Day 2 – Pender Islands
Having to catch the 8:30 ferry didn’t leave us much time in the morning, but we managed to stroll down to the beach at the campsite with our coffee cups for a few minutes before
taking down the tent and heading out. The Island View Campground hadn’t changed much since our visit ten years ago, although they had cleaned up some of the broom that had previously surrounded the campsites and done a bit more landscaping. The main assets of the campground are its proximity to the beach and its convenience for popping into Victoria or Sidney or catching Butchart Gardens or the Ferry. We made it to the ferry in lots of time, although when we loaded, we were one of the last vehicles to get on. The early start meant that we made it to Pender Islands before nine o’clock, so we drove to one of the commercial districts and stumbled around for a while. We discovered that Pender has a great little bakery/restaurant. We sampled the “egganini,” which we would highly recommend (on the sourdough). It seems like one can’t buy a sandwich these days that hasn’t been squeezed in a panini pan.
|Pender Island Campsite||Gnarled Maple
|View from Mt. Norman|
After that, we found our way to the campground where we had pre-booked a site and set up camp. Then we drove to South Pender Island. (Brief History: The two islands were originally one until a navigation canal was dug between them in 1903. A bridge now connects the two.) There, we hiked to the top of Mt. Norman, all of 244 m above sea level. Nevertheless, it was a nice view of the bay below. After the hike, we took the rest of the afternoon a bit easier, driving out to a vineyard on the east side of North Pender Island and spending an hour or so sitting out on the patio and sampling the local vintages. After supper we did a bit more exploring by hiking a short trail near our campsite.
Day 3 – Saturna Island
The next morning we caught the ferry to Saturna Island, our next destination. Before we caught the ferry, though, we decided to get a snack at the “The Stand,” the concession at the ferry terminal on Pender. If you ever get the chance, you have to visit this “4.5 star” culinary wonderland (their rating). We don’t necessarily recommend it for the food, although that was fine. The most interesting part were the proprietors, who, I think, may have smoked a bit too much that morning. It took over half an hour to get two coffees and a toasted bagel. It was a riot. We never had a chance to sample some of the more exotic things on the menu like the oyster burger or such burger add-ons as ostrich and lamb. We had another treat before we got to Saturna. While we were still on the ferry, the Pender Highlanders band picked up their instruments and played a couple of tunes on deck.
|Irene admires the
shoreline fauna at
Saturna Island couldn’t really be a more stark contrast to Pender Islands. Far less commercial, it evokes an air of travelling back in time, right down to the General Store which has everything from booze to hardware. Despite the varied product line, we were impressed with the selection of food, including the ubiquitous Gulf Island emphasis on organic foods. Actually, we found the emphasis on environmental concerns on all the Gulf Islands very interesting. None of the islands has a dump or nuisance ground, so the locals must pay for all garbage to be hauled off the islands. That leads to a pretty high priority on garbage reduction, recycling, and composting. For the morning, we drove to the south end of the island, where we were able to watch seals just off the shoreline. For the afternoon, we went for lunch at the local Saturna Island Vineyard, a great place. In a way, it was a blessing that a labour shortage made for some slow service, since that allowed us to waste the whole afternoon slurping back wine while looking over the vineyards and the bay beyond, not to mention the golden eagles soaring over the cliffs behind the vineyard. To top it all off, the food was worth the wait. Unfortunately, Saturna has no campgrounds, so as soon as we were done our meal, we had to get going to catch the ferry to Mayne Island, our next stop. We arrived at Mayne and drove to Mayne Island Eco-Camping, where we had a reserved spot.
Day 4 – Mayne Island
Mayne Island Eco-Camping just may be the neatest camping spot ever. A list of selling features include:
- campsites only two or three meters from the shoreline
- a hot tub
- an open-air tree shower
- a gorgeous view of the bay
- and feature we’ve never seen in a campsite before – a compost heap
The tree shower may have been the most interesting feature. It was an open, raised platform which was screened from campsite view but open to the bay. Since we had been rushing around and camping in campgrounds without showers, we got over our shyness and made the most of the opportunity. It was raining the next morning when we took these pictures, so they’re a bit blurry.
|The compost pile||The campground owners’ house
||The tree shower|
Our day on Mayne Island was August 19th, our anniversary. We woke up to a very rainy day, so we packed up as quickly as we could and headed to the local bakery for breakfast. Once again, a great little place to eat. After that we walked a short trail around Bennett Bay, It was still raining, but that just brought out the colour of the arbutus tree bark and made for some great photo opportunities. By the time we returned to the main business district, it had stopped raining, so we wandered around the gift shops and art galleries. In the end, we decided to treat ourselves to some anniversary presents: two prints by Jim McKenzie and a metal tree sculpture from a local gift shop. We had lunch at a neat little bistro, the Wild Fennel Food & Wine, where one of the owners was also an artist who did some absolutely amazing three-dimensional caricatures. After lunch, the sun came out, so we drove to the shop of a a local Glass Artisan, Mayne Island Glass Foundry, where the owner makes some very interesting pieces from recycled glass. Then we drove to the Japanese garden, which commemorates the local Japanese population who had been interned and had their land seized during the Second World War. The garden was beautiful, but the impetus for its creation rather coloured the enjoyment of the experience.
|Arbutus tree bark||Road splits
Days 5 & 6 – Galiano Island
After our whirlwind one-island-a-day tour of the previous islands, we decided to spend two days on Galiano Island. Our campsite on Galiano was a gorgeous location adjacent to Montague Harbour. When we were there, low tide occurred in the morning, so we spent both mornings ambling along the beach with our coffee cups, admiring the starfish and crabs, and being squirted by submerged clams.
|Tree stump on
entirely of seashells
Galiano combines the commercialism of Pender Islands and the strong artistic community of Mayne. We spent most of our time on Galiano being prime tourists, wandering through gift shops and driving to local artists studios. Galliano has some amazing artists. Two that we were particularly impressed with were Sandra Dolph Pottery and Marci DeVicque Glass Works, but since we had blown our souvenir/artwork budget on Mayne Island, we had to settle for window shopping. On our second day, while we waited for the ferry back to Vancouver Island, we took advantage of one of the most intriguing ferry-side concessions on the Gulf Islands, Max and Moritz Spicy Island Food House, where the specialty is a peculiar fusion of Indonesian and German food. (Yes, you read that right.) Where else on the planet can you get Curried Bratwurst or Pad with Bratwurst?
Day 6 & 7 – Vancouver Island
Midday of day 6 we took the ferry back to Vancouver Island. When we arrived at our hotel, Irene was a bit concerned. She had booked the hotel with the airline tickets, and hadn’t had a lot of time to research the location. As it turned out, the location was excellent for walking around downtown Victoria and for access to the inner harbour. However, it wasn’t in the most desirable neighbourhood; the hotel shared a parking lot with the local Liquor Mart, and the receptionist at the front desk advised us to remove any items from the car, including chewing gum. That really got Irene’s paranoia going, but, in the end, everything was fine. The hotel room itself was a mixed bag. It had been re-done, but in the manner of a bad home reno; the finishing left much to be desired. But, it was clean and critter free, so we made the most of it.
With what was left of the first day, we mostly just stumbled around downtown and visited the harbour. We spent a portion of the evening watching the buskers at the harbour, always a treat. The second morning, we walked over to the Craigdarroch Castle, an immense, garrish edifice built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, who at one time owned half of Vancouver Island. The tour was one of those mixed-emotion experiences for both of us. While the architecture and detailing was amazing, the experience was coloured by the history of a man who built his fortune on squelching any attempts by his workers to unionize or seek any benefits, and by a family who managed to squander his fortune within one generation.
In the afternoon, we splurged on booking a whale watching tour. This was one of the highlights of the trip for a number or reasons. The day was beautiful and warm, which is important when spending three hours on the water in a Zodiac that travels like a bat out of hell. Unfortunately, Cal didn’t think it was wise to wear his hat and have it blow off, so he burnt his bald pate in the sun. The best part of the tour, though was the fact that we saw many killer whales – very close up. While our guide didn’t exactly break the rules of whale encounters, he certainly stretched them a bit. Rather than paralleling the whales, he would move ahead of them, stop near their anticipated path, and shut down the Zodiac, while they passed by. As the picture above would suggest, we had whales breaching withing ten meters of the Zodiac.
Day 8 – Butterfly Garden and the Flight Home
On our last day on the Island, we had enough time to visit the Victoria Butterfly Garden before catching our flight back to Regina. Cal was a bit skeptical about this, but in the end it was a good way to pass an hour or so. The day before we arrived an Atlas Moth had hatched, so we were able to see the world’s largest moth (8 inch wingspan) up close and personal. Since it’s a nocturnal beast, we could get right up to it to take pictures.
|Atlas Moth||Blue Clipper||White Tree Nymph|
After the Butterfly Gardens, we got on the plane, flew to Edmonton, and then on to Regina. We spent the next couple of days shingling Aaron’s garage, the last of the reno jobs that he wanted to get done.