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AN ARCHIPELAGO SURROUNDED BY WATER... AND ENVY
 
(2016 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: HANS TAMMEMAGI



The Queen of Nanaimo chugged into the Gulf Islands, entering a maze of more than 220 rocky masses ranging from deathly-dangerous-when-foggy reefs to large forest-bedecked isles.

The waves glistened, a powerful tug pulled a barge on a long line and sails were like colourful, shimmering patches sprinkled on the sea.

At Galiano Island a few cars clunked on and off the ferry. Gulls soared and black cormorants dried their outstretched wings on the mooring posts like preachers blessing their flock. In Active Pass our ferry made sharp turns in the narrow, twisting channel. Fishing boats bobbed in the pass, seeking the herring and salmon attracted by the turbulent tidal currents.

At Pender Island, my wife Allyson and I drove off the ferry. We were staying at a cabin for a month, and, as one sunny day followed another, we began to explore. On our walks through the forest we felt tiny amongst the enormous Douglas firs and western cedars. Here and there slouching arbutus trees with their peeling, rust-coloured trunks looked like hippies stranded in a platoon of ram-rod-straight soldiers. Surrounded by delicate ferns, sombre light, towering trees and bright green moss clinging to logs and rocks it felt primordial. We walked close together expecting a raptor or other Mesozoic beast to suddenly burst through the foliage.

Portland Island

One day we kayaked to Portland Island, part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, which sprawls over 15 islands and numerous islets. With one languid stroke following another, we floated along, feeling oh-so close to nature. At the shore an oystercatcher and a long-legged blue heron patrolled for dinner. Purple and orange starfish were attached to rocks like glue. Seals basked on a small islet, their watery, large eyes solemnly watching our progress.

We looked for the black and white orcas, a.k.a. killer whales. Three pods of about 90 orcas live here and the ultimate thrill, we had heard, is to kayak amongst them, their tall dorsal fins towering over you.

Salt Spring Island

We were lured to Salt Spring Island, the largest and most populated of the islands, by its renowned Saturday Market. Once off the ferry, we drove through bucolic farmland dotted with sheep to Ganges, the main town. The market was abuzz with paintings, carvings, sculptures, fresh farm produce, stained glass and blackberry jam. A potter, his greying hair in a ponytail, said, “I moved here in 1980 and fell in love with the deep quiet and the balance between human beings and the land.” He’s not alone. Since non-aboriginal settlement began in 1859, the Gulf Islands have been a refuge for those seeking a laid-back life including draft dodgers, hippie farmers, eccentrics, solitude seekers, artists, as well as the well-to-do and their glitzy waterfront cottages.

We hiked a trail toward the summit of Mount Erskine. Suddenly Allyson pointed and gasped, “Look, there’s a little door leading into the rock. Elves must live here.” We had stumbled upon some of the fairy doors created by an eccentric islander.

Mayne Island

A few hot summer days later found us on the deck of the Springwater Lodge on Mayne Island sipping cool ales. Sailboats lay at anchor in Miners Bay, kids squealed as they jumped off the wharf into the cold water and gleaming white super ferries sounded deep throaty warnings. It felt so deliciously nautical. I also felt a shiver for this is the oldest continuously operating hostelry in British Columbia (established 1892) and is haunted with the ghosts of miners who passed through long ago en route to goldfields on the mainland.

We wandered to the nearby Georgina Point with the Active Pass Lighthouse, built in 1884, and, surrounded by attractively sculpted sandstone, one of the most picturesque on the west coast. Later, a short drive took us to the elegant Japanese Gardens where Allyson and I sat in the meditation pavilion, reflecting on the sad time during World War II when the island’s Japanese were removed to internment camps, their farms and possessions confiscated and never returned.

Pender Island

At Poets Cove Resort on South Pender Island we saw first-hand that these islands offer superb boating. We spent hours watching the coming and going of gleaming yachts and sailboats with tall masts from as far away as California and Alaska. At the bar we listened to yarns about distant places, fish that had been caught (or not) and the orcas, dolphins and sea lions that the sailors had sighted.

Saturna Island

Saturna, the smallest and most isolated of the main Gulf Islands, seems lost in a time warp. We drove leisurely along narrow winding roads and when, occasionally, we passed another car, the driver always waved. Sheep grazed in tiny meadows and feral goats scampered on hillsides. At East Point Park we lazed among sandstone rocks sculpted by the wind and rain into delicate lacework whorls of beige and yellow. Seals frolicked in the kelp beds. Just off shore the tidal currents eddied and swirled around the point called Boiling Reef. Farther out, enormous merchant steamers lumbered along. We found an ancient Native midden at a small cove and studied the layers of broken white clamshells deposited here by the Coastal Salish Natives over a period of 6,000 years.

As the sun sank low, we drove to the summit of Mount Warburton Pike and watched the sun paint the horizon shades of vermilion and flaming orange. A lone sailboat headed for harbour, a long shimmering vee trailing behind. Allyson and I raised our glasses and toasted this delightful feast of islands.

Travel Planner

For more information visit:

Destination BC: hellobc.com

Gulf Islands National Park Reserve: pc.gc.ca/gulf

BC Ferries: bcferries.com

 
 
 
 
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