A holiday season scene in downtown Ganges on Saltspring Island. Photo by Bob Rogers/Saltspring Photography Club

Tess van Straaten: Getting away to the Gulf Islands

Escaping the hustle and bustle of the holidays is within reach for you

Tess van Straaten

Monday Magazine columnist

As soon as I drive off the ferry and onto Gabriola Island, I feel like I’m a million miles away. The stunning scenery, laid-back pace and multitude of adventures awaiting us make the stress of a busy week melt away. I’m on ‘island time’ now, as I squeeze in a much-needed Gulf Islands getaway to re-charge my batteries for the holiday season.

Monday Magazine columnist Tess van Straaten

“My favourite thing is being able to relax, breathe and take time for yourself,” says Jayne Lloyd-Jones of Spectacular Ink, who lives on Salt Spring and does PR for the Southern Gulf Islands. “You leave the stress of your daily life at home and immerse yourself in a gentler, slower pace.”

Our first stop is Descanso Bay, which literally means ‘Bay of Rest’ in Spanish. Just a short jaunt from the ferry terminal, we’re immersed in nature and walking out onto the sandstone that forms the shoreline Gabriola’s famous for.

Here, and at the spectacular Malaspina Galleries sandstone cavern that’s our next stop, I can’t help but think this is what the surface of the moon must be like. Even my 12-year-old son, Tate, is impressed by the raw, untouched beauty of the landscape as we carefully make our way over the slippery rocks at low tide.

Venturing into the forest, we explore amazing hiking trails all over the small island – including the towering trees of Elder Cedar Nature Reserve that are hundreds of years old. But surprisingly, despite it being the weekend, we seem to have most of the trails and provincial and regional parks to ourselves.

“The Southern Gulf Islands are great places to visit off-season because there are fewer visitors, so locals have time to chat and offer local insights, and you can find space and time for yourself,” explains Lloyd-Jones.

As the largest island, and one with a thriving arts and culinary scene, Salt Spring is the most popular weekend escape and it’s easy to see why.

“The top three things to do would be a hike up high to see the views of the surrounding islands from Mount Maxwell or Mount Erskine, grabbing a coffee and some locally-made baked goods at a favourite spot in Ganges, Fernwood or Fulford and wandering to the closest beach, and going gallery-hopping in Ganges and beyond to soak up the local art scene,” says Lloyd-Jones.

We decide to do all three and it’s hard to pick a favourite. After an exhilarating hike, the view from Mount Maxwell makes us feel like we’re on top of the world. Then, after grabbing some yummy treats at the Fernwood Road Café, we walk across the street and down the bright red Fernwood dock (a popular local crabbing spot) before beachcombing at low tide. Energized from all the fresh air and healing power of nature, it’s time for some retail therapy at some of the unique and eclectic artists’ studios and galleries.

With late-night shopping, Christmas markets and special evening events, locals say December is one of the best times of the year to visit. It’s also when most of us probably need a relaxing getaway the most.

“You’ll slow right down, you’ll breathe easier and you’ll find time to re-arrange your priorities,” Lloyd-Jones says.

And that’s the best holiday gift I could give myself and my children.

Tess van Straatentravel

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The sandstone rocks lining the beaches on Gabriola Island make for an interesting attraction for visitors. Tess van Straaten/Monday Magazine

A visitor to the beach at Gabriola Island sits surrounded by eroding sandstone rocks. Photo by Tess van Straaten

Just Posted

Ocie Elliott: Facing the Music

Victoria duo describes effects of COVID crisis

YOUR AUGUST HOROSCOPE: It’s Leo Season!

Georgia Nicols giving us insight on what lies ahead this summer

30 years later, Sue Medley’s hit ‘Dangerous Times’ more relevant than ever

Vancouver Island singer/songwriter reflects on her ’90s national hit

Psychological thriller filmed on northern Vancouver Island debuts on AppleTV

‘Woodland’ is set in Haida Gwaii, but was filmed around Port McNeill

Symphony Splash goes virtual, revisits 2018 performance

Organizers postpone live event until Aug. 1, 2021

Island pub wants people to ‘drop five’ to keep music alive

Royston’s Charlie Aiken thinks his plan can help artists and venues alike

First Arts Alive sculptures of 2020 now installed

Oak Bay’s annual public art exhibition starts anew

Nanaimo fantasy writer co-authoring Old Norse phrase book

Joshua Gillingham partnering with author and professor on ‘Old Norse for Modern Times’

Cowichan’s 39 Days of July deemed a success, despite COVID-19

Musical productions live streamed from the Duncan Showroom this year

Gabriola’s Isle of the Arts Festival goes ‘mini’ on 10th anniversary

Gabriola Arts Council presents scaled-down, workshop-only IOTA Mini festival

Sooke Fine Arts Show reaches new audiences with virtual showcase

Voting for People’s Choice Award open until Aug. 3

Mural artists announced for Nanaimo’s inaugural Hub City Walls festival

Local artists Kara Dee Harrison, Russell Morland and Austin Weflen to paint downtown walls

Nanaimo musician Glen Foster releases new music video

‘Brains Brawn and Beauty’ is the latest single from Foster’s album ‘Not Far Away’

Most Read