Sometimes, when travel across vast spaces of air, land or oceans is not in the cards, exploring places near to you fits the bill. So recently, I took a long weekend and explored one of the islands near my home.
I have lived in British Columbia all my life, over several parts of it, but mostly just outside of Vancouver. While I was born on Vancouver Island, and have revisited it many times since I was a child, I have not really experienced any of the smaller islands that lay between it and the mainland (as we call the rest of BC).
The West Coast of Canada offers some unique and breathtaking scenery for those with the will and want to get outside and explore. Salt Spring Island is one of those sleepy little islands that offer just that. The biggest of the Gulf Islands, Salt Spring Island is kind of a midway between Victoria and Nanaimo, which are the main ferry terminals connecting the Island from Vancouver.
With a quiet, laid back and almost hippy vibe, it boasts countless artisans and small local businesses. It’s a place for those who love art, those who love food, and those who love the outdoors, and as a word of caution, or perhaps just as an offer of information, it’s for those who love it natural….
I rented an AirBnB on the west side of the island in Vesuvius. With ocean views, a bit of local wildlife and an amazing seat to watch the sunset (and a bonus hot tub to view said occasions), it turned out to be a pretty perfect home base to spend a couple of days.
Although we had separate plans, I had a friend who came over at the same time and we coordinated the ferry and planned our Saturday together. She had actually started planning first, so I kind of latched onto her idea, knowing we would wander on Saturday together, then I would have Sunday and part of Monday to explore on my own.
We met up on the ferry (as I drove, and she bussed and walked on) and enjoyed the slow sail over to the island. I dropped her off at her hotel in Ganges, the main town and drove myself to the other side of the island to check into my AirBNB. While the largest gulf island, it’s still only a 10-minute drive “across” the island. Top to bottom is more like 30 minutes.
We met up for dinner at Mobys Pub which is just on the outskirts of Ganges. With great pub food, great atmosphere and a great ocean view, it’s a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. While they do have weekend evening live music, the band had cancelled for that night.
Saturday morning had me waking up refreshed and ready for the day. I made some coffee and toast (as nicely provided by my Airbnb hosts) and went out to the back deck to take in the ocean view scenery. There is something just overtly peaceful about watching seabirds dance and play along the calm ocean waters, the occasional seal popping its head up for a breath, and the slowly brightening sky coming alive as the morning grows old.
The Airbnb sits on the side of a hill/cliff on the east side of the island, so the deck has an access stairway that goes down the hillside to the ocean.
The hot tub and another deck are much lower below the house, just steps above the ocean level. I had walked down to the lower deck level, coffee in hand, to watch the morning grow old. Having finished my first cup, I headed back upstairs to refill and to get dressed for my day.
The day of arrival, I met the Airbnb “host”. He graciously showed me around the property and talked a bit about the island. This particular home is very much shared space with the host and homeowner (who are not the same person but both live in the property) and any guests in the Airbnb rooms. Having travelled enough as a solo traveler within group settings, I have no issue with shared space. I actually find it fun, enlightening and generally a good learning experience to have closer contact with other people and travelers as it contradicts my quieter life at home.
So, as I made my way back up the stairs, I came to the sliding door that led back into the house. Through the glass doors I could see a man standing near the kitchen, his back facing me, wrapped in a white house coat. I assumed it was the owner of the house as it was not the same man as the day before. Turns out it was, and standing beside him, in all her natural glory, was his girlfriend, who had clearly spent the night.
While mentally I was screaming “OMG what do I do, where do I go, how do I proceed and deal with this moment?”, somehow, I remained calm on the outside. I have been told my face tells a lot, so it’s likely a good thing I was not quite facing them, and they weren’t looking at me. Pretty sure there was a slight look of shocked horror on my face. But being the “fuck it lets go type” I opened the door, and since it was not an especially quiet door, the owner was immediately turning around to face me. I saw that moment of shock cross his face too, but he, like me, got over it quickly, and with a startled hello, his girlfriend realized that I was standing there in the doorway. She shrieked and ran quickly for the nearby bedroom.
The owner, John and I, had a quick chat about the island and what my plans were for the weekend. It turned into a conversation I was actually very grateful for, as he let me in on an alternative viewpoint on the mountain trail I wanted to hike the next day.
Johns’ girlfriend came out of the bedroom, now fully covered in her own housecoat, profusely apologizing for the naked encounter. My lack of prude nature merely had me laughing and confirming that I had no issue with it. It actually still makes me laugh, more so now, as it turned out to be only my first Salt Spring encounter with a naked person.
Getting ready for the day, I headed back to Ganges to meet my friend at the famous Saturday Market. Since I was early, I ended up meeting her for breakfast (and I got in a bit more protein to prepare for our busy day).
We lucked out with the weather, as the sun was quickly rising and warming things up. We ate and headed over to explore the market. Wandering down the rows near the waterfront, seeing lots of local artists and their wares, and local farm produce to buy. As markets go, it’s actually really good. A large variety of stalls to pique the interest of many.
We had thrown around the idea of renting bikes to explore the island a bit, but since we didn’t pre plan very well, and none were to be had, I ended up driving. But every misplaced plan has a reason, and with the distances between the locations we stopped, driving ended up being the best bet.
So, new plans in place, we made off for our first stop of the day, Ciderworks. Since we arrived a couple minutes before it opened, we stood outside the front door enjoying the peacefulness of the air before the owner opened up. Having read that one of their specialties (besides the great cider) was their apple fritters and having seen them at their morning market stall, I had actually decided to wait and get one at the actual storefront.
To my utter disappointment, they had taken all of that day’s baking to the market. My heart sank a little. We even joked with the owner at how disappointed I was, which was trust, and he was perfectly apologetic. Not to be without, we each got a “flight” to sample the large selection of ciders they had to offer. (I took the baby flight while my friend got the full one because I was driving after all!!).
If you come to enjoy one thing at Ciderworks, besides the cider of course, it must be the amazing view off the back deck. It’s a seriously stunning view of the southern gulf islands and mainland.
After getting our ciders delivered to our table, a random question to the owner turned into a lengthy chat about the farm, growing apples, and the process of making ciders. Being a generally curious person, but an introvert, I usually don’t ask strangers a lot of questions, but something about this day, and this conversation was different. When someone loves what they do, they can speak about it with a passion that is infectious and it helped lead my questions and our conversation.
This was a truly enlightening experience. As a fun fact, the cidery sits on about 5 acres and has over 400 varieties of apples….ya, I wrote that correctly…it made my jaw drop too. Who knew there were that many types of apples! This ended up being my favorite stop of the day for so many reasons.
The afternoon journey continued on, and even with our trusty paper map, brought a missed turn or two, which, let’s be honest, is totally ok on a lazy Saturday exploring.
Our stops included Salt Spring Cheese and its artisan goat cheese. If you love cheese, these are amazing. With 6 or so flavors to sample with crackers and local jams/spreads to bring out the flavor, it’s a hard choice picking a favorite (although mine may have been the Basil Chevre) They also had ice cream, but neither of us partook…..kinda regret that though LOL. They have a lovely piece of land, and their grounds are a serene place to pass an hour, relax and enjoy an ice cream cone and pet a goat or two!
A quick stop into Salt Spring Shine where they make small batch spirits, crafting with local honey, had us sampling the offerings. When in Rome as they say!! So I definitely tried a local favorite and best seller, Apple Pie Moonshine. Don’t miss it….try it…it’s kind of amazing!!
Next up was our most anticipated stop of the day, strategically planned to be midafternoon so we could enjoy their charcuterie board (because WHO doesn’t love that). Salt Spring Wild Cider is set about mid island, with a fabulous outdoor patio with views of the neighboring valley.
With nothing but valley views for miles and our food and drink choices in front of us, we sat under the umbrella at our table and watched the families with kids and dogs play around us, while the dragonflies danced through the air above us. Salt Spring Wild Cider has a more modern approach to ciders, which uses various fruit flavors and colors to enhance their apples and ciders (instead of a more classic approach and simple apple blends as at Ciderworks).
Full of joy and a bit more cider, we made our way back to Ganges and my friends room for her to freshen up for dinner. We then headed back to my bnb for me to do the same as dinner plans included the very much recommended fish and chips at Seaside Restaurant in Vesuvius. While we didn’t have a reservation, so we didn’t get to sit on the oceanside patio, we did have a view out the window. The food is definitely good and worth a visit if you have a craving for fish and chips.
Sunday in All Its Glory
My Sunday brought my version of church – Nature. After a bit of a search of the trails on Mount Maxwell, ok, a lengthy, repeated search, I headed out with a trail or 2, and a plan in mind. Yes, I search and pre – plan…several times… it’s just how I roll (over researcher here, guilty, and proud of it).
Side note, but an ironic one…my car has a screen….which when plugged into my phone, allows me to connect with a visual of google maps, meaning my car can tell me where to go….did I use that yesterday while we made our way around the island? Nope…we used a paper map, and while we didn’t get lost, our travels could have been more direct.
But I digress…today is Sunday, and as of now I have made my way to the parking spot at the bottom of my desired trailhead. This was not up the mountain road to the parking lot at the top, but much lower and in a mostly residential area. As a side note, there are numerous reports and reviews of Mount Maxwell that state the road to the top is not great, ie. narrow, full of potholes and best done in a SUV or high clearance type vehicle)
So, car parked, I set off onto trail 4 for a bit before I diverted over to trail 3 which the skirted the edge of the north side of mountain (ie. views for miles) before I would head back up to trail 4 (via trail 8 I believe) and to the “summit” where the parking lot was.
All alone, but without incident, I made my way up the well-marked trail and diverted over to trail 3 as planned and the views that it both promised and delivered. Nothing ever quite prepares you for the view off the side of a mountain. While it is not the tallest mountain around, or the tallest one I had found myself on, the view was something to behold.
After taking some time in the sun, marveling at the sights around me, and taking a moment or two to drink some well-earned water and eat a snack, I started my way back to trail 3, so I could loop back up and over to my main trail.
This particular part of the trail was much steeper and being a good steep incline up the mountain, I was working up a good sweat. Having yet to see another human, I was curious if I would find someone else before the top.
I got my wish about 2 minutes into my uphill climb. There he was, about 200 feet before me…. A man standing on the forest trail looking away from me. It took me a bit to decipher why I was glad he was still about two hundred feet away. At first, I thought, great, the first sign of life, even if only someone to pass and say a quick hello to…but then…..then I really saw…..it was a sign of life all right….and a very very naked one.
Now don’t get me wrong….do your thing, be the unique you that you are, BUT naked on a hiking trail? In the middle of the steepest part of that hiking trail?
This is NOT the first thing one thinks they will see when they make a plan to hike up a mountain on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning. I did stop dead for a moment, thought back to my naked encounter from the day before, wondering for a moment what exactly to do, but then, without missing another beat, I kept going. At this point I figured, well, he’s there, I’m there, and I need to keep going up, so naked or not, off I went.
I walked towards him on the trail, thankfully behind a beautifully, strategically placed tree blocking our views of each other for a moment.
When we finally crossed paths, he was politely swathed in a very colorful towel, clothes in one hand, face and chest overly dripping with sweat. He passed by me on the path, as if nothing was off, merely saying in a neutral tone “it’s really hot today.” He did not actually look me in the eye, although I was staring at his face!
While my mind replied with so much more colorful language, my mouth merely answered “Yes, it is.”
As he made his way down the mountain and I up, something caught my eye. At this point, all I could do was stop in a sort of disbelief, because what I saw made me do a double take. I had clearly let my gaze fall to the ground, because I saw that he was hiking in white crocs. Yup, THOSE white crocs. Which are clearly hiking attire. Let your mind wander as it will with this situation as a whole, and please, do let me know your thoughts!! Perhaps he was forest bathing….
I finished my hike up the mountain, made it to the top and marveled at the views. A quick pit stop and I started my way down. With a screen shot of the trails map and the instructions from the bnb host, I started down the trail and found “the” view.
Pictures on a phone cannot do justice to the marvel that lay before me. With a view of the gulf islands between the mainland and Salt Spring, with Vancouver waving proudly in the distance, it truly is a million-dollar view.
Back in the car, and after 3 hours plus of hiking it was time for some replenishment. Back to Ciderworks for a pizza, some more cider (again the baby flight) AND I got to sit in wonder at the view with my apple fritter in hand.
As a glutton for punishment and not wanting to head back to my room yet, I actually headed down to Ruckle Provincial Park and did the small loop on the south end of the park. With rugged coastline, and a walk through the working farm at the end, it was a quiet and peaceful late afternoon stroll.
Now being too tired to do much more, I grabbed a bagged salad to eat for dinner back at my bnb with a plan to spend the sunset in the hot tub…which is well deserved way to end a day like that!
A Lazy Monday
Monday morning came a lazy drive around the top of the island to waste time till my ferry home. I made a pit stop at a recommended coffee shop near the northeast side of the Island Fernwood Road Cafe for a lovely coffee and had an unexpected love session with a 4-month-old puppy and a great random conversation with his owner who lives with her husband on a small working hobby farm type property. THAT kind of got me dreaming of a simpler life for sure.
After heading back to Ganges, I stopped at The Tree House Cafe for lunch. A cute little outdoor spot that serves great food and location. It even has live music on Friday and Saturday nights during the summer.
As my time till my ferry was still a bit away, I randomly found a beach access road just outside of Ganges and decided to have a sit for an hour or so before I needed to get to the ferry.
I parked and walked the path down to the beach, stopping on the short stairwell to take in the view. And didn’t I just get the view I wasn’t expecting. To my right, just wading into the water for a swim, was another naked man. Now my first thought of course was, “why do I keep seeing naked people?” but in his defense…..its a beach, and I was actually less shocked to see this.
He waded into the water, and I found a log on the beach to sit on. Taking in the quietness of the beach was a great way to end a pretty amazing weekend.
In the end, the beach encounter helped make it a hat trick weekend. One naked person per day.
At least it makes a good story, and some pretty good memories as well. Isn’t that what travelling is all about anyway?