BC islands to explore

A little bit of nature by my side, a little spa is all we need, a little beach is all I see

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PHOTO: Victoria Xi / The Peak

By: Zobia Khalid

We can already feel the warmth of the summer days ahead of us, and while the climate of the Pacific Northwest might not be the tropical heat some want, we can still enjoy the summer. Whether you’re in pursuit of adventure, relaxation, or the chance to meet new people, BC’s islands are diverse and offer the perfect setting for a weekend escapade. Here are a few choices for island trips!

Salt Spring Island 

This island has been home to Coast Salish First Nations, the Saanich, and the Cowichan First Nations for generations, with the earliest human activity recorded from over 4,000 years ago. A small island located on the coast of the Southern Gulf islands, it’s only 185 square km and has a total population of roughly 12,000 people. As is the case with most of the islands on this list, you can get there via BC Ferries. There are plenty of ways to move within the island: biking is a common method, but there are also buses. Salt Spring Island has a couple of villages. The more popular are: Ganges, Fulford Harbour, and Tiny Vesuvius Bay

Ganges Village is the central hub of Salt Spring, hosting the majority of shops, markets, art galleries, and much more. There are two markets: the first one is a Saturday market featuring farmers, artists, and other small-owned island businesses ranging from seafood to jewelry. The second one is solely a farmer’s market which takes place on Tuesdays, but shopping is not all to be done here. Ganges hosts a wide variety of artistic, cultural, and physical activities museums and art events, golf courses, hiking trails, camping grounds, and beaches. Beddis Beach is a popular spot to snorkel and relax. Related to the name, if you are looking for salt springs there are a total of 14. Most of them are in the Mineral Springs Resort, so you can enjoy the springs while you decompress from the day, but be sure to book now since they get filled up fast for the summer. To sum up, this island is best if you are looking to revitalize and unwind in nature.

Tofino

Located in Vancouver Island, Tofino is situated in the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation of the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples. Much like all of Vancouver, Tofino displays a diverse plethora of natural beauty, from sandy beaches to hot springs. The area is best known for physical activities like surfing, biking, kayaking, ziplining, and hiking, but there are plenty of options if you’re looking for a less active escapade; there are saunas, spas, meditation centers, and yoga studios for you to enjoy. If you’re looking for a weekend of nature, you can birdwatch or explore the marine life; after all, Tofino has over 200 “resident” gray whales that feed from March through October in the neighbouring waters — a bird or whale watching tour might be the perfect activity for the weekend! Tofino’s Village Green is the main center to meet people and during summertime, go to markets. 

While it’s best to book a trip from June to August to fully experience the beauty, you can still enjoy the town at any other time of the year. Storm watching is the most fun from Chesterman Beach where there is Wickaninnish Inn, which has amenities specifically to enjoy the storm season. The Himwitsa Gallery displays authentic carvings, jade jewelry, Cowichan knitting pieces, paintings, prints, and other gifts open for purchase. General art is displayed in the Mark Hobson Gallery, the Roy Henry Vickers Gallery, and the Tofino Gallery of Contemporary Art. One last stop in Tofino is the Ucluelet Aquarium, which showcases beautiful marine life. In short, this island is best if you are looking for a getaway to re-energize yourself.

Skidegate Village

Located on Graham Island and the farthest away island on our list, is primarily home to the Haida Nation, as it is located on Haida Gwaii. This is a small town of about 700 people. This village is perfect for harmonizing with nature, birdwatching, fishing, camping, boating, sailing, swimming, hiking, and wildlife touring, truly a one-stop place for the nature lover. Balance Rock, is a trail to enjoy the beach scenery and local fauna, watch the nearby waterfall, or take some photos with the titular rock. If you’re interested in seeing marine wildlife up close, you can rent a kayak or paddleboard to explore the Skidegate inlet — this area is amazing for finding a wide variety of fish, king salmon, coho, and halibut are very common here. 

There’s more than nature, the Haida Heritage Center in Ḵay ‘Llnagaay, offers cultural tours, including a weaving tour and canoe tour.

Mayne Island 

Another little hidden gem. Just a short ferry ride from the Tsawwassen ferry terminal, Mayne Island offers a tranquil environment to enjoy the beaches, trails, and local businesses. There are a couple of campgrounds, a cottage, and even a resort by the beach, all perfect options to have a little weekend getaway with friends or family, plus, you don’t even have to worry about dangerous encounters with the fauna, as this is a bear, cougar, and coyote-free island. Cycling around the island is a great way to move around, but you’ll also have the option to take a community bus, a donation-based bus that can take you anywhere within the island, though you’ll have to give them at least a 24-hour notice. 

If by this point you are a bit tired of nature, you’ll be glad to know that, while small, the Mayne Island community has events around the year. Finally, just as Salt Spring, Mayne alongside Galiano, Pender, and Saturna islands form the five Southern Gulf Islands, meaning they all host the annual Tour Des Iles, a two-day festival. This tour offers plenty of events and activities to take part in, all unique to each island’s attractions and culture; music, food, and outdoor activities, the Tour des Iles is a perfect opportunity for a weekend adventure.

Finally, one of The Peak’s honorary mentions go to San Josef Bay. Rated the best beach in BC, located on Vancouver Island, it has beautiful sandy shores, and scenic trails to enjoy. Our other mention goes to the Octopus Islands, part of the Discovery Islands nested in the north of the Salish Sea. This park offers beautiful landscapes, a great place to explore Quadra Island’s shoreline on a kayak, and even set camp in one of the campsites on one of the islets, just be respectful and careful of the local fauna.

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