I had booked a weekend getaway to Gabriola Island a number of weeks ago, before there was any hint of the snow storm that has descended upon Victoria this week. In fact at that time it looked as if spring had almost arrived. I had assumed that by the time I went over to the island it would be balmy. Unfortunately things changed, but it somehow made the visit to Gabriola more of an adventure and certainly more magical.
Gabriola Island is at the northern end of the string of the main Gulf Islands. It is relatively large, while I am not certain on its actual measurements, I would guess bigger than Mayne and maybe half the size of Salt Spring Island. It is located just a few kilometres off the coast of central Vancouver Island. The ferry actually leaves right from downtown Nanaimo to make its 25 minute crossing to Descanso Bay on Gabriola Island.
Once you are on the island there is a familiar Gulf Island feeling. There is a small pub right at the ferry terminal and then a hill climb up towards the main shopping area. Past the village you can take a north or south road which loop the island, connecting in Silva Bay which is the population centre on the far east end of the island. The northwest of the island has some more populated areas with Berry Point, the area near the Malaspina Galleries and at the end of the road, the Wood Hood. It was the last of these that we had rented a cabin to stay in.
I would say that my first misconception that I had broken was that I imagined Gabriola as a much more populated island than it is. With just a short ferry crossing right into the downtown of a large city, I expected there to be a large suburban commuter population. While there are certainly some people that do commute to Nanaimo, it is smaller than you would expect and this has not had an impact on that Gulf Island feel at all. It might be the less than frequent ferry schedule, but even with that in most other cities I would have thought you would see a cluster of housing right near the ferry, but not at all.
The first day we arrived was snow free, but we had seen the weather report and knew that some of the places we wanted to see may not have been accessible in snow. So we quickly got our bags into the cabin and went right back out to explore this new place.
Our first stop was the Malaspina Galleries. I feel conflicted even writing about it to be honest. I am certain most of you would already know about it, I had certainly heard about them previously and wanted to see them, but honestly, I had no idea how amazing they actually were until I saw them in person. Even more important, I didn’t realise how fragile they would seem. One part of me wants to say that everyone needs to get there and see them before they surely collapse into the sea. The other part of me wants to see them encased in glass and not let anyone go there at all! For those that don’t know, the Malaspina Galleries are a sandstone rock formation that was apparently caused by a combination of surf and frost (don’t ask me for the details because I just don’t know). The rock curves around you and hangs over like being in the curl of a massive wave. Unfortunately, you can see places where people have carved their initials into the sandstone which is just tragic. In any event, definitely one of the most beautiful places I have visited across our amazing islands.
The rest of the first day was split between a visit to the village, a walk along Brickyard Beach and Descanso Regional Park. The village has everything and maybe a bit more than you would need and expect on a Gulf Island. A couple of restaurants, a grocery store, a hardware store, a cafe and likely about 15 to 20 more stores and services. We had a couple of great meals at Mad Rona’s Cafe, on another trip will have to check out the others.
Descanso Park is just a couple of minutes from the ferry terminal. It has some beautiful little beaches, arbutus trees and some trails to walk along. I can imagine it would be a nice place to spend some time when the weather is a bit warmer. Brickyard Beach on the other hand was fun even on a cold winter day. If you have ever been to Sidney Island campground and seen the bricks on the beach there, this is very familiar though a different brick company (Dominion). You can see in the eroded banks that the bricks must be quite deep across a large area. The bricks obviously haven;t heard the wildlife though as could be attested by the number of people out collecting shellfish along the shore. The last place that we stopped on the first day was the Ravenskill Orchard and Cidery. It was a beautiful setting, with the apple trees curving across the hillside with the light snow from earlier in the week between the trees and a newly built but old looking barn-like cider house. I of course went in for a tasting and left with two bottles of deliciously crisp Granny Smith apple cider. Definitely worth a stop if you are visiting the island.
The second day was a bit more of a challenge for island exploring. There was a bitter wind and the continuing threat of snow seemed to be coming to fruition. Still we managed to loop the North and South roads while stopping at lookouts, visiting the marina at Silva Bay and Drumbeg Provincial Park. I would imagine that on a day that there is not 15 centimetres coming down that there would a better opportunity to explore more places. We did take advantage of the weather to spend some more time in the coffee shop and in some of the stores, including the Hive Emporium which had a great art show going on. It also pretty nice to be able to enjoy being in the cabin with a warm fire and looking out at the snow.
What great sites did I miss out on Gabriola Island that I need to put on the list for next time?