B.C.'s Galiano Island: Settle in for scenic wonders and serendipity

A Canadian ferry travels through Active Pass 

Quiet beach walks. Check

Hikes through old-growth forests. Check

Whales and wild deer: Check

Mix the usual island pleasures with a dose of serendipity - as in who knew we'd find ourselves on a bus filled with passengers shaking maracas and singing Beatles' tunes - and it's easy to fill a weekend exploring British Columbia's tiny Galiano Island. 

One of the least-developed of the Canadian Southern Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and the lower mainland,  Galiano is just 17 miles long and 3.7 miles wide at its widest point. 

"We're about people wanting to be quiet," says glass artist Marcia DeVicque, one of the island's 1,000 or so residents. "If I get more than three cars in my drive, I call it Galiano Gridlock."

Just an hour's ferry ride from Vancouver, Galiano could be an easy day-trip, but my husband, Tom, and I found plenty of reasons to settle in, starting with the peach and raspberry scones from the Sturdies Bay Bakery and Cafe, down the hill from our Airbnb, a three-room cottage close to the ferry dock. 

Our host, Alexandra, pointed out the location of a Saturday farmers' market at the end of her street, and several hikes and walks we could take from her front door.
 With half the island used as a tree farm by the lumber industry until the early 1990s, almost one-fifth is protected land, most of it open for public use. 

 "It's acceptable to hitch-hike," Alexandra told us. "The locals will pick you up." Perhaps, but much better to bring a car, we concluded, given the mountainous geography and abundance of forest trails. 

Using a Galiano Parks and Recreation Commission map we picked up at a kiosk next to the ferry dock, we followed dozens of numbered access points to well-maintained beach and bluff trails, with time outs for visits with artists, farmers and the world's most entertaining bus driver.

Here are some suggestions on where to walk and stop along the way:

Retreat Cove and Tapovan Peace Park

Most visitors find their way mid-island to Bodega Ridge Provincial Park, known for its cliffside trails and views over the Gulf islands and the Olympic Mountains. 
Nearby, off Porlier Pass Road, are two lessor-known sites and the studios of two well-known artists.

Reachable on foot are a small sandstone caves at Retreat Cove (No. 31 on the map). We parked, and followed a path to the water, heeding a sign that said "Access to caves at your own risk." It also noted we were on private property, not unusual on Galiano where trails often border or go through private, residential land.

Trails lead to sandstone caves

Easy to miss is the small sign off Porlier Pass for Tapovan Peace Park, 200 acres of forested land dedicated to the life of Sri Chinmoy,  an Indian spiritual leader dedicated to world peace. 

A  Tapovan is a forest or wilderness for spiritual practice, according to a Galiano Trails Society map we found at the entrance. A steep, half-hour walk up a series of stone steps lead us to a bluff overlooking Trincomali Channel and a statue of Sri Chinmoy.
Hidden in a grove of cedar trees just north of the park are the galleries of potter Sandra Dolph and glass artist Marcia DeVicque

Glass artist Marcia DeVicque

Dolph draws inspiration from her daily walks with her dog along Pebble Beach, incorporating shells and leaves in some of the pieces she displays in her open-air Cedar Grove Gallery.  Devicque shows off her colorful mobiles and bird feeders in a garden populated with hummingbirds and hundreds of tiny frogs.

Cedar Grove Gallery

Montague Harbour/Gray Peninsula 

Sheltered Montague Harbour is the gateway to Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park, and Gray Peninsula, home to First Nations peoples before the arrival of Spanish explorer Dionisio Galiano in 1792. A loop trail is an easy hour's walk through the forest and white shell beaches. Locals say it's one of the best places to watch the sunset. 

A few miles away is the Hummingbird Pub, an island institution popular with families. We could have easily driven, but instead we parked the car at the marina, and waited for with Tom Tompkins  (aka Tommy Transit) to show up behind the wheel of the free Hummingbird Pub Bus. 

The Humming Bird pub bus

Suddenly we're all back in high school as Tompkins, 71, hands out maracas and tambourines, cranks up the music, and bangs on symbols and a cow bell mounted above the dashboard. 

"If you're not shakin' it,  you're not makin' it," he yells as we  rock and roll to the Beatles' "Help."

"Tommy Transit"

Burgers and beer aside, it's possible to find Indonesian, German (served from the same food truck) and Thai food on Galiano. The award for most creative use of local ingredients goes to Pilgrimme where chef Jesse McCleery composes dishes from food mostly foraged, grown or produced on the island. 

Dinner on the deck at Pilgrimme

Relaxing on the deck of his wooded cottage one evening, we sampled our way through four or five shared plates including a bowl of marinated olives tossed with chopped pine needles, herbs and chiles and a salad of roasted peaches, local greens and blue cheese. 

Active Pass/Bluffs Park

Close to the ferry terminal on the south end of the island, is Bluffs Park, Galiano's oldest wilderness park, overlooking Active Pass. Galiano is one of the main feeding routes for ORCA whales, and the best viewing spots are near here. A detour through the Galiano Cemetery took us along a path marked "Whale Trail," and down a flight of concrete steps (No. 17 on the map) to a sand beach with a long view up the pass.

We didn't spot any whales day we were there, but we weren't disappointed. 
Serendipity kicked in once more when we noticed a flier advertising the Galiano Conservancy Association's "Musical Walkalong for Learning," an annual, three-hour guided walk through the forest, accompanied by musicians playing flute, cello, horns and more. 

Musical "Walkalong"

Whales, I've seen before, but never have I hiked through the woods, and come upon a bass player standing in a clearing, or harpist perched on a bluff above a crystal blue bay. 

If you go:

Tourist season on Galiano winds down after Canadian Thanksgiving (Oct. 9 this year). Some businesses close or keep seasonal hours. Best to call ahead if you have a specific restaurant or art gallery in mind for a visit. Year-round activities include golf, kayaking, biking and hiking.

Getting there: See www.bcferries.com or call 1-888-223-3779 for schedules and prices from the ferry terminal in Tsawwassen, near Vancouver.  Travel time is 55 minutes. Reservations recommended.

Getting around: With no regular public transportation, Galiano is best explored with a car, or if you don't mind hills and narrow roads, by bike.  

Galiano Adventures rents mopeds May-September. The free Hummingbird Pub bus runs from Montague Harbour Marina and the park campground to the pub and back from the end of May through the last Saturday in September. 

Where to stay: Cabins, bed and breakfasts, Airbnbs and campsites are available in various price ranges. We paid $108 (U.S. dollars) per night for our Airbnb, a small cottage with a kitchen and private bath on the south end of the island near the ferry dock. 

Looking for a splurge? Within walking distance of the ferry dock is the Galiano Oceanfront Inn and Spa. Fall rates on oceanfront spa and villa suites range from $199-$299 Canadian dolllars ($161-$241 U.S. based on the current exchange rate). The hotel provides Smart Cars for guests. 

Upcoming events:

Find local artists and farmers at the Saturday Market, from late May through October 7,  10 a.m.-2 p.m. The island's annual Blackberry Festival is Oct. 7.  

Galiano's annual Literary Festival takes place next February 23 - 25, hosted by the Galiano Island Bookstore

Continuing through May is the Galiano Concert Society's 2017-2018 "Baroque and Beyond" series. 

Tourism info: Pick up maps at the Galiano Island Chamber of Commerce information booth on Sturdies Bay Road, near ferry dock. More trail information on the Galiano Trail Society's website.

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