I visited Gabriola Island, one of British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, a group of islands tucked in beside the larger Vancouver Island between it and the mainland coast.
I live on Vancouver Island and have visited many of the Gulf Islands which are tucked on the east coast of the “big island.” There’s kind of three groups: the southern Gulf Islands near the provincial capital of Victoria (also on Vancouver Island); a spread-out cluster of what I call the mid Gulf Islands and then the northern Gulf Islands, sometimes called the Discovery Islands because one of this group – Quadra Island – forms the eastern shore of a narrow passage called Discovery Passage which is formed with Vancouver Island. Discovery Passage is the shipping lane on the southern coast of B.C. through which Alaska-bound shipping must go through in order to avoid the exposed open Pacific off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Okay, geography lesson coming to a close here – The Gulf Islands are in the Strait of Georgia, a body of water between Vancouver Island and the south coast of B.C. (where the city of Vancouver resides). The Strait of Georgia makes up the northern half of the recently-annointed Salish Sea; A name that recognizes the size of this body of water between Vancouver Island, the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, U.S.A and the mainland of B.C. and the west side of Puget Sound in Washington. Phew!
Anyway, these Gulf Islands are beautiful islands that are lightly populated but are extremely desirous places to live and visit because they are so scenic and the climates are so mild. These islands are graced by ocean vistas, forested hills and mountains and quirky resident cultures. I’ve visited many of them, Quadra Island being just a 20-minute ferry ride from my hometown of Campbell River. Gabriola lies just off one of Vancouver Island’s biggest cities, Nanaimo, and I’d never visited. So, as part of our quest to visit places around Vancouver Island that we’ve not yet been, we set off to Gabriola. These places all have Spanish names reflecting the original European explorers and claimants to these lands, the Spanish. Of course, these are traditional territories of many First Nations groups who are still prominent landowners and cultural forces on these islands.
Gabriola is beautiful. I’m thinking it’s my favourite Gulf Island now. We camped at Descanso Bay Regional Park and the weather was scorching hot. But the campsite was well-forested and therefore relatively cool. Our campsite overlooked a beautiful little cove that gave us a big surprise at low tide in the morning. It completely drained, exposing muddy sea bottom, sea weed and sandstone formations. It was great to swim in at high tide, though. The water was the warmest saltwater I’ve ever swum in (except for a trip to Hawaii many years ago). Usually, the waters of the Gulf of Georgia are pretty chilly! But this water was very pleasant. The last time I went swimming in saltwater was 10-15 years ago, I’m sure.
Anyway, Gabriola has many pocket beaches strung out along its shoreline and they’re very beautiful.
The island also has some very interesting petroglyphs which we walked to in the interior of the island. They are found in places of bare rock in forest clearings and depict mythical and stylized people and creatures. Their age is unknown and they are sadly deteriorating (although still very clear). Very cool.
A funky Saturday morning market was fun and a fascinating place to check out on the island is the Malaspina Galleries, a sandstone formation created by the ocean eroding the sandstone rock that Gabriola seems to be made up of. The galleries look like the tube of a cresting wave frozen in sandstone. Very cool.
Gabriola is a laid-back, picturesque island, typical of the Gulf Islands, of course. Every night there was a spectacular sunset as the sun went down behind the central mountains of Vancouver Island. We watched it set as it seemed to last for hours from the shore on Gabriola.
We’re definitely going back there.