Getting Here is Half the Fun!
The pleasures of a West coast cruise are immense—clean sea air, shipboard vistas that range from white-sand beaches to snowy peaks, relaxing passage across sapphire waters. Add in lovely venues for a meal (with surprisingly good food), comfy accommodations in which to admire the scenery, and ample opportunity to converse with friends and family, and you have a marvelously appealing travel experience. More often than not, diligent scanning of the waters around the boat can yield a sighting of an orca or other whale, perhaps even breaching.
Innumerable travelers pay thousands of dollars for such an adventure on a full-fledged cruise ship, and it’s a worthy travel choice. Or… You can enjoy many of the same delights on your journey to Vancouver Island, whose four major ferry services all offer waterborne passage from various ports in Washington state and British Columbia. For Island visitors, getting here constitutes a delightful and economical mini-cruise, across waters that are among the most-sought maritime venues in the world. Even those of us lucky enough to live here regard our frequent ferry journeys as special facets of life on the Island.
Four companies ply the waters to and from the Island, two public, two private. BC Ferries, a provincial crown corporation, is among the world’s largest, best-regarded and best-known ferry operators, and celebrated a half-century in business in 2010. While it has operations throughout the province, with a few famous itineraries that head up the Inside Passage from Port Hardy, the vast majority of sailings, destinations and passengers involve a journey between the mainland and the Island.
BC Ferries distinctive white-and-blue livery can be seen on ships as large as the massive, modern Spirit of Vancouver Island, a 560-foot vessel that carries 2,100 passengers and 470 vehicle; or as modest as the 11-foot Nimpkish at 133 passengers and 16 vehicles. Whether large or small, these ships provide safe and elegant passage among terminals in south Vancouver, north Vancouver, Powell River, Swartz Bay north of Victoria, south Nanaimo and downtown Nanaimo, the Comox Valley, and numerous lovely islands such as Salt Spring, Gabriola, Denman, Hornby, Quadra and more. Mainland-Island crossings typically take about two hours, plenty of time for sightseeing, relaxing and enjoying breakfast, lunch or dinner. For more information please visit www.bcferries.com.
The sight of a BC ferry slipping carefully between the high bluffs of Galiano and Mayne Island is one of the most impressive—and most often photographed—images of life in and around our Island. And the scene is just as memorable for passengers aboard the ferries, as they get to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the swirling currents, the crying gulls, the amber-barked arbutus trees on the hillsides. Most of the time, another ferry rounds a point heading the opposite way, providing a dandy photo op.
The Island’s other three ferry services operate between US ports and the Victoria region. Washington State Ferries, the world’s largest ferry system by vehicle numbers, sails once daily between Anacortes, the San Juan Islands, and Sidney, 25 minutes north of Victoria. The iconic white-and-green ships carry both passengers and vehicles, and take about three hours, with an intermediate stop in charming Friday Harbor, on San Juan Island (where passengers must clear US Customs and Immigration—remember your passports!). Though not as big as the BC Ferries ships, Washington state’s boats offer similar amenities, including panoramic view sundecks, onboard cafes and a historic Northwest art collection.
The other vehicle ferry serving the Island is the MV Coho, a historic vessel operating out of Port Angeles, on the Olympic Peninsula, into a wharf right on the Inner Harbour in Victoria. The parent company, Black Ball Ferry Lines, carries a proud corporate name that dates back to 19th century, trans-Atlantic clipper ship service; previous incarnations of this maritime enterprise evolved into both the Washington and BC ferry systems. The Coho takes 90 minutes to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca, providing travelers sensational views of the snowy Olympic Mountains—and an unparalleled entrance into Victoria Harbour. High summer brings four crossings daily; for more information visit www.cohoferry.com.
Passenger service between Seattle and Victoria is provided by the famous Victoria Clipper high-speed catamaran ferries, with up to three sailings daily in summer. Sleek and speedy, these boats ride high in the water to minimize the effects of swells, and helping provide passengers good views out the windows as they sail through passages rich in wildlife and scenery. The nearly three-hour voyage zooms up Puget Sound past Whidbey Island, then out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, also docking right in the Inner Harbour; for more information visit www.clippervacations.com.
While the vast majority of Island visitors arrive aboard these ferry services, flights into our airports and harbours can be just as memorable—if not more so. Victoria’s Inner Harbour is one of the busiest seaplane base in the world, with innumerable flights every day between the capital and Vancouver, as well as links to Seattle and remote islands and destinations. The incoming approach around Ogden Point, with a landing that zooms past Fisherman’s Wharf and Laurel Point, is a sensational introduction to the city, and offers by far the handiest aviation arrival for tourists planning a vacation in the city. Nanaimo Harbour serves a similar role for up-Island destinations. The three main carriers are Harbour Air, West Coast Air, and Seattle-based Kenmore Air.
A similar experience is offered by HeliJet’s sleek jet helicopters, which whisk their way between Vancouver and Ogden Point.
Both seaplanes and helicopters fly at much lower altitudes than regular commercial aircraft, thus affording passengers great views of the waters beneath the plane or chopper… And an extra chance to see whales along the way, an added delight the pilots keep watch for assiduously. Scheduled and chartered flights operate to and from communities throughout the entire Vancouver Island region.
Any number of old sayings advise that the journey is as important as the destination. In our case, we heartily endorse this notion, as we’re sure the many ways of getting to Vancouver Island are among the most appealing in the world. And that certainly matches what visitors find when they arrive, a place whose landscape, attractions and visitor services are peerless.
Discovering Galiano Island
|Enjoying the view from Mount Galiano. Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kiwi_cam/|
Imagine you are resting on a white-shell beach beneath an overhanging cedar, leaning back on a sun-warmed drift log. The passage before you sparkles with the gently cresting wavelets of a northerly breeze; a kingfisher chitters its way across the small cove. Time passes so quietly and gently that it seems surreal when a mink wanders down on the beach 20 meters away, starts poking into the tidepools and rocks along the shore, finally catches a small fish, dashes up on the sand only to stop practically at your feet, peers up at your curiously, then strolls away.
Memorable wildlife experiences, such as this one at Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park, are just the order of the day on Galiano Island, one of the smallest, least developed and outermost of the Gulf Islands that border Vancouver Island to the east. A 27-kilometer thread of land that’s only 6km across at its widest point, Galiano overlooks Salt Spring Island to the west, and the strait of Juan de Fuca eastward. its name reflects early exploration of the North Pacific by Spanish captains, one of whom was Dionisio Alcala Galiano.
Only 1,200 people live on Galiano, most on the southern end of the island near the BC Ferries terminal. Far more wild animals—eagles, otters, seals, herons and, yes, minks—are residents of this mountainous outpost of earth’s Pacific plate. Visitors come here to enjoy the quiet, the beautiful parks and coves, and the relaxed atmosphere. Energetic souls might climb to the top of Mount Galiano for superb views of the rest of the islands and the Olympic Mountains beyond. Less strenuous is a beachcombing stroll at Dionisio Point Provincial Park, whose long sandy strand holds sculpted sandstone features. Montague Harbour’s famous white shell beach reflects a centuries-old First Nations midden here, and it’s a great place for a stroll, too.
The island’s main services center, lining the hill above the ferry dock, holds a famous bookstore and a few small shops and cafes. A high-style resort with a splendid art collection, cozy cottages and an excellent small spa, Galiano Inn, fronts the shore near the ferry dock. A mid-island pub, the Hummingbird, is known far and wide for excellent pub food and live music every night in summer.
Galiano is easy to reach on daily ferry service from either Tsawassen or Swartz Bay. A car isn’t necessary to enjoy the island; Galiano Inn even offers guests loaner vehicles to use, and bicycles are available as well. And that’s about it. Simple enough—exactly what the serenity-seeking travelers who come here are fond of on this lesser-known gem in the Gulf Islands.
Culinary Festivals in the Vancouver Island Region
|Photo: Tofino Food & Wine Festival|
With a landscape, climate and cultural ethos among the best on earth for food production, it’s no surprise that Vancouver Island offers visitors and residents some of the best food and beverage festivals anywhere. And our festivals not only celebrate our food, in many cases they celebrate the lands in which the food is produced.
That’s the case with what may be the best-known of all such events, the annual September Feast of Fields, during which guests share dishes prepared by local chefs using local ingredients—on the grounds of a local farm that’s one of the producers. Spurred by the longstanding European tradition of holding harvest dinners outdoors in orchards and farms, Feast of Fields is an unparalleled sensory delight. This year, it will be September 22 at Metchosin Farm; tickets sell out early! For more information, www.farmfolkcityfolk.ca.
The other end of the spectrum, and of the summer calendar, is offered out on the West Coast during the Tofino Food and Wine Festival, a gathering that focuses largely on the seafood so abundant in and around Clayoquot Sound. Ranging from halibut to oysters to novelties such as sea cucumbers, the festival’s main event is outdoors in the lovely, lush surroundings of Tofino Botanical Gardens. This year’s festival runs June 7-9, with “Grazing in the Gardens” June 8; tofinofoodandwinefestival.com.
Back to fall, two events on Salt Spring Island celebrate local food. The annual Fall Fair in late September brings producers of everything delectable on the island into Ganges, the main town, for a gathering whose ingredients range from locally-grown produce to locally-grown music. A few weeks later, the Apple Festival focuses on this iconic Salt Spring crop, with literally dozens of varieties available for tasting fresh, in pies, as cider and in dozens of other ways; saltspringtourism.com.
Just across the water from Salt Spring, the Cowichan Valley also has much to celebrate in autumn, and its early September Wine & Culinary Festival does exactly that. The Island’s “Warm Land” is the home of numerous small farms and food gatherers devoted to sustainable production of fine foodstuffs, ranging from vegetables to wild mushrooms, and all find their way to table. Cowichan’s many boutique estate wineries produce cool-climate vintages perfect for accompanying seafood; many events are held outdoors at local farms, wineries and orchards; wines.cowichan.net.
These are just the main events surrounding food on our Island. We have a lot to celebrate in the culinary world here; for more information on the Vancouver Island region please visit www.vancouverisland.travel.
- BC Shellfish Festival
- Feast BC - Tofino
- Taste: Victoria's Festival of Food & Wine
- Cowichan Wine & Culinary Festival
- Fire & Ice Qualicum Beach
- Parksville Uncorked
- Cowichan Bay Spot Prawn Festival
- Sip & Savour Salt Spring
- The Clayoquot Oyster Festival
- Nanaimo BBQ Fest
|Photo: BC ShellFish Festival|
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