I think I’m truly an Island girl at heart….born in Great Britain, fell in love with New Zealand and then Vancouver Island. Right now I’m having a love affair with islands reached from other islands such as Salt Spring, Cortes, Quadra, Denman and Hornby for hard evidence. Maybe I have a problem.
I managed to persuade Jean Robert to one last island visit (this year anyway), this time to Gabriola Island, just off the coast of Nanaimo. My winning argument? It’s fairly close, has good snorkelling opportunities and only costs $25 to get to! Sold.
An early start on Gabriola Island
We managed to get over to the Island super early (9.30am is early for us!) after staying over at Rathtrevor Provincial Park campground in Parksville the night before. One of our first impressions of the island was how quiet it was, but we figured this was just because it was Wednesday morning.
Turns out, this is just Gabriola in general! With the roads to ourselves, we explored the northern tip of the island and enjoyed the views of the mainland mountains, giant ferries, coast guard vehicles (a helicopter AND hovercraft, fancy) and Entrance Island lighthouse.
Gabriola itself may be quiet but the ocean around it certainly isn’t! Practically straight across from Gabriola is Vancouver city, albeit 40km or so away. Gabriola definitely felt like one of the most ‘connected’ islands we’ve been to, with the twenty minute ferry to Vancouver Island arriving directly into Nanaimo’s city centre. It seems relatively easy to live here but work in Nanaimo.
Paddling at Drumbeg Provincial Park
After some more quiet cruising around the island, a stop in the local library (which I really really want to work in) and lunch on a beach, we got the canoe into the water at Drumbeg Provincial Park on the Island’s south-eastern corner. Paddling across the bay to yet another island, I relaxed in the sun while Jean Robert took a dive into the super clear water.
He was very excited to find a nudibranch among many other things; one day I will have to see one for myself as he’s been raving about them for the last. four. years. (!!)
Looking back towards Gabriola Island (above)
View of Mount Baker, Washington state, looming over the island we stopped on (below)
Camping at Gabriola Island Regional Park
With plenty more to discover on Gabriola we wanted to stay the night, but since there are no Rec Sites on the Island and we didn’t want to camp, we found ourselves paying for the first time this year! It wasn’t such a hard $15 to part with since the beautiful location more than made up for it, but it certainly seemed a strange thing to do!
The Descanso Bay Regional Park campground is on a peninsula, so we had a water view from our wooded campsite, and sunset views only a short walk away.
Taking advantage of the campground location, we set off for a (fairly) early canoe, with plenty of bird and ferry watching. I even picked out my dream Gabriola house. We had a great view of the city of Nanaimo; it looks much prettier from the water somehow! From this distance, we could see even see cars moving on the highway. We paddled along the coast to the ferry terminal, though had to move pretty quick for the incoming sailing!
Picking apples on Gabriola Island
Away from the water, we stopped by Ravenskill Cidery and Orchard. We were hoping for some juice but we were, unfortunately, a little too early in the season for that. Still, we got to pick some Spartan and Mac apples and take some ridiculously addictive toffee apple candies away with us.
The owners told us all about their plans to start brewing alcoholic cider in the future, so watch this space! It takes quite a bit of time apparently, so maybe in a few years. It would be great to have some more local cider, as the closest is down at Mill Bay near Victoria.
Last stop of the day was Gabriola Sands Provincial Park, which is made up of two opposing beaches at the entrance of a peninsula. We chose the one facing Nanaimo and wiled away a few hours swimming and sunbathing. The second week of September and it was pushing 30 degrees! The last weekend of summer was very kind to us. As always, we were sad to leave another island haven to get back on the ferry and drive home.
A perfect balance of island living and civilisation
Despite Gabriola being so close to Nanaimo and popular with tourists, it was so quiet and relaxed. It does not have as much of a hippy vibe as Cortes and Hornby but still celebrates alternative living.
A great compromise between island living and civilisation I think! We’d love to go back to Gabriola to canoe around the Flat Top Islands in the north-east….it was too windy the day we were in the early so went south to Drumbeg.