British Columbia's coast is home to an archipelago of islands broken up into multiple categories. Be it the Southern Gulf Islands, Northern Gulf Islands, Discovery Islands or otherwise, each island offers seclusion, breathtaking scenery, and often a cultivated, artistic population of residents.
With the New York Times recently naming these islands one of the 52 places to see in 2016, we encourage you to take advantage of your unbounded back yard, and to venture out into the sandy beaches and dense rainforests that lie so temptingly off our coast. Sure, you could travel out of the province or the country, but why would you, when paradise is so near?
Hornby Island has an almost unbelievable tropical aesthetic, considering it’s located in the Salish Sea near Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley. A true hidden gem, it takes either a personal boat or two trips via BC Ferries to arrive at the sandy shores. Once there, expect to be greeted by lush greenery, turquoise waters, and a quaint island town. While some people do live on the island, there isn’t a lot of development or cars, making it an ideal island paradise.
Getting there: Drive an hour north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island to Buckley Bay, where you can take the first ferry to Denman Island. Once on Denman, simply follow the signs to Gravelly Bay terminal where you can take the 15-minute sail to Hornby. If you have your own boat, the ideal trip is to sail directly into Tribune Bay (that iconic, white BC beach) where you can anchor, explore, and row into town.
Island Tip: The best way to navigate your way around the island is by hitch-hiking, and if you have a skim-board, bring it.
One of the better known and more populated islands in the Strait of Georgia, Saltspring offers a relaxed, beachy vibe inclusive of farmers markets, artisan shops, pristine beaches, and stunning hikes. With outdoor activities nearly unlimited, visitors can explore steep bluffs, dense rain forests and flourishing sea life. Located within close proximity to Vancouver Island and easily accessible by boat or air, there's no reason not to go here this summer.
Getting there: Choose to sail over your own boat, or take a short trip on BC Ferries from Tsawwassen terminal. An additional option is to take a float plane from either Salt Spring Air , Harbour Air , or Seair Seaplanes.
Island Tip: Go on a weekend, and stop by the open air Saturday market, featuring goods that are all grown, baked, made or foraged on the island itself.
Conveniently tucked in the Southern Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland lies Galiano . Often referred to as the gem of the Gulf Islands, the island is home to ancient forests, sandstone and pebble beaches, stunning views and plenty of water activities. At only 25 kilometres long and 9 kilometres wide, the population of about 1,000 residents keeps the chill, beach-town vibe alive and well. Though it is easily accessible, a trip here will leave you feeling refreshingly off-the-grid.
Getting there: Galiano is conveniently accessible via BC Ferries . Located a short 50-minute sail from Tsawwassen terminal, it is the first stop on the island route. If you have your own boat, simply sail over and tie up in Montague Harbour.
Island Tip: If you don’t have your own boat, definitely check the ferry schedule before you go, as there’s usually no more than a handful of sailings per day.
Though large in size, Bowen Island is surprisingly limited in terms of development. With a population of just over 3,000 people, there is no high school or major stores, leaving it somewhat reliant on the nearby Lower Mainland. Luckily, this means that it is a short 20-minute sail from Horseshoe Bay, a trip that can easily be made for a day or a weekend. Upon arrival, you'll become aware of the artistic nature of the island, as art galleries, live theatre and live music are common. Casual dining and a small network of boutique stores round out the picturesque Snug Cove, the epicentre of the island's life.
Getting there: Sail a personal boat to Snug Cove and tie up for the night, or jump on BC Ferries from nearby Horseshoe Bay. A highlight of the proximity means there is also an additional, easier alternative from downtown Vancouver. Hop the small shuttle from Coal Harbour (walk-on passengers only) for a scenic view of the city.
Island Tip: Be sure to stop by Union Steam Ship Marina's charming general store for an ice cream cone and settle into the grass to soak up the scene. You won't regret it.
Newcastle Island is a small piece of land located directly off the coast of Nanaimo, British Columbia. The entire island is a Provincial Marine Park, meaning that no one lives or drives on the island aside from the one or two park authorities that care for it. With stunning fields, historic totem poles, quirky wildlife, intriguing old quarries and smooth sandstone beaches, there's an abundance of areas awaiting exploration. The one large, barn-like building on the island allocates half of its space to a museum, and the other half to a general store serving ice cream cones, fries and the like. We suggest taking advantage of the pristine waters, and stretching out to tan on one of the hot sandstone cliffs near the marina's pier.
Getting there: By personal boat, Newcastle's marina is easily accessible and available at a first-come, first-serve basis. There is also a small, public shuttle available to visitors from Nanaimo. If you wish to stay overnight, you'll need either a boat or a tent to pitch in the campground, as there are no buildings providing accommodation.
Island Tip: Plan your trip to fall over low-tide, when the water between Newcastle Island and neighbouring Protection Island becomes so shallow you can walk between them, discovering beautiful sea-snail shells and sand dollars on the way.
Located in the Gulf of Georgia as one of the Southern Gulf Islands, Pender Island is home to about 2,250 permanent residents and sees many more seasonal residents throughout the year. Technically comprised of two different islands, North Pender and South Pender, the one-lane bridge over the canal connects them. With it's sub-Mediterranean climate, the island is home to farmland, forests, beaches, lakes, and coves, with a golf course, shops, restaurants and galleries dotting the town. It's a popular destination for the outdoorsy, as the entire landscape is fit for activities such as cycling, fishing, hiking, and scuba diving.
Island Tip: Since this island is somewhat larger and more populated than others, it has a taxi service available for navigation upon arrival. If you're arriving by boat in the summer months, you may want to make a reservation.
Located a short 20-minute sail from Nanaimo harbour on Vancouver Island, Gabriola Island is one of the more easily-accessed Gulf Islands in the Straight of Georgia. Known for its stunning sandstone rock formations, Gabriola is an inspiration to the local painters, sculptors, photographers and glass artists. The 5,000 local residents certainly have their impact on the art-influenced island, however the setting still feels quiet, relaxed and secluded from the nearby city. Activities available on the island include fishing, hiking, and biking, though that only scratches the surface.
Island Tip: Visit the Malaspina Galleries, a spectacular sandstone rock sculpted by the waves over the past hundred years. It acts as the perfect natural spring board into the warm waters that await below. If you can't find it, simply ask a local.
Denman Island , which is located in close proximity to the aforementioned Hornby Island, is one of the Northern Gulf Islands and part of the Comox Valley Regional District. With a mere 1,022 year-round residents, you can expect the sleepy little island to offer pure tranquility, seclusion, and a beautifully natural environment. Like the other islands, the community is made up of eclectic, artsy personalities, paving the way for beautiful arts centres, galleries, tours and even an open stage hosting musical acts.
Getting there: Though ferry access is available to Denman Island via Buckley Bay on Vancouver Island, it is on one of the smaller, cable ferries. The sailings leave approximately every hour between 7am and 9:45pm. If you choose to take a personal boat over, you can tie up at Ford Cove Harbour Authority or at the Community Dock.
Island Tip: While the Summer Art Gallery is open for the season, you'll need to plan a trip over the third Thursday of the month to catch a musical act on the open stage, which kicks off at 7:30pm.
Located 144 kilometres northwest of Vancouver in the Strait of Georgia, Savary Island is a long, snake-like stretch of land measuring 7.5 km long and only 1.5km wide, at the most. Despite it's lack of depth, the island is home to permanent residents, though there are only about 100 of them. Yeah, if you want seclusion, this is it. Edged with sandy beaches (it's referred to as the Hawaii of the north) and filled with luscious forests, Savary is a haven tucked well away from the city, hosting beautiful sunsets, magical, moonlit nights, and a weekly farmers market every Tuesday from 11am-1pm in July and August.
Getting there: Take BC Ferries from Vancouver's Horseshoe Bay to Langdale on the Sunshine Coast, and continue driving to Earls Cove. From there, Lund Water Taxi has an established shuttle that can take you to the island. Otherwise, plan to take a personal boat or seaplane such as Vancity Seaplanes or Sunshine Coast Air .
Island Tip: Considering this island is so secluded, the pristine waters are hardly spoilt with toxins and trash. What this means is you're going to want to take a dip, and we suggest you do it at night, when the phosphorescence surround you in a sparkling, green glow. If you're from the city, trust us when we say you've never seen anything like it.
The largest island in the Strait of Georgia, Texada lies off the northernmost end of the Sunshine Coast. Easily Accessible from Powell River, the island is home to activities such as hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, skim-boarding, swimming, and even golfing. With a rich history in iron, copper, gold and limestone mining, those interested in the heritage can tour one (or both) of the two museums in Blubber Bay or Van Anda. The community also hosts unique events, such as the sandcastle weekend in July (16th and 17th) and the Texada artists' studio tour in August (13th and 14th).
Getting there: BC Ferries offers multiple sailings to Texada daily, departing from the Sunshine Coast's Powell River. If you're not up for the trek up the coast and additional ferry, there's also sea planes by KD AIR.
Island Tip: If you're worried about the wildlife, don't be. There are no bears, cougars, wolves or poisonous snakes on Texada. Also, if you're into scuba diving, we suggest you do it here, as the pristine waters offer high visibility of the flourishing marine life.
Thinking of taking a road trip down the Pacific Northwest from Vancouver? Get a preview with VIVA's own journey through Seattle and Portland: