The next stop on our road trip was a super relaxing 3 days on Salt Spring Island!

Tofino SSI

The glum and rainy Tofino weather had seemingly spread over the whole of Vancouver Island. Only 180 kilometers / 110 miles in, on the north side of the island near Nanaimo, it finally started clearing up a bit. In the absence of cellphone reception in the interior part of Vancouver Island, Chantal chose Gabriel’s Cafe (39A Commercial St) in Nanaimo for lunch at the last-minute.

Gabriel’s Cafe works according to their “farm to fork” principle by sourcing their ingredients directly from local, small-scale family farms to be able to serve fresh, seasonal veggies, free-range eggs and pasture-fed, ethically-raised meats. They had excellent reviews on Tripadvisor, and Chantal said they had burgers, so we were definitely okay with the choice. On arrival at the restaurant, the window logo gave it away: those burgers turned out to be made from beans, rice, and corn… Consequently, as Chantal opted for the yummy wholewheat wrap filled with quinoa & chickpea fritters and topped with hummus, chutney & cucumber, the rest had Pulled pork (with North Carolina style tangy apple cider BBQ sauce) and Lemongrass braised beef sandwiches (with sriracha BBQ sauce and pickled vegetables) – which were excellent – and we enjoyed some good beers from Vancouver’s Steamworks Brewing and Victoria’s Phillips Brewing & Malting Co.

We tried to catch the ferry from Crofton to Vesuvius on Salt Spring Island of 3.35 pm and were there around 2.40 pm, but had to queue several hundred meters on the downhill road to the docks. Very annoying that no bookings were possible for this short crossing; it is operated on a first-come, first-serve basis. The person in front of us had inquired with a traffic controller who said that given the length of the queue we would probably only be able to board the ferry at 6.05 pm – so 2 ferries later.  He turned around and so we moved up again … The ferry of 3.35 pm came and left, but to our delight, more cars came off than we expected, so it was our turn immediately to line up for the next ferry, at 4.50 pm. Fortunately,  there was still some distraction while waiting with the marina on one side and the paper(pulp) factory of Catalyst on the other side, where ships were loaded with logs and small tugboats herded the logs towards the cranes.

After 8 hours in the car, and 24℃ / 75℉ by then, we were so happy that we arrived at our holiday home at The Cottages On Salt Spring Island (315 Robinson Rd), a couple of kilometers north of Ganges. It is a small park with about 40 separate multi-floor cottages/houses located on the bank of a small lake, equipped with a couple of jetties, and canoes, paddleboards, and rental bikes for the guests to use.

The kids were feeling so cramped from the long drive that they immediately wanted to go swimming (or at least avoid having to unload the car…) They soon realized that the lake was still pretty chilly 🙂

Besides 2 BBQs, there were no other culinary facilities, so you have to drive down to Ganges for groceries and restaurants. The first restaurant at the marina we tried (Moby’s Pub) was not a success because, after 7pm, no minors were allowed to be in the building. The second restaurant we tried, The Tree House Cafe, was far too busy also due to the live band on their patio, so so that we finally end up at next door’s burger bar, Burger Bar 537 (106 Purvis Ln). This time Chantal was convinced going there by the presence of burgers on the menu (the vegetarian Beyond Meat burger that is). The kids had the Classic Cheese Burger (Cheddar cheese, crispy lettuce, tomato & red onion) with extra thick-cut Bacon for, $17.50. I chose the Hangover Burger (Sunnyside up egg, bacon, and cheddar, crispy lettuce, tomato, and red onion; $21). The burgers were reasonably pricy, but very tasty, as were the onion rings that we subbed for the regular fries. In anticipation of the visit of the brewery the next day, we washed them down with the delicious IPAs of Salt Spring Island Ales.

After a good night’s sleep, we had early lunch at El Loco Taco (106 Lower Ganges Road), which is located in a cool former gas station/repair shop converted into a Mexican restaurant. There are indoor and outdoor seats for the take-out counter, but you also have a separate patio with service. It seems to be a popular place to grab some food before heading to the docks to catch one of the ferries back to Vancouver Island, as it went from super crowded to almost empty in just 15 minutes.

The food was delicious and the service, albeit a bit unorganized due to last-minute replacements for staff not showing up, but super friendly. We had some Chips and Salsa to figure out what to have. Chantal went for the Tofu Tacos with Cheese and Guacamole. Chicken quesadillas were chosen by the kids, and I opted for the Jalapeno Poppers and Chicken Taquitos. As the temperature was already quite high and the salsas fiery, we had some Tiger Shark APAs from Phillips Brewing Company in Victoria, BC to quench the heat.

In combination with the beautiful weather, we got a real “holiday feeling” from Salt Spring Island. It is small (only 27x14km / 17×9 miles, and only 10,000 inhabitants), laid back as well as back to basics (no traffic lights, one big supermarket, 2 gas stations, 4 ports and hardly any cell phone reception on the entire island), so you can take in the beautiful bucolic pastures, back roads, as well as the peaks up to 700 meters. Yet it was not particularly touristy, even in summer. Chantal had a theory that islanders already have some special pride, sense of self-sufficiency, and urge to prove themselves. As a consequence, there is relatively more craft and artisanal activity than on the mainland. I think that is correct for Salt Spring Island because you can see artisans and roadside stands almost everywhere. In addition to the standard abundant range of fruit, vegetables, and eggs, we have also seen figs, pesto, coffee beans, pork sausages and chops (in freezers) and horse manure (for the garden we hope) on offer.

That afternoon we visited Salt Spring Island Cheese (285 Reynolds Rd) for excellent ice cream, and incredibly tasty goat’s cheeses, Salt Spring Island Ales (270 Furness Rd) – the Heather Ale is stellar! – and Salt Spring Vineyards & Tasting Room (151 Lee Rd), after which we tested these local products, relaxing on our balcony. The good life!

The Salt Spring Saturday Market was held around Ganges’ Centennial Park and draws enormous crowds, even from Vancouver Island as a day trip! With almost 150 stalls, the offering was indeed very extensive: lots of snacking, stunning produce, and stalls with jewelry, clothing, handicrafts, and vegan products as well as a lot of CBD products. We were there around noon to have breakfast “on the go”, and it was quite busy.

The striking live musical accompaniment was a xylophone octet, but we suspected that the free-spirited dancers in the audience already had ingested some hemp products. There was also – a little further from the main route – the “artsy” corner with, among other things, stalls with stuff against menstrual pains and postcards with “Happy 1st Period” and one with Happy Vagina Products: bags, and purses with expected embroidery and stitching. No pictures, please!

Our hiking intentions on the east side of Salt Spring Island, in Ruckle Provincial Park (Beaver Point Rd), were nipped in the bud because the most beautiful part of the trail towards the cape with the lighthouse, turned out to be a “quarantine area”. The alternative route back over a campsite was not particularly appealing, so we went double-backed through the forest.

According to various sites, another recommendation was Mount Maxwell, a 600-meter high mountain, with impressive views of Salt Spring Island, Vancouver Island, and others of the Southern Gulf Islands. Several online reviews indicated that the road to the top was difficult to pass. That was undoubtedly true, so I was quite happy that in Vancouver, we had opted for our Yukon (a high-clearance 4WD) instead of the minivan because the holes in the road were so deep that ordinary cars could not go up up Mt Maxwell Rd without damage. They were able to stop halfway through and walk the last 2 kilometers, while SUVs, pick-ups, and Subarus (all standard 4x4s) made it to the top without too much of a hassle. Admittedly, with shaken kidneys (a video of it would have a high Cloverfield content), but the views were well worth it!

At the end of the afternoon, we bought another fancy soft-serve ice cream at Spring Island Soft Serve, one of the regular stands at the Ganges Marina. The mini Airstream trailer is super sleek, but I suspect it gets scorching in such a little metal egg in the full sun.

They only offer vegan soft serves made of oat milk or coconut milk (we weren’t able to really taste the difference to regular dairy soft serves!) available in cones or a Sundae cup. They have vanilla, chocolate, and – as we have already seen in Tofino – a swirl of both as the base and many tempting toppings. I had the Black Forest Cake Sundae: A swirl topped with intense Amarena Cherries, Black Cherry Syrup, and Chocolate Cookie Crumbles. Chantal went for the weekly featured Sundae, “Don’t Tell Mama”, a truly amazing one with Tumeric and Lime Elixer from Moonshine Mama’s, Calamansi Citrus, Ginger, and Oat Cookie Crumble.