Last weekend we went to Salt Spring Island. It was our first trip to any of the Gulf Islands and it also marked the first proper trip Andy and I had taken as part of a group since being in Canada. Yay, friends! We went with four other New Zealanders that we have met since being in Vancouver. Of all the Gulf Islands, I was most excited for visiting Salt Spring: the market is pretty well known, there are some nice hikes, cute beaches and excellent wineries, cideries and a brewery.
Andy and I were the only ones who had to work on Friday, so everyone else headed over earlier in the day. At 4.30 pm we performed what has become somewhat of a Friday night ritual: biking to the Sky Train, training to the bus stop and then catching the bus to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal. The ferry to Salt Spring took us to three or four other Gulf Islands before finally arriving at Salt Spring. From here, we got picked up by the others and were absolutely ready for our weekend to begin.
We stayed at the Maple Ridge Cottages on St Mary’s Lake. The location was idyllic: a row of lakefront cottages, each with amazing views over the water and kayaks, a firepit and a lawn with outdoor games – all of which kept us well entertained. We ended up spending quite a bit of time out on the lake and at the house, both because it was beautiful and warm (I had my first Canadian swim wahoo!) and also because we didn’t feel particularly welcomed in the town of Ganges (for Covid19 related reasons – I’ll explain shortly).
We only had the weekend in Salt Spring so we were keen to get out and make the most of it. On Saturday morning we headed down to the town of Ganges in search of the local market. I was looking forward to this part of the weekend so much: the artisan works of Salt Spring tend to have a pretty good reputation (I was most excited for the soap, the cheese, the chutneys and the gelato) and I was hoping to buy a few local goodies to take back with me. We walked around the town without finding the market, so we doubled back and kept looking before acknowledging that the market was just nowhere to be seen. Miranda popped into a store to ask and came out looking pretty defeated. Not only was the market cancelled until at least the fall, it had apparently been done so to deter tourists (such as us) from wanting to visit the island.
In the next few minutes, we managed to cop another comment from a couple on the street directed at us being tourists and then again when we were at the bakery, one of the ladies working there waited until only Andy remained in the shop before making remarking to another local that we just thought “it [Covid19] was all fun and games”.
I was pretty disheartened to hear this. To clarify, British Columbia is now in Phase 3 (and has been for a few weeks) and local travel is definitely permitted and to some extent, even encouraged. We have visited a few different places in recent weeks and never have we had a reception quite as cold as this one! I entirely understand that the smaller, remote communities would struggle with any outbreak as they have such limited resources, but also their economies are probably struggling the most. We have been taking most of our own supplies to the islands, so that we don’t have to deplete the local supermarket supplies in any way.
A few months ago, we heard rumours of people literally being chased out of Tofino and literal roadblocks being erected, but when we went to Tofino two weeks ago (in Phase 3) everyone seemed pleased to see us. At some point all small communities need to ‘reopen’ to the public and regain some kind of stability, as Tofino looks to have done, but we certainly got the vibe that the locals in Salt Spring weren’t ready to have us.
After we had finished at the bakery, we decided to pay the Salt Spring Island Cheese shop a visit. We considered going home and spending the afternoon there, but our friends had visited the shop only a few weeks’ prior and hadn’t mentioned any problem with the vibe so we thought we would check it out. There was a huge line (probably all of the tourists in town!), but it was a really cute and well set up enterprise. We bought some cheese, crackers and chutney (who needs the market anyway) and nabbed a picnic table under an umbrella. I couldn’t say no to the chocolate gelato on offer and some of the others ordered some delicious sounding pizza off the menu. It was a lovely setting and the food was all delicious.
From here, we piled into the van and headed to Salt Spring Ciderworks. Another beautiful setting: we sat on the patio which overlooked the apple trees below and out to the water. We ordered a few tasting trays and tried a huge variety of different ciders. Once we’d had enough of cider, we decided to try to get ourselves a table at the Salt Spring Island Ales (i.e. the brewery) but we had the misfortune of arriving at the same time as a cycle group and chose not to wait. A stop for another weekend will be the Wild Cider House, but for now we were homebound.
Our evening at home consisted of indulging in some more cheese and crackers, playing a few games, drinking a few beers, lighting an epic fire (on which we later roasted marshmallows) and cooking up some scrumptious homemade pizzas for dinner. It was a very fun evening and I was sad when it was time to go to bed!
The next morning was glorious and sunny, which warranted some more time spent out on the lake and certainly another swim by Andy and I. We had a leisurely morning at the house before heading to Mt. Maxwell for a wee hike. We had planned on parking in the summit car park and hiking one of the nearby loop trails, but those plans had to change as we discovered the road up was so full of potholes and mud that our van was never going to make it. We ended up parking on the road side and hiking our way to the summit instead, which provided some outrageously good views down over the neighbouring islands and islets.
From here we had a picnic lunch in a waterfront park (home packed, so as to avoid any negative comments from locals) before we grabbed gelato and headed to the ferry terminal. The day stayed sunny, so we spent the entire ferry ride out on the top deck combing the ocean around for sightings of whales, dolphins and any other wildlife. We saw an otter and a seal… but unfortunately that was all. It was such a great weekend and made me so excited a) to go back to Salt Spring Island once the market is rerunning and b) for our other upcoming group trips.