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One of British Columbia’s Gulf Islands has it all: hills, beaches and even a bike-friendly hostel.
By Christine Rowlands
I was told there wouldn’t be hills. And yet this road seems to incline ever slightly upward. I keep pedaling, thankful for the shade of trees arching overhead and thinking of the wine and Baby Bel cheese awaiting me back at camp; thinking how every turn of my wheels brings me closer to my reward for completing the 18.6 mile (30 kilometer) circle tour of this gorgeous Gulf Island.
If hauling yourself and your gear hundreds of kilometers over open roads appeals to you, Gabriola Island, BC, may not be your destination. If you want a quick getaway on your bike, where you can drop the heavy load and go explore beaches and trails, visit artist studios and kayak and scuba dive, get over here.
Frequent ferries run between Gabriola Island and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island – itself 1.5 hours by ferry from Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver (Nanaimo’s waterfront bike path connects the two ferries). Gabriola Island is easy for a beginner bike traveller to love, despite a couple of wicked hills, one of which goes straight up from the ferry to Folklife Village Shopping Centre. The two main roads, North and South Road, fork here and loop around near Silva Bay at Gabriola’s southeast end. Cycling is mainly on road, but, despite narrow lanes and unpaved shoulders, drivers are courteous.
Taking the first left after the ferry onto Taylor Bay Road and riding about a half-mile (less than one kilometer) brings you to Descansco Bay Regional Park and Campground (250-247-8255). Campsites are $17 CAD per night and it’s close to the sandstone Malaspina Galleries and Gabriola Sands Provincial Park, known locally as Twin Beaches. The white sand beaches looking out over tranquil bays fulfil the need to sunbathe and swim after about a mile (2 kms) of cycling. Twin Beaches Café and Catering (377 Berry Point Road) supplies carbs and caffeine to the beach-bound; further on, the Surf Pub’s patio (885 Berry Point Road) is perfect for watching the sunset with a beer.
Folklife Village has restaurants, a grocery store, and a liquor store. And it’s the gateway to southeastern Gabriola. Behind the United Church on South Road is a major reason to venture down this way: a collection of ancient petroglyphs, some at least 1,000 years old. Because of erosion (such as from footprints of clueless tourists), many of these rock carvings are nearly invisible in sunlight. After a rainstorm or around sunset, though, their contours are thrown into relief.
The petroglyphs are about 7.5 miles (12 kms) from Folklife. For lucky guests of the Bicyclist’s Bunkhouse, reviewed previously on momentumplanet.com, the petroglyphs are just a short hike away. For $35 CAD ($40 with linens), you can stay in a 100 square foot cabin with a washroom. Guests have access to bicycle tools and advice from the cyclist owner, not to mention breakfast made with produce from the farm you’re staying on ($7 CAD). Silva Bay is also nearby, the jumping off point for dive charters to Gabriola Pass and kayaking the Flat Top Islands.
Back at camp, I have my meal of wine and cheese near the water’s edge while the sun sets. I am tired, sunburnt and a little sore, but happy: I’ve gone Gabriola at my own speed.
Summer weekends jump with farmers markets and art studio tours – go midweek for great weather and fewer crowds. The annual Thanksgiving weekend studio tour is also popular.
propane stove – fire bans are common in summer
Book accommodations ahead.
Call Gabriola’s taxi for a lift: 250-247-0049.
Christine Rowlands’ work has appeared in alive and subTerrain. She lives and rides in the small but hilly city of New Westminster, BC.