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Attractions in Vancouver Island, Victoria & The Gulf Islands

Vancouver Harbor It is almost impossible to visit Victoria and not explore the surrounding area and islands. Greater Victoria's outlying suburbs are communities within themselves, with distinct atmospheres and interesting experiences. Beyond the city limits, pristine wilderness leads the visitor to other cities and towns, threading the island together from coast to coast.

Between Vancouver Island and the mainland, British Columbia's Gulf Islands lie in the protected waters of the Georgia Strait. Approximately 200 islands extend northeast of Victoria and provide the ideal destination for a day trip or an extended vacation. Many of the Gulf Islands are inhabited and are a mecca for arts and crafts, outdoor recreation and overnight getaways.

Gulf Islands National Park Reserve
The Gulf Islands National Park Reserve was established in 2003 to protect a certain part of one of Canada's most deeply developed and urbanized natural regions, the Strait of Georgia Lowlands of British Columbia. One of the most major achievements of the Pacific Marine Heritage Legacy initiative, the reserve offers a wide range of opportunities to learn about and experience the outstanding coastal island landscape and culture. Parklands are located on 15 islands and several small islet groups; parklands on Saturna, Mayne and Pender Islands can be reached via BC Ferries.

Graced by a warm, dry climate, the Gulf Islands are an eclectic combination of charming scenery, colourful history and unique lifestyles. Spectacular mountaintop views, sandy beaches, rocky headlands, and the distinctive outlines of Garry oak and arbutus trees are all trademarks of the park.

Some other activities such as hiking, picnicking, kayaking and boating are among the best ways to experience Gulf Islands. Gulf Islands is open year-round, with limited services available in the off-season.

Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring Island is the largest of the southern Gulf Islands and the most populated, with approximately 10,000 people. The main community is Ganges, a town that provides all facilities for visitors. Salt Spring is best known for its arts community and many galleries, craft shops and artisans' studios line Ganges' streets and the Island's country roads. The most popular regular event is the Saturday Market in Ganges' Centennial Park, which runs from May to October. The market has numerous stalls offering a wide selection of locally-made handicrafts, jewellery and foods. An annual fair of arts and crafts, called Artcraft, runs from June to September in Mahon Hall, one of the oldest heritage buildings on the island. You will find oceanside camping and hiking at Ruckle Provincial Park and marvelous views from atop Mt. Maxwell or Mt. Tuam. There are several freshwater lakes for swimming; the largest is St. Mary's Lake, and there are two nine-hole golf courses. A wide variety of accommodations are available, from teepees and tree houses to bed and breakfasts and an excellent network of paved roads will lead you through the rural countryside to wherever you wish to go.

Pender Islands
Originally one island, Pender Island is now bisected by a narrow channel and North Pender and South Pender are joined by a bridge. Pender Island has a population of approximately 2,200 and is known for its many hidden coves and beaches with great swimming and picnic sites. Boaters can find marinas at Port Browning, Otter Bay and Bedwell Harbour where boats and bicycles can be rented. On Saturday mornings, shop for local produce and arts and crafts at two Farmers' Markets. One at the Driftwood Centre and the other at the Community Hall. Accommodations include: campsites at Prior Centennial Provincial Park and Beaumont Marine Park, cabins, bed and breakfasts and resorts.

Mayne Island
Named after Richard Mayne, a lieutenant of HMS Plumper, Mayne Island is a small, quiet place with a colourful past. During the Fraser River/Cariboo Gold Rush of the mid 1800's, Vancouver Island miners gathered at Mayne Island before they rowed across the Georgia Strait to the mainland. Before the 1900's, Mayne Island was the Gulf Islands' hub of commercial and social activity and the port village of Miners Bay bustled with constant traffic. Today, Mayne Island has a population of approximately 900. Boaters can find docking facilities at the government dock and can walk into the village of Miners Bay; there are also docking facilities at Horton Bay. Choose from a unique selection of accommodations as well as plenty of recreational opportunities. Spend an afternoon basking in the sun at Bennett Bay Beach. Hike through the forest in Mount Parke Regional Park (the highest point on the Island) for great views of Active Pass and the surrounding Gulf Islands. Enjoy the volleyball, horseshoe pitch, picnic and beach facilities at Dinner Bay Community Park. Picnic at century-old Georgia Point Lighthouse and admire the marine landscape. Browse through the shops in Miners Bay and explore local history at the museum which was once a jail. The Agricultural Hall is the site of the oldest fall fair on the Gulf Islands.

Saturna Island
The most southern of the Gulf Islands, Saturna is a peaceful island of hillside trails, forest, oceanside parks and great fishing. Visitors should secure accommodations before traveling to the island as there are no campsites and accommodations are limited to a few cozy bed and breakfast homes. Saturna's population continues to grow, but is currently approximately 350 people. With its moderate climate, Saturna Island is the perfect year-round destination. You can rent a boat or kayak and tour the coastline. Visit Winter Cove Provincial Marine Park, which features beautiful beaches, an anchorage, a boat launch, picnic area, walking trails and abundant bird life. There are two general stores on the island along with a pub overlooking the water, an excellent bakery, weekend gourmet pizza and a fine restaurant. A vineyard and winery are located near Thompson Park at Saturna Beach. Every July first, Saturna Island hosts a lamb barbecue; a tradition for the past 50 years. Other island events include pig and salmon barbecues, a crab fest, a summer market at the community hall, a winter concert series and local theatre. Please be advised that there are no banks on the Island. Both general stores accept major credit cards, but check with individual accommodations.

Galiano Island
Galiano Island was named after a Spanish explorer who sailed area waters 200 years ago. Today the island has a population of approximately 1,030. Galiano is a haven for bird watchers and naturalists; it is home to more than 130 different species of birds and many rare and protected plants. Kayaking is also one of Galiano's most popular activities and rentals, lessons and guided tours are available for kayakers of all levels. Rent bicycles, go fishing, play a round of golf or relax on one of the island's beaches. The marine park at Montague Harbour is superb. Wander the trails at Gray Peninsula in Montague Harbour, once the site of an ancient Native village. Climbing to the top of Mount Galiano not only provides a challenging hike, but spectacular views upon reaching the top. Quiet roads lead to arts and crafts galleries, restaurants and an array of accommodations.

Gabriola Island
Gabriola Island lies approximately 4.9 kilometres (three miles) east of Nanaimo and is accessible from downtown Nanaimo by a 20 minute ferry ride. The island is about 14 kilometres (8.6 miles) long and 4.2 kilometres (two miles) wide and has a population of approximately 4,000. It is recommended that visitors arrange accommodations before traveling to the island. Gabriola is ideal for boating; it offers protected bays and open waters great for sailing, fishing, kayaking and canoeing. Cycling is a favourite sport on the island, as the circle routes offer so many interesting things to see at a slower pace. If you enjoy a round of golf, visit the Gabriola Golf and Country Club and try its challenging nine-hole course. Families of deer and geese roam the gentle slopes overlooking Hogan Lake. Gabriola Island has three day-use waterfront provincial parks and is well known for its petroglyphs, many at Degnen Bay. Exploring the amazing cave-like sandstone formations called the Malaspina Galleries is a must. Shop at the weekly farmers' market and the two shopping centres and tour local craft galleries and artisans' studios.

Denman Island
Located 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of Courtenay, Denman is pleasantly rural and offers a number of artists' studios with pottery and handicraft; be sure to tour the studios of resident artists. Denman has a population of approximately 1,100 and has an interesting shoreline with a number of beaches, both sandy and pebbly. Fillongley Provincial Park has 10 campsites, hiking and walking trails as well as swimming and fishing opportunities. Cycling, kayaking and canoeing are popular ways to explore the island. Sandy Island, off Denman's Henry Bay, is an ideal destination for kayakers. Visit the art gallery and museum in Denman Village for a look at local history and a collection of work by local artists. Be sure to have a reservation for accommodation before coming to the island.

Hornby Island
Hornby Island is accessible by a 15 minute ferry ride to Denman Island, a 15 minute drive across Denman and then by catching a connecting ferry to Hornby. The island has a population of approximately 1,000 and, along with Denman, boasts the highest number of artists per capita in Canada. Crafts, pottery and weaving can be found at artisans' studios across the island. Also worth a visit is the community center and the Co-op Store where locals and visitors congregate for shopping and socializing. Hornby is home to two day-use provincial parks: Helliwell Provincial Park and Tribune Bay Provincial Park. Helliwell has excellent hiking along the Helliwell Bluffs and you are bound to see an abundance of flora and fauna. Tribune Bay, known as Little Hawaii, and Whaling Bay Station boast beautiful sandy beaches and warm water for swimming. Scuba diving among the reefs off Ford's Cove allows divers to swim with elusive six-gill sharks; Ford's Cove is one of the only places in the world where they can easily be seen. Be sure to have a reservation for accommodations prior to arriving on Hornby Island.

Quadra Island
Located adjacent to Campbell River, Quadra Island is the largest island in the Discovery Island Group and has a population of approximately 4,000. Primarily known for sport fishing, Quadra Island also offers The Kwagiulth Museum and Cultural Centre, which contains an exceptional collection of authentic artifacts detailing coastal existence long before the arrival of European settlers. Miles of paved roads, coastal trails and logging roads lead to outdoor adventure. Gravel roads at the north end of the island lead to an old Finnish settlement at Granite Bay and to an abandoned gold and copper mine. A trek up Chinese Mountain rewards hikers with a panoramic view of the island or, for an easier trek, take the Morte Lake Trail. Rebecca Spit Provincial Park is a wonderful place for a picnic on the beach and a 50-minute walk along the trail. Kayakers and canoeists enjoy the many bays and inlets around the island. The water's clarity and abundant marine life impress divers. A variety of both guided and self-guided outdoor adventure excursions are offered from Quadra Island including: sailing, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, cycling and fishing. Quadra Island lakes are ideal for freshwater fishing and canoeing. Petroglyphs are on display at the museum and can be seen along the high-tide line at Wa-Wa-Kai Beach, Petroglyph Road and Francisco Point. Browse in the village shops for unique arts and crafts or visit the resident artists in their own galleries and studios.

Cortes Island
Cortes Island has a population of approximately 950 and is accessible from the east side of Quadra Island. Cortes, with its placid lakes, rugged gorges and beaches rich in shellfish, is one of the most impressive of the Discovery Islands and has plenty to offer visitors. Originally explored by British and Spanish explorers in the late 18th century, Cortes Island was the site of an early whaling station at Whaletown. Admire the area's gardens and rockeries and visit the charming old church. Camp, walk or beachcomb along miles of beautiful beaches at Smelt Bay Provincial Park. Manson's Landing is also a lovely day-use provincial park with white sandy beaches and temperate swimming waters at Hague Lake. Smelt Bay Provincial Park has 23 camping spots and is named for the capelin fish that spawn ashore by the thousands. Cortes Island is very popular with boaters, as it is the entrance to Desolation Sound, one of the prime cruising areas on the BC coast.

Cormorant Island
Cormorant Island and the community of Alert Bay are accessible by ferry from Port McNeill. First impressions of Alert Bay are powerful; the village is graced with an abundance of captivating First Nations paintings and totem poles. Be sure to see the totems at Namgis Burial Grounds. An old aboriginal cemetery, the grounds are closed to the public, but can easily be seen from the road. Alert Bay is also home to the world's tallest totem pole at 53 metres (173 feet) high. A visit to the U'Mista Cultural Centre is a must for a look at one of the finest mask and potlatch collections in the world. The busy harbour offers complete marina facilities as well as other activities and attractions. Walk through the historic town, the oldest on the North Island, for excellent photography subjects such as the Anglican Church, St. George's Chapel and the Old Cannery Building. Stroll along the boardwalk pathways and past giant cedars in the Alert Bay Ecological Park. A paradise for bird watchers and botanists, this park has a series of trails that skirt the water, along the tree line and across a swamp. Situated close to Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, home to the largest orca population in the world, Cormorant Island is an ideal location for whale-watching adventures.

Arbutus Ridge Golf Club
3515 Telegraph Road
Cobble Hill, BC

Arbutus Ridge Golf Club has a Four Star Golf Digest Rating and was voted the Best Destination Golf Course in British Columbia by readers of Golf Nerve Magazine in 2006. Arbutus Ridge is owned and operated by the GolfBC Group and your first choice for a golf course in the Victoria and Cowichan area, on Vancouver Island.

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