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Southern Gulf Islands

Southern Gulf Islands

Southern Gulf Islands. Photo by Tjflex2.

Where are the Southern Gulf Islands?

The Southern Gulf Islands are a group of islands which hug the south eastern coast of Vancouver Island, from just north of Victoria.

There are thirteen islands which are considered to be within the Southern Gulf Islands and these are of varying sizes. The islands include:

  • Gabriola Island
  • Valdes Island
  • Thetis Island
  • Kuper Island
  • Salt Spring Island
  • Prevost Island
  • Galiano Island
  • Mayne Island
  • North Pender Island
  • South Pender Island
  • Saturna Island
  • Sidney Island
  • James Island

Not all of these islands are accessible directly from the mainland or from Vancouver Island. The routes which BC Ferries cover are as follows:

  • From Tsawwassen (on the Lower Mainland) to Galiano Island.
  • From Swartz Bay (north of Victoria) to North Pender Island and Salt Spring Island.
  • From Crofton (just north of Duncan, on Vancouver Island) to Salt Spring Island.
  • From Chemainus (half way between Duncan and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island) to Kuper Island and Thetis Island.
  • From Nanaimo to Gabriola Island.

There are also links between some of the Southern Gulf islands themselves:

  • Galiano Island to Mayne Island
  • Mayne Island to Saturna Island
  • Mayne Island to North Pender Island
  • North Pender Island to Salt Spring Island
  • Kuper Island to Thetis Island

The BC Ferries website has all the information you need on schedule, crossing times, fares and reservations.

You’ll find below information on some of the larger, more popular of the Southern Gulf Islands.

Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island is sometimes also referred to as Saltspring Island and is the largest of all the Gulf Islands. It also has the largest population of all the islands and is the most visited one too. Below are some of the highlights of Salt Spring Island:

Saturday Art and Farmers Market

The Saturday Art and Farmers Market in Ganges is said to be one of the biggest attractions for visitors to the Island. This huge market specializes in the sale of mostly organic foods from the local area as well as arts and crafts which are indicative of the popular artisan lifestyle many of the permanent residents experience on Salt Spring Island.

Scenery and Recreation

Salt Spring Island, like much of coastal British Columbia, has some stunning scenery. The island is a popular retreat for vacationers looking for camping and recreation, and there are many opportunities for such here. There are several provincial parks, including Ruckle Provincial Park which boasts the largest provincial park campsite on the Gulf Islands. In Ruckle Provincial Park you can enjoy bird and wildlife watching, hiking, fishing, cycling, scuba diving and windsurfing as well as regular interpretive programs during the summer. Find out more about Ruckle Provincial Park on the BC Parks website.

Salt Spring Island Villages

There are several popular villages on Salt Spring Island. Ganges is the largest village and as such it offers visitors a variety of places to eat, shop and enjoy art galleries. Of course there’s also the Saturday Art and Farmers Market here! Other attractions include the harbor and marinas. Fulford Harbour and village is at the southern end of Salt Spring Island and is a popular destination known for its great swimming beaches, friendly family atmosphere and scenic trails.

The Pender Islands

The Pender Islands consist of North Pender and South Pender which are actually connected via a bridge. The Islands are particularly well known for their hidden coves and beaches, some of which are accessible via the 69 trails available on the islands. Visitors can also enjoy a variety of parks including Mount Norman Regional Park, Beaumont Marine Park and South Otter Bay Provincial Protected Area.

The best swimming spots include the beaches of Mortimer Spit on South Pender and Hamilton Beach on North Pender, plus kayaking, fishing and marine and wildlife watching are also popular pastimes.

Saturna Island

Saturna Island is the most easterly of the Gulf Islands and one of the most mountainous. About half of the island comes under the protection of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.

On Saturna Island visitors can enjoy both mountains and coast. Mount Warburton Pike, the highest point of the island at 497 meters (1,630 feet), and nearby Brown Ridge Trail, both give spectacular views of the Gulf Islands. Whilst on the shorelines, places like Thomson Park provide sandy beaches and great swimming, or at Russell Reef there’s a great natural swimming hole for a different experience!

If you’d rather do something completely different, how about a visit to the Saturna Island Vineyards where you can enjoy a tour and tasting as well as light lunches at the bistro.

Mayne Island

Just north of Saturna Island is Mayne Island which was named after a Royal Navy Lieutenant, Richard Charles Mayne.

In the late 1800’s Mayne Island was one of the busiest in the Gulf Islands due to its geographic position, but since this time life has really quieted down and visitors can enjoy a more relaxed pace of life here now!

The legacy of this busy time does still stand to a certain extent though – there are a number of historical buildings in Miners Bay and Village Bay, as well as the 1885 Georgia Point Lighthouse and small museum. At Miners Bay the old Agricultural Hall is still home to the annual Fall Fair and is worth the visit if you’re here in the fall.

Once you’ve enjoyed the cultural and historic side to Mayne Island take in the scenery. If you hike up to the highest point on the island in Mount Parke Regional Park you get great views of Active Pass and of course of the surrounding Southern Gulf Islands. As with neighboring islands, Mayne Island also has some lovely swimming beaches, such as the one at Campbell Bay.

Galiano Island

Galiano Island is a long thin island particularly favorite with naturalists and birdwatchers due to the many rare and protected plants and over 130 different bird species found here. There are ample opportunities for recreational activities too – cycling and hiking are popular along the narrow country lanes that span the island.

At the northern end of Galiano Island is Dionisio Point Provincial Park with spectacular scenery, camping and more, and around the coast you’ll find a number of beaches good for swimming, picnicking and just generally relaxing. Whilst here, look out for Orca Whales which are said to visit the waters surrounding Galiano Island on a regular basis. See the BC Parks website for further information on what you can do at Dionisio Point Provincial Park.

A little south of Dionisio Point is the Bodega Ridge Provincial Park. From here, and the more southern Galiano Mountain you get some of the best views in the Southern Gulf Islands, sometimes seeing as far as the Olympic Mountains.

Another provincial park is Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park, which is one of the most popular parks in the whole of the Gulf Islands. There is a busy campground here as well as boat launch, Shell Beach and hiking trails.

In terms of villages, Sturdies Bay is popular as it’s here that the BC Ferries dock. Most of Galiano Island’s great art galleries, dining and accommodation are in or near the village.

For further information on the above Southern Gulf Islands as well as the other islands not covered here, please visit the Tourism Vancouver Island website.