Matthew Schoenfeld took the front seat on the tandem bicycle, leading the way up and down the steep hills of Galiano Island. For someone whose idea of a vacation is to bike 1,500...
Matthew Schoenfeld took the front seat on the tandem bicycle, leading the way up and down the steep hills of Galiano Island.
For someone whose idea of a vacation is to bike 1,500 miles across the sun-seared Australian outback, his home island’s hills are nothing.
I sat behind Schoenfeld on the bicycle built for two and pedaled weakly, grateful for his iron-legged strength and front-seat steering that let me enjoy views of waterways and forest as we zipped along Galiano’s empty roads and bumped along a dirt path.
Galiano is among the least developed of the ferry-served Gulf Islands in southwest British Columbia, thanks to islanders’ campaigns to create parks, preserve small farms and limit development.
There are no condos, no crowds and no big stores, just a handful of mom-and-pop businesses near the island’s Sturdies Bay ferry terminal at the southern tip of the island, including a bakery, general store and cafe. Funky cabins, a legacy of the hippies who once flocked to Galiano, are tucked into the woods. Fancier retirees’ homes or the weekend hideaways of affluent Vancouverites dot the bluff tops and the few sandy beaches of the long, skinny island, 17 miles long and three miles across at its widest point.
But most of Galiano, home to about 1,200 people, is rural and slowgoing, the type of place where resident Al Chambers, out walking his dogs, stood in the middle of the main road and chatted for 15 minutes after giving me directions. No other car came by. His corgis, evidently used to such pauses, curled up on the pavement for a nap.
There’s no need for anyone, local or visitor, to hurry on Galiano. The views are always there. You can take a bike ride or go for a walk — Galiano’s main daytime entertainment — anytime.
Nightlife? No rush, either. Read a book. Watch the sun set over Trincomali Channel and the tangle of islands to the west. Bust out for a beer with the locals at the Hummingbird pub, and go wild playing horseshoes outside on the lawn.
The B&B life
I slowed down at the island’s Bellhouse Inn, a rambling 1920s house turned bed-and-breakfast. Just a few minutes’ drive from the ferry terminal, it’s a pastoral place surrounded by five acres of lawns and pasture where seven sheep browse — their wool is turned into the duvets for guests’ beds — and the owners’ dogs, Max and Ben, romp. Throw Ben a stick or ball, and you’ll have a faithful friend for your whole stay.
Guests can play croquet, swim in the chilly waters off the sandy beach, or loll in deck chairs and watch the ferries and occasional orcas (the “J” pod of killer whales) glide through narrow Active Pass. Or sink into an armchair and sip sherry in the book-lined living room.
The Bellhouse, named after a family that owned it in the 1920s, now belongs to Andrea Porter and David Birchall, urban refugees from Vancouver (and before that, Britain) who came to Galiano 10 years ago to open the B&B.
“It’s everybody’s dream, a waterfront farmhouse,” said Porter. She’s a former dancer, he a caterer and automotive buff who cruises around Galiano in his stylish 1935 Bentley.
The Bellhouse has three comfortable, second-story guest rooms (with, thankfully, no ruffles and no teddy bears, unlike some overly cute B&Bs). The biggest and best room is the Kingfisher, a sunny room with balcony doors that open to the bay. Guests gather at a long table for the abundant breakfast — fruit with crème fraiche, homemade scones, eggs and more.
You’ll need to go for a walk or bike ride to burn it off.
Schoenfeld, the iron-legged bicyclist, rents and repairs bikes at his Galiano Bicycle shop. Ride on the island’s several dozen miles of paved roads, or head off on dirt roads and trails.
Whether biking or driving, watch for roadside signs to artists’ studios. Although Galiano isn’t as profusely populated with artists as nearby Salt Spring Island, painters, potters and craftsmen — including Schoenfeld who makes high-quality kitchen knives and other utensils — work out of their homes. You can drop by at most or prearrange a visit.
To best appreciate Galiano, named after Spanish navy officer Dionisio Alcalá Galiano who sailed through the islands on a 1792 exploration, take a walk. Go for a half-hour or a half-day, on the beach or a 1,000-foot ridge
Some of the top walks:
Bellhouse Park: Five acres of grassland, trees and smooth-rock waterfront near the ferry terminal. Watch the ferries, and perhaps some orcas, shuttle through Active Pass or look east across the broad Strait of Georgia toward Vancouver, B.C.
Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park: Boaters love its protected cove: on summer weekends it can be a floating party. But there’s lots for landlubbers in its 240 acres: white-shell beaches, short trails through lush forests and past a marsh, and campsites tucked into the woods, both drive-in sites (for tents and RVs) plus some walk-in sites for tenters.
Watch for birds: Bald eagles, great blue herons, belted kingfishers, black oystercatchers and more take haven in the park.
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Watch for native history: Stone carvings, spear heads and other archeological finds date Indian use of the area back 3,000 years. The shell beach on the park’s north side was part of a midden, the cast-off shells from centuries of Indian harvesting which have been crushed and redistributed by waves.
Bodega Ridge Provincial Park: Head to the hills, to a three-mile trail on the spine of the island. The trail meanders through forest to cliff tops dotted with wind-twisted madrona trees. From the 1,000-foot perch, there are sweeping views over Trincomali Channel and a web of Gulf Islands, with mountainous Vancouver Island rising to the west.
Dionisio Point Provincial Park: At the north tip of Galiano, Dionisio Point has peaceful coves; sandstone shelves sculpted and smoothed by waves; and rich tide pools. It’s an idyllic place, but due to land disputes it’s designated as marine access only. However, locals walk 45 minutes to the 350-acre park on an old road/path. Ask nicely, and they may tell you the way. Otherwise you can charter a small boat there and back.
Kristin Jackson: 206-464-2271 or email@example.com