- SIZE: 180 square kilometres (70 square miles)
- POPULATION: 10,500
- FERRY TERMINALS: Fulford Harbour, Long Harbour, Vesuvius Bay
- TOURIST INFO: 121 Lower Ganges Road in Ganges; 250-537-5252
As the largest and busiest of the southern Gulf Islands, Salt Spring has the full menu of options suiting all kinds of visitors. Accommodations range from Hasting House’s luxurious seaside country house estate to lakeside resorts to a walk-in campsite with the best ocean views on the island — and activities and services exist to match every price point and interest group.
Whether arriving at one of Salt Spring’s three ferry terminals, by floatplane or aboard one’s own pleasure craft, Ganges village is the hub through which most island adventures will revolve. All the amenities such as grocery stores, banks and service stations are found here, as well as art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants and yoga studios.
Saturdays from April through October, Salt Spring’s famous Market in the Park is front and centre in Centennial Park, which lies right between the main drag and a bustling harbour ringed with marinas. Locals are just as likely to be found as visitors, as the market is the best place to check out island-made crafts, pick up fresh produce and other supplies for dinner and chat with friends, all in one fell swoop.
When Tuesday afternoon comes around in the months of June through October, it’s the farmers’ turn to set up tables on the roadside area of the park to sell their wares.
At nearby Centennial Dock, fishermen-caught crab and seafood is sold directly off the boat several days a week.
Salt Spring’s performing arts scene is active year-round, but really hits its groove during summer when outdoor venues make evenings a delight. Check the Driftwood newspaper or its online calendar to find out when free concerts at the Centennial Park gazebo might be happening, plus the nightly change-up at the Tree House Café, which offers live music under the stars along with casual dining several nights a week.
ArtSpring, the island’s official arts centre, has an annual patio concert and also offers a year-round indoor concert calendar offering the best of Canadian and international talent in classical, jazz, world beat and roots genres.
Like any good hub, Ganges provides the solid centre that supports numerous spokes, and visitors should be prepared for some adventuring to get the utmost island experience.
Hitting the road is also the way to find wine, cider, craft beer and cheese tastings; fresh produce, farm meats and other products at roadside honour stands; and unexpected treasures like KiZmit Galeria and Café and breads from Salt Spring Bread Co., both located deep on the way to Ruckle Park. While in the south end, a stop at the village of Fulford is a must, especially in between arrival and departure times of ferries.
Salt Spring Island is an artisan’s haven
Salt Spring’s reputation as a haven of the arts has deep credibility, with evidence located both in Ganges and Fulford Harbour and on many quiet backroads. Those interested in sampling the island’s creative riches can talk to local artisans in their home showrooms and get an in-depth understanding of their work through the self-directed Studio Tour, while the Salt Spring Arts Council’s Workshops on the Rock initiative allows the creativity to come from within. A brochure and website lists courses in the three major sectors that combine to make Salt Spring special: the arts, wellness and agriculture. It’s possible to learn hands-on techniques in anything from photography to cheesemaking, achieve deep relaxation and healing, or gain the skills to grow better food at home in workshops ranging from a couple of hours to a full week in length.
The island is also the perfect place to practise yoga or other wellness pursuits at numerous studios.
Visitors who want to get out and enjoy Salt Spring’s natural beauty have many places to explore. The island is home to seven notable peaks and dozens of walking and hiking trails. The island’s Parks and Recreation Commission has been striving to improve hiking trails and install better signage — many trailheads now feature photo route maps. Beach access points have also been more clearly marked. More often than not these open onto unexpected vistas, nestled between quiet residential areas. Try the beach at the end of Baker Road, not far from Ganges, or at the island’s far north at Southey Point. Vesuvius Beach has the warmest ocean water, and while it’s chillier at Beddis Beach on the island’s east side, the sandy beach and scenery makes it an ideal picnic spot.
Later in 2016, look for a brand new trail map, which will be available at the Visitor Information Centre, and make plans to attend the first Salt Spring Walking Festival this fall.
Salt Spring’s bus service also continues to grow, with a route serving Ruckle Provincial Park and campground during the summer months and added service between ferry terminals and Ganges.
Travellers with their own electric vehicles will find EV tourism is a growing sector, with seven free charging wands at five public locations: ArtSpring, Island Savings, Country Grocer, Fernwood Road Cafe and Moby’s Pub, as well as some B&Bs. Visitors may be surprised to learn that Salt Spring has the highest density of electric car ownership in Canada. Members of the Transition Salt Spring electric vehicle group have calculated that the island no longer requires over 85,000 litres of fuel to be transported to the island annually and that it has reduced GHG emissions by over 175 tonnes.
While visiting an island, it would be a shame not to get out on the water with plentiful options available, from sailing cruises to sunset kayak paddles. Paddleboard rentals are another popular choice, and can even be done with a yoga class attached for the ultimate island experience.
—Photos by Gail Sjuberg, Rick Neufeld and Amber Ogilvie