Off the beaten path
How is it an island so close to the mainland can be so remote? It’s only 14 nautical miles from the Tsawwassen terminal as the crow flies. Travelling to Saturna Island includes two beautiful ferry rides with one transfer. The journey is so scenic that most visitors consider this a bonus — two ferries for the price of one. From the Victoria/Sidney terminal it is one direct sailing.
Hikers looking for trails way off the beaten path and campers looking for peaceful, pristine sites, and kayakers, boaters and swimmers wanting secluded shores will all find their nirvana.
The island is distinctly divided into northern and southern sections, and intersected by a valley running from Lyall Harbour to Narvaez Bay — the site of the pristine Parks Canada walk-in campground.
Forests encircling Mount Elford dominate the north side, while on the south side, Mount Warburton Pike raises 409 metres (1340 feet) over Plumper Sound, one of the island’s best hikes and viewpoints. Nearly 45 per cent of the island is in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, making it by far the most natural of the Southern Gulf Islands visited by ferries. Thomson Park is the locals’ favourite community park and beach.
After disembarking the ferry, cyclists heading to East Point Park will enjoy the challenge of a few steep grades on East Point Road but will soon roll along one of the most beautiful routes on the islands. Arbutus trees drape over the road on one side while the Strait of Georgia laps on the other, and the park at the end is ample reward. Explore the eroded, multi-coloured sandstone shoreline pocked with tidal pools and take the trail by the lighthouse that leads to a perfect picnic site above Boiling Reef. Mount Baker may rise over the strait, killer whales may be passing by right along the shore, and the iconic fog alarm building, recently saved and restored into a museum, is usually open during the summer months.
At the road’s western extreme is another magical spot: Winter Cove. Boaters know it well; their vessels can frequently be seen anchored in the cove. Gentle forest walks here take visitors to narrow Boat Passage between Samuel and Saturna islands, where the waters of the strait and the Gulf Islands play a predestined tug of war. Picnic tables, toilets and a beach add to the attraction.
What do locals do here, might be the next question. Who hasn’t heard of the famous Canada Day lamb barbecue? Originally a school picnic held on the Campbell family property in 1950, it has since grown to a huge event that can feed 1,400 visitors in 45 minutes and now takes place in the spacious fields across from Winter Cove.
The Lions-sponsored Robbie Burns Night, Prawnfest dinner and dance, Mother’s Day brunch and the volunteer firefighters’ pig roast are other annual festivities.
Other activities are held in the spacious recreational and cultural activity centre and at the more intimate community hall.