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In the dark of night, the boulders along the shore line sparkle like undersea stars.
A fish suddenly streaks through the water, leaving behind a swath of light in its wake. Droplets of water from our raised paddles create silvery circles as they splash down.
Kayaking this still quiet channel between Galiano and Parker Island in the Southern Gulf Islands is special even without the bioluminescence – but the glow-in-the-dark spectacle created by microscopic dinoflagellates (plankton) in the water makes it downright magical.
It’s ironic, really, that we travel to the furthest corners of the world for new bucket-list experiences.
Yet just a short scenic ferry ride away from where we live in Victoria (Canada), Galiano is the place where we glide through fairy dust.
Things to do in Salt Spring Island and Galiano
Galiano is one of the islands in the Southern Gulf Islands group.
These islands are nestled between Vancouver (on the British Columbia mainland) and Vancouver Island. The most well-known island in the group is Salt Spring Island; the other main islands are Galiano, Mayne, Pender and Saturna.
And it turns out that kayaking is just one of the many magical things to do in Salt Spring Island and Galiano!
Hiking on Salt Spring Island up Mount Erskine
On our Southern Gulf Islands getaway, fairies sprinkle their magic on Salt Spring Island too.
Okay, not real fairies. But we spy several doors to their houses on Mount Erskine.
A short stiff hike up the 1,600-foot (488-meter) mountain takes you past twisted old trees, moss carpets and “fairy doors.”
Carved by locals, these wee fairy doors – some decorated with painted pebbles and bits of glass – are attached to boulders off the side of the trail.
If they don’t put a smile on your face, the OMG bird’s eye views at the summit over Sansum Narrows and toward Vancouver Island sure will.
Like hiking? Then you might like to read about our awesome day hiking on La Palma in the Canary Islands
What’s new on Salt Spring and Galiano?
If you haven’t visited Galiano or Salt Spring lately, you’ll find lots that’s new.
Particularly welcome? You can now rent e-bikes.
Things to do on Salt Spring Island – bicycling
On Salt Spring, we take out throttle-style “Juiced” bikes for a lovely 17-mile (28-kilometer) loop from Ganges, the island’s main village.
It doesn’t take long to get the hang of these step-through beasts.
Soon we’re whizzing up steep hills with little effort. Wild pink sweet peas scent the air, and deer occasionally jump across the road.
Cappuccino and fresh baked goodies lure us in for a break at the Fernwood Café.
At Southey Point, we stop to look at small boats in the harbor – and marvel at how “regular” bicyclists manage the ups and downs of the island.
Without the assist of these electric bicycles, we doubt we’d even try going for a ride.
We still have to pedal though, so we feel somewhat smug that we’re getting some exercise.
Salt Spring Island restaurants
We feel smug enough from bicycling that we don’t worry about reigning it in at the Oystercatcher for dinner later in the evening.
On its waterfront deck, soaking in the sunset, we can’t resist deep-fried oysters and mussels in a ginger cream sauce with lots of fresh-made focaccia.
The former lead singer from the Kelowna-born “Grapes of Wrath” band strums soulful guitar tunes from the 80s.
It’s all very chilled, just like Salt Spring itself.
Salt Spring Inn:
Another night we hit the Salt Spring Inn for hearty, home-style food.
You can’t miss it if you’re looking for this restaurant in Ganges – the roses and flowers growing over its picket white fence are eye-catching.
Feeling healthy? The organic salad with goat cheese is excellent.
Feeling sinful? Try the warm ginger spice pudding with whipped cream and toffee sauce.
Over on Galiano Island, which we visit after Salt Spring, the new Woodstone Manor is attracting attention with elegant rooms and a Michelin-starred chef in its restaurant.
Individually decorated, the 12 rooms feature plank wood floors covered with Persian rugs, heavy silk drapes and crystal gas fireplaces.
The first thing we do upon checking into our king-bedded room is to pop open a bottle of wine and sit on our small patio. It has bucolic views of rolling green pastures, where horses roam, against a backdrop of forested hills.
Dinner is a treat at Woodstone too.
Chef Katsuyuki Sekihata (Seki, for short) was recently lured to oversee the kitchen. He has earned three Michelin stars for his culinary creations in Europe and Asia.
His frothy prawn bisque with champagne, garnished with edible flower petals, is pure culinary bliss.
We eat inside, but some brave folks, wrapped in ponchos, huddle on the outdoor patio by the roaring fireplace.
Even though the restaurant is quite new, word has already gotten out. Several dinner guests have come in from yachts in the Montague Harbour – staff were happy to pick them up for the short drive for dinner.
Art and food markets
Spring and fall are ideal for taking in the islands’ art and food scene.
Salt Spring, in particular, has long been a sanctuary for painters, sculptors and other artists (Robert Bateman is perhaps the most well-known). You can take a self-guided tour to more than two dozen galleries and studios, meeting the artists where they work.
The Salt Spring Saturday Market, which runs from April to October, is also very popular, with 140 stallholders selling what they make, bake or grow on the island.
Other Galiano and Salt Spring Island activities
There’s more to do too on Galiano and Salt Spring Island.
On Galiano, we also enjoy a 90-minute round-trip hike in Bodega Ridge Provincial Park, through arbutus trees, to a viewpoint overlooking the Trincomali Channel. Eagles soar overhead and the white sails of boats billow out far below.
On Salt Spring, you might also like hiking Ruckle Provincial Park. And swimming (in summer!) at Vesuvius Beach.
One thing’s for sure.
No matter when you go, the islands of Salt Spring and Galiano will cast their spell on you – and have you wondering why on earth you didn’t visit (or revisit) sooner.
Related reading: Check out the best swimming holes and beaches in Victoria, BC
Recommended restaurants on Salt Spring Island
Where to stay on Salt Spring Island
The Cottages on Salt Spring:
Bring the family! On Bullock Lake (where you can swim), each of the Cottages have two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a full kitchen.
Hedgerow House is a sweet, professionally-run B&B with three ensuite guestrooms in a flower-filled garden in Ganges. The master room upstairs has a king-size bed and patio.
Where to stay on Galiano island
Deluxe rooms at the boutique Woodstone Manor are kitted out with super comfy beds, waffle robes and slippers, and bar fridges. Rates include a continental breakfast.
Galiano Oceanfront Inn & Spa:
Galiano Inn & Spa offers waterfront dining in a casual setting.
How to get to Salt Spring Island
From the Tsawwassen terminal (near Vancouver), BC Ferries offers non-stop service to both Salt Spring (90 minutes) and Galiano (55 minutes). Reservations are recommended.
BC Ferries also goes from Salt Spring Island to Galiano.
Read next: Taking the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria (a complete guide)
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Photo credits: 5, 7, 8, 12, 14 to 22, 29, 34 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 1 and 3 Gulf Island Kayaking | 11 and 13 Oystercatcher | 28 and 30 Cottages on Salt Spring Island | 31 to 33 Hedgerow House | 4, 6, 9, 10, 23 to 25 and 27 Southern Gulf Islands Tourism
We were invited to visit Salt Spring and Galiano Islands by Southern Gulf Islands Tourism as media guests. All words, views and fairy love are our own, however. (We’re always free to write what we want, as we experience it!)