The western Canadian province of British Columbia is often the envy of the rest of Canada due to its spectacular and diverse scenery. You’ll find snow-capped mountains along with thousands of lakes, rivers and the Pacific Ocean.
The province is also home to some of the nation’s best and most popular national parks. One of these is Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.
(photo credit: scazon)
This piece of paradise is just over 15,300 acres in size and was established as a national park back in 2003. About 9,000 acres of the park are located on land while the rest of them are situated on the marine area which is adjacent to it. There are 15 islands in total and numerous reefs and islets what all sit in the Salish Sea.
The park is treated with a mild Mediterranean climate and is filled with a spectacular variety of plants, marine life, and rare birds. A lot of the parkland separates the city of Vancouver on the mainland from the city of Victoria, which is located on Vancouver Island. Some of the land is actually underwater and the bigger Gulf Islands you’ll find here are named Mayne, Saturna, South Pender, and North Pender.
The beauty, climate and marine life of the islands lie in the shadow of two different mountain chains and people have inhabited this area of Canada for over 5,000 years now. The first inhabitants lived off the abundance of plants, game, and shellfish that are found in the area. Spanish explorers later settled here and their names can be found on some of the local islands and waterways. British settlers and other Europeans soon followed as did numerous Hawaiians. They farmed the land and cleared some of the forest so they could graze sheep and plant several apple orchards.
These days, you’ll find a range of people living in the region, such as retirees, artists, and seasonal cottagers. There’s a demand for the local waterfront property and this is believed to be threatening the eco system as well as some of the marine life such as sea lions, killer whales, and seals. However, the Canadian government is adding existing provincial parks and ecological reserves to the park, making the reserve a work in progress.
To get to the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, you can take a ferry anytime of the year from Swartz Bay, which is located near Victoria. You can also take a ferry from Vancouver as they leave from the Tsawwassen terminal. The rest of the park can be accessed by private boats, ferries, water taxis, canoes, and kayaks etc.
The best time to visit is probably from June to October since it’s the driest and warmest then. Some of the services in the park are limited during the winter months and access may be limited as well. Since there aren’t any visitor centers, it’s a good idea to download information and maps from the Parks Canada internet site before visiting. This will also provide you with all boating, camping, and hiking information.
Saturna Island is the biggest of the park’s islands and you’ll find plenty to do here to keep you busy. Another popular spot is Sidney Spit, which sits on Sidney Island. This scenic area is filled with beautiful forests, sandy beaches and dewy meadows. It’s a good idea to take along a good supply of drinking water as well as garbage bags, as there aren’t many garbage receptacles to be found in the park reserve.