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Logs line the high-tide mark of a cove on Pender Island. During this covid isolation I’m enjoying spending time in nature. Bays, coves and headlands, that fascinating transition between land and the sea, fascinate me. On Pender and the other southern Gulf Islands, the shores are seldom covered in glistening white sand. Instead, rocky outcrops abound, rows of bleached logs mark the high-tide line and many lifeforms skitter here and there. It’s wonderful.

I have to tread carefully for the shoreline usually is composed of rock, sometimes conglomerations of rounded stones, Broken red bricks cover Bricky Bay, Pender Island. sometimes like rows of cogs in a factory assembly line, other times grey sandstone with beautiful whorls and patterns created by erosion.

These sedimentary rocks were laid down about 70 million years ago in a basin. The collision of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates, which is still ongoing, subsequently folded, faulted and contorted the sedimentary layers into the island archipelago we see today.

The seashore is blessed with a cornucopia of life. The broad-leaved stonecrop with its yellow flower perches precariously on rocky cliffs. The brilliant orange of California poppies brightens many locales. I enjoy sitting beside them with a grand vista before me. Down below, the shallow water embraces many seaweeds, but I’m Bull kelp lies like a snake on the sedimentary rocks of a beach.attracted to sea lettuce, which is delicious in salads. The mighty bull kelp is often washed up, looking like a long python coiled among the rocks.

The intertidal zone is alive with movement. Herons poise in inches deep water patiently waiting. Gulls screech overhead. Every lifted rock reveals skittering crabs. And in secret places I dig for clams and harvest oysters.

Many coves provide glimpses into the activity of humans in past times. White beaches and layers of broken clam shells (middens) show that Coast Salish First Nations have lived in this area for millennia.

A factory at Bricky Bay on Pender Island manufactured bricks from 1910 to 1920. Many still rSandstone cliff attractively eroded by wind and water.emain, transforming the beach into a red colour.

Another favourite spot is Georgina Point on Mayne Island with its lighthouse guarding the eastern entrance to Active Pass. The grey sandstone along the water’s edge is like an art gallery with fascinating whorls and pits like alien eyes and faces.

Driftwood logs fascinate me. I can sit for hours on one of the sun-warmed logs that form a wooden necklaces for coves, admiring the view and feeling content Knot holes in a driftwood log look like eyes.to be part of the glorious complexity of nature.

Skunk cabbage aka swamp lanterns among alder trees.When skunk cabbages rise in roadside ditches still wet from winter rains, my pulse quickens. The bright yellow flowers appear almost overnight and are like bursts of sunshine signalling that a re-awakening is near. Shortly after, spring sneaks around the corner.

I love seeking out quiet nooks adorned by wildflowers. Sometimes I am rewarded by a clutch of calypso (aka fairy slipper) orchids, one of six orchids found in the Gulf Islands. Sadly, they are rapidly being lost and I hold their locations a close secret.

The broad-leaved stonecrop is usually perched on a rocky cliff or outcrop. It staCalypso orchids on Pender Island.rts as a low almost moss-like plant, but then a yellow flower bursts forth and it grows much higher, towering over the leaves below.

To see chocolate lilies, I head to a grassy meadow near Gowland Point on Pender Island. Although quite rare, for a short period, hundreds of these lilies are scattered here like jewels amongst the grass.

Near Boat Passage on Saturna Island with a sparkling early morning sun, I stood among dozens of white fawn (aka Easter) lilies, still wet with dew, their white flowers dangling from slender straight stalks.

Chocolate lily at Gowlland Point, Pender Island.In late spring, the foxglove grows up to 2-metres high with the purple and sometimes white flowers lining up like small bells. I love to watch bees humming from flower to flower, often burrowing right of sight.

In springtime, the bright yellow flowers of Scotch broom are ubiquitous. Though a lovely sight, the broom is a rampant invasive with prolific seed production, up to 18,000 seeds per plant. The plant can live 15 years, and on hot days you can hear their seed pods popping open like popcorn. Each seed has the astounding ability to lie dormant for up to 30 years before germinating.

Fawn lilies at Boat Passage, Saturna Island.Who cannot admire a rose, the very symbol of love? The Nootka (aka wild) rose sports pink flowers and can reach as high as 3 metres, favouring open habitats such as meadows, roadsides and shorelines.

Native plants are excellent for gardens because over the centuries they have adapted to the regional weather and soil. They need minimal fertilizer, very little watering, minimal Wild rose lying on board walk of forest trail.weeding and no pesticides. Best of all, they attract birds, bees and butterflies, providing colour and movement that soothe the soul.

 

Kayaking in the Gulf Islands archipelago with the wind and tide at your back is like being in heaven. I love to view the gentle Salish Sea from wave level, feel the warm sun on my back and savour the silent solitude. It’s a spiritual experience.

I often paddle from Pender to Saturna Island with one stroke rhythmically, almost hypnotically, following another as my kayak slowly crosses Plumper Sound. Occasionally a snort sounds and a smooth seal’s head pops out of the waterTwo kayaks on a midden cove, Pender Island BC, a curious companion monitoring my progress. At Taylor Point I beach the kayak and explore the ruins of the old Taylor home and the remains of the quarry that supplied stone for many buildings in Victoria a century ago.

Because the Java Islets, on the southeast side of Saturna, are uninhabited and part of the Gulf Islands National Park they are like a wildlife refuge. Drifting silently with the current I see dozens of seals watching me with sad liquid eyes, cormorants stretching their black wings like preachers blessing their flock and great blue herons with their beaks poised to spear a fish.

At Portland, a trail leads around the island, passing coves lined with bleached driftwood logs and meadows dotted with purple wildflowers. An old apple orchard is a reminder that Portland was settled in the 1880s by Kanaka (Hawaiian) immigrants. Best is a dazzling white beach formed by broken clam shells, the remains of millennia of habitation by Coast Salish First Nations.

The solitude of kayaking, Gulf Islands BC

Once a year I paddle to Rum Island, aka Isle de Lis, and camp overnight. There’s an edgy feeling for I’m like Crusoe, alone, an entire island to myself. At dusk, fading light shimmers on the water as seals frolic in the darkening bay. A little later, a million stars twinkle in the sky.

When paddling, I know the ocean below the kayak teems with life, yet it remains bafflingly invisible. And the currents are ever-changing for the islands and tides interact in complex ways. Sometimes the water is dead still. Other times the current is fast with little whirlpools dotting the water. And sometimes on calm water, a train of seven or eight huge waves will suddenly roll past.

There are so many delicious kayak destinations including Mayne Island and the Japanese Garden; Salt Spring Island and Ruckle Provincial Park; and Prevost Island with its long, narrow inlets like mini-fiords.

Kayaking on the tranquil Salish Sea, Gulf Islands BCPaddling on the Salish Sea brings peace to the soul.

I lace up my hiking boots, but where to go? Should I ramble in the still, sombre forest surrounded by moss, ferns and giant trees? Or should I walk along rocky beaches communing with sea stars and barnacle encrusted rocks? Or should I climb to a viewpoint and gaze upon a panorama of islands sprinkled on the waters as though by the hand of God? I decide to set out on a quest and seek out the very best hiking trail in this gaggle of islands.

Stream along Chris Hatfield trail, Salt Spring Island BCOn my island of Pender, walking trails are abundant and I know them well. My favourite is George Hill where I’m soon labouring uphill, through moist forest and then a meadow and onto the summit. I sit next to a spindly Garry oak, watching ferries and the distant snow-capped mountains on the mainland. Ah, wonderful.

At Galiano Island, the choices are many, but the Bodega Ridge trail draws me. I stroll along humming and happy passing ramrod-straight Douglas firs, which are like battalions of tall, slim soldiers standing at attention. But interspersed here and there in their ranks, mockingly, are gangling arbutus trees, chaotic like hippies. What a blessing to be alone, immersed in nature.

Couple gazes at ferry at Roesland, Pender Island BCMy quest continues. Disembarking from the ferry at Mayne Island, I check the trail map and head for the Halliday Ridge hike in Mount Parke Regional Park. The deep forest and views from the top are wonderful, but best is hearing a loud rat-atat-atat and then seeing a pileated woodpecker, its red head a blur as it attacks an old log, sending wood chips flying.

Saturna Island is next, and soon I am at the top of Mount Warburton Pike. Gazing at the isle-dotted Salish Sea, I can’t argue with those who judge the Pike the finest lookout in the Gulf Islands. I meander south-east along the Brown Ridge trail wrapped in sunshine and peaceful solitude. The walk is special for the trail was made not by humans but, most unusually, by resident feral goats, whom I can see grazing here and there farther down the hillside.

Another ferry carries me to Salt Spring Island where I seek out the Chris Hatfield trail in the northern edge of Ruckle Park. I sit beside a pond, where reflections of towering trees and a split-rail fence glisten in the water. I continue deeper into the lush rain forest, passing trees whose branches are festooned with beards of bright green moss. Under a tree are a shovel, several buckets and a sign inviting hikers to dig up gravel, fix part of the trail farther along and return the empty pail on return. What a clever idea! At Yeo Point I sat with my back against a sun-warmed boulder gazing at passing boats and ferries. Following a creek upstream, the gurgling of water grows louder until I see rapids swirling and tumbling down moss encrusted rocks, surrounded by ferns and tall trees.

Enjoying view of the Salish Sea from George Hill, Pender Island BCI return home having hiked many great trails. But I think I’ll have to do it all over again, for I can’t decide which one is best.

Teeing up at hole 2, Pender Island disc course

Hidden away in the forest deep in the Magic Lake area is one of the finest — and least known — treasures of Pender Island: a disc golf course.

On a recent weekend the forest resounded to thumps, clangs and happy shouts as I arrived to play. With its hilly contours and stately Douglas firs, western cedars and gangling arbutuses, the course is considered one of the most picturesque in North America.

Disc golf is just like regular golf but instead of hitting a ball, you throw a plastic disc that looks like a Frisbee. Starting in the tee box, you keep throwing down the course until your disc lands in a chain basket or strikes a pole covered in metal so it makes a ringing sound. The objective is to take the minimum number of throws. The top players carry more than a dozen discs, using different ones for driving, putting and curving around trees, which have an annoying habit of getting in the way. Novices play along just fine with one or two discs. The game is totally casual. There are no waivers to sign, no tee-off times; you just show up and start to play. Best of all, it’s free (except for tournaments)!

Sign for Hart Memorial Disc Golf Course, Salt Spring Island BC

Sign for Golf Island Disc Park, Pender Island BC

Disc golf is played around the world and is particularly popular on the west coast. Courses are also found on Salt Spring Island and Mayne Island.

I joined three friends and started. With many errant shots my score climbed embarrassingly quickly. But it was a lot of fun.

After the game, I nursed a bottle of amber fluid and thought I detected the smell of a well-known BC product wafting through the forest. What a wonderful day!

                       Hanging tone pole at Hart Memorial Disc Park, Salt Spring Island BC

If You Want to Play

– Pender Island: Disc Golf Island is in Magic Lake

– Salt Spring Island: Hart Memorial Disc Park is at Mouat Park

– Mayne Island: Disc park is at Dinner Bay