GALIANO ISLAND, B.C. - A pair of bald eagles call out as they fly down the forested corridor metres above our vehicle, keeping pace in front as a dolphin would a ship's bow. And just as quickly, they're gone.
It's an awe-inspiring welcome to Galiano Island, B.C.
One of several Southern Gulf Islands in the waters between B.C.'s Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, Galiano is the first stop from Tsawwassen for BC Ferries on its island run.
The 50-minute ferry ride to the island allows time to shrug off the busyness of the Vancouver area and arrive ready for the unhurried pace of the small island.
The forest-covered island is just over 27-kilometres long, six kilometres at its widest point, and 1.6 at its narrowest.
The island is a walking and hiking paradise, with water, island and far-off mountain views from almost every one of the dozens of beach-access points.
We went for a few days to relax and do nothing, but found ourselves curiously exploring as much of the island as we could during the unusually warm, sunny days at the beginning of March.
Much of wildlife on the island appears indifferent to humans.
While the eagles were our first example of that, the deer also sauntered off the road as our car came near, then turned back to stare as we stopped to look at them.
Henny Schnare has photographed the island's wildlife for many years and is the membership director for the Galiano Island Chamber of Commerce.
"We have absolutely thousands of humming birds every year, principally the rufous humming bird that lands on all the Gulf Islands," she said. "They come at the end of March all the way through to August and some even over winter."
But you can also see eagles fishing off the bluffs, thousands of gulls gathering in Active Pass, and killer whales just off the beaches, she said.
"The other thing that we actually keep quite secret on the island is that we have a tremendous number of the great blue herons," she said as her voice became low and conspiratorial. "We don't tend to publicize where they are because they own the place, we don't."
We did happen on two nesting herons in one of our many beach walks.
Finding those walks is easy, beach assess is well marked on the road with a sign.
Some access points may take you on a meandering walk through a quiet forest of massive trees, sword ferns and salal, while others offer a stunning bluff view before you begin a steep trek down.
At low tide, you can walk over many of the sandstone beaches to explore the sealife.
One of the island's most spectacular beaches is in Montague Harbour Provincial Marine Park on the west side of the island.
The park is the site of an ancient First Nation's midden pit, believed to be about 3,000 years old. It was home to the Coast Salish, Penelakut First Nation, when the island's namesake, Spanish explorer Dionisio Alcala Galiano, explored Canada's West Coast in 1792.
Montague beach is covered in white sand from the many layers of discarded shells on the beach. The sand makes the water appear an aqua blue-green that rivals any Caribbean beach.
But the water's chilly temperature quickly dispels any other such connections.
During the summer, beaches on the east side of the island are "very swimable" because of the warmer waters coming from the Fraser River, just across the Salish Sea, Schnare said.
If you're looking for a trail walk or hike, there are about 75 kilometres of trails to explore.
"It's a great place for hiking," said Paul LeBlond, of the Galiano Trails Society, one of several groups that oversee the trials on the island.
"A lot people who live here like to wander through the woods and a lot of people who come over like to do this."
The retired University of B.C. oceanography professor said the island was once a tree farm for a forest company, so most of the massive trees on the island are second growth.
He suggested a hike up Mount Galiano if you want to see spectacular views of Active Pass, Southern Vancouver Island and Washington States.
"You can see the eagles flying below you."
There are numerous places to stay on the island, including inns and resorts, bed and breakfasts, cabin rental and camping.
Schnare said the island's population of about 1,000 can quadruple during the high season, so reservations would be advised.
If you go:
Go to http://www.galianoisland.com for more information.
Getting there: http://www.bcferries.com
- Travel Destinations
- Nature & Environment
- Vancouver Island
- Galiano Island