Salt Spring Island is a charming, out of the way gem in British Columbia. It is one of the Gulf Islands, and is Coast Salish Territory. The WSÁNEĆ (Saanich), Hul’qumi’num (Cowichan Tribes), and Stz’uminus (Chemainus) First Nations called Salt Spring Island home for centuries, and many still do to this day.
I was very fortunate to make a trip to Salt Spring last year, and today I’ll take you through the route I took to access the island without a car. As with my two previous posts, my recount begins in Vancouver. And for the sake of the narrative, I journeyed to Salt Spring in the month of September.
Akin to travelling to Tigh-Na-Mara, this particular trip takes a few modes of transport. I understand that it may be tedious to some people, but let me tell you, the commute is worth it.
Firstly, you will need to make your way to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. For me, this started with a quick trip to Bridgeport in Richmond via the Canada Line Skytrain, then a transfer to the 620 bus. The Skytrain is about 15-20 minutes depending on your entry point, and the 620 bus to Tsawwassen takes about an hour. The 620 is an express bus to the ferry terminal, so you’ll be riding it until the end.
You can purchase your ferry tickets in advance as a foot passenger, so you don’t have to worry about being at the terminal hours before your planned sailing to get a ticket. A return ticket will set you back about CAD 26. If you get a non-stop ferry to Salt Spring Island, you’re looking at a sailing of an hour and 30. And if you don’t get a direct ferry, you could be looking at a journey of 3 hours depending on the number of stops on the route. Once you dock at Long Harbour, Salt Spring Island has a transit system and the bus stops right outside the terminal. It’s the number 4 bus to get to the village of Ganges. When we visited, we stayed in a hotel which was a few minutes’ walk to the village, and the bus driver of the 4 actually dropped us off there.
Where to Stay:
As mentioned above, we stayed within walking distance of Ganges. The hotel was the Harbour House Hotel, and it was fantastic. We did have a minor issue upon check-in as the room in my booking confirmation (Farm View Deluxe Double) wasn’t the room on their record of the booking (Harbour View Deluxe Room), but the member of staff at the check-in desk was very apologetic and assured us our room had a much better view. She was not wrong, I cannot fault the view in the Harbour View room! And there was no additional charge. We stayed 2 nights at a total of CAD 434.70, which came to CAD 219 per person altogether.
There are a variety of other lodging options in the village, and within walking distance of the village. From B&Bs to inns, and self-catering accommodation to other hotels, you have a selection to choose from. One hotel, very close to the Harbour House Hotel, is the Hastings House – Country House Hotel but if you’re looking for something less luxurious but equally as charming, the Salt Spring Inn is right in the heart of Ganges and has guestrooms which can be booked.
Where to Eat:
If you stay at the Harbour House Hotel, and even if you don’t, I recommend their restaurant for breakfast. Woodley’s has a beautiful patio, and their breakfast was delicious. For lunch or dinner, there is a pub with typical pub fare directly opposite the Harbour House Hotel called Moby’s Pub. Their food was tasty, but the particular night we went they had no available tables and a long wait, so we got takeout from them instead, and ate in our hotel room. Highly recommend their brisket! And for somewhere in the heart of Ganges, I recommend the Oystercatcher restaurant. They have a diverse menu, and don’t just do seafood; if you’re wanting a pizza or burger, they have it. Plus, they’re right on the water and often have live music. There is also Auntie Pesto’s, which is on my list for the next time I’m on Salt Spring Island as they have a good view of the sunset!
What to Do:
If you’re looking for an alcoholic drink, and wanting something fancier than a pub, there are a variety of wineries, a brewery and a cidery on Salt Spring Island to enjoy. I recommend the Salt Spring Wild Cider cidery for their sample flights, and their stunning location!
We walked from our hotel to the cidery and walked back; it took us about 20-25 minutes one way. Kutatás Wines is also on the same walking route, but we didn’t stop by that particular winery on our trip.
However, we did book a taxi (pricey!!) to Salt Spring Vineyards on the last day of our stay. Their tasting room, and their picturesque location almost made the taxi’s price worth it.
But if getting in a lot of vineyards, the brewery, and the cidery is something appealing to you, definitely take advantage of the Salt Spring Wine Tour. It costs over CAD 100 but includes the tasting room fees and the travel, plus it’s a two-in-one tour as the driver acts as a guide. And they can even reduce your cost if one of the locations isn’t to your liking, so if you don’t like cider you can contact them in advance and let them know.
Another super fun activity we decided to do was a kayak tour. The Salt Spring Adventure Co. has a variety of guided tour options if you’ve never been before, and also provides rentals if you’re more confident and don’t need a guide. I had never kayaked before, so we opted for the guided tour and it was great. I absolutely recommend this company, and their guides. We did the trip to Chocolate Beach, and there was enough time for me to take a dip!
They have whale watching and wildlife sightseeing tours too which everyone should do once in their life, and bikes for rent if you want to see a bit more of the island.
Make sure you check out the food and non-food items on display in the Salt Spring Saturday Market in Ganges, if you travel in the summer or early fall. Most of what’s on sale has been made, cooked or baked by the individual selling it to you. And even if you’re not in the purchasing mood, it’s still lovely to walk around and admire. I’d also highly suggest just having a stroll around Ganges in general, and popping in to the local shops and galleries. There is a nice walk around the harbour via the boardwalk too. And if you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know I can’t resist catching a sunrise or sunset. And the view of the sun setting from Ganges was superb.
Lastly, something I haven’t done but that you could plan, is a trip to Vesuvius Bay via the transit system on the island to visit the beach there. You would just need to take the 3 bus from the Salt Spring Visitor Information Centre in Ganges. Those are just a few of my recommendations, but you can pop in to the Salt Spring Visitor Information Centre for even more ideas.
Some Final Tips From Me:
- For the Mainland, if you’re using your Compass card, make sure you have enough fare loaded to complete the journey. Or else you’ll need exact change for transit.
- Have change for the BC Transit buses on Salt Spring Island, they are not part of the Compass card zones.
- Always check the bus times to the ferry, and be at the Salt Spring Visitor Information Centre a few minutes before the bus to the ferry is scheduled to leave.
- If you really need to book the taxi, ask at the reception desk in the hotel. When we were in Ganges, there was only 1 taxi for the whole area, so be aware of that. We had to schedule with the driver the exact time of our pickup when he dropped us off at the winery, to make sure he’d be back to pick us up. Naturally this meant we were stuck to a tight timeframe at the winery.
Thank you so much for reading. All photographs and opinions are my own. I have not been sponsored by any business mentioned in this post. Please do let me know if I have fact-checked anything incorrectly, I’m always open to feedback and corrections.