Gabriola Island Driving Bicycling Tour
Nanaimo's neighbour Gabriola Island is the northernmost of the Southern Gulf Islands. Many of the island's 5,000 permanent residents are artists, musicians, and writers, and Gabriola is famous for its numerous studios and art galleries. There are three provincial parks, a museum, numerous bald eagles, and lots of beautiful coastal scenery. All this makes Gabriola an ideal daytrip destination from Nanaimo. Our complete driving/bicycling tour totals 49 kilometers, but a limited nine-km routing on foot is also provided (there's no public transportation). BC Ferries operates an hourly car ferry to Gabriola from opposite the Port Place Shopping Centre in downtown Nanaimo. The roundtrip fare is around $10 per passenger and $24 per car (bicycles are $2).
Upon disembarking from the ferry, follow North Road 400 meters straight ahead and take the first left onto Taylor Bay Road. After 600 meters you'll reach Descanso Bay Regional Park. Gabriola's three provincial parks are day-use only (no camping) so the 32 nicely-wooded campsites here are the best place to unroll the tent.
Another km north on Taylor Bay Road, turn left on Malaspina Drive and continue one km west to the end of the road. Here erosion of a coastal sandstone ledge down the lower left side of the point has created the Malaspina Galleries, a unique cave-like formation 90 meters long and 3.5 meters high, noted by Spanish explorers in 1792. There's a 180-degree view of Vancouver Island and the mainland from the point.
Return to Taylor Bay Road and go 500 meters north to Decourcy Drive where you turn left to nearby Gabriola Sands Provincial Park. (If you're on foot, you can walk along the scenic shoreline from the Malaspina Galleries to the park in 15 minutes at low tide.) This picnic site crosses a narrow isthmus between Pilot Bay facing the mainland, a great place to beachcomb (at low tide), and Taylor Bay facing Vancouver Island, one of Gabriola's best beaches (at high tide).
Go back to the junction and make a choice. If you're on foot, turn right and walk two km back to North Road. If you have a car or bicycle, turn left onto Berry Point Road which runs along Gabriola's north coast for three km to the Orlebar Point Picnic Area (keep left on Berry Point Road at Norwich Road two km along). From the point there are great views of Entrance Island Lighthouse and the mainland mountains. Turn around and head back to North Road.
Agricultural Hall, 500 meters up the hill from Taylor Bay Road, is across from the post office at the junction of North and South roads. The Farmers Market at "Aggi Hall" offers displays of handicrafts, baked goods, and buskers, Saturdays from 10 am to noon.
From Aggi Hall, North Road runs 400 meters east to the Folklife Village Shopping Centre, 1.3 km from the ferry terminal. Here you'll find the island's library, a good supermarket, and Gabriola Artworks, a two-story gallery exhibiting paintings, glasswork, pottery, and designer clothing by over 150 local artists. This wonderful store (open daily yearround) has a nice little cappuccino bar upstairs. Across the street, Robert's Place, 560 North Road, is the most popular place to eat at this end of the island. The Roxy Lounge and Culture Club next to Robert's is a popular venue.
From Folklife Village, take Lockinvar Lane 400 meters south to South Road and the Gabriola Museum, 505 South Road, with a large collection of local artifacts. The outdoor Petroglyph Park at the museum has numerous concrete replicas of native rock carvings created in 1997. You're welcome to do rubbings of these, something that isn't encouraged with real petroglyphs. The museum is open from 10 am to 3 pm, Saturday and Sunday from May to mid-September or Thursday to Monday in July and August. Admission is $2 (children under 12 free). The petroglyph reproductions are accessible for free anytime.
If you're on foot, the museum will probably be as far as you get. It's 300 meters back to the post office, then another 800 meters down the hill to the ferry. If you're on wheels, head south on South Road to False Narrows between Gabriola Island and Mudge Island. You'll pass the nine-hole Golf Course and Hogan Lake after two km. At the bottom of a hill, 6.4 km from the museum, turn right into a large parking area overlooking Brickyard Beach. Here you can observe the tidal pools in the narrows and maybe do some clam digging (if you have a fishing license). Two hundred meters beyond this turnoff, turn right on El Verano Drive, and 400 meters along turn right to Mudge Landing where many cars are parked. The few hundred Mudge islanders pull their boats up onto the beach here. As you can see, it would be an easy matter to connect Gabriola to Vancouver Island via a highway across Mudge Island but the locals shudder at the thought of it.
From the landing, turn right on El Verano Drive, then right again on South Road, and go four km east to Gabriola United Church on the left. A white signboard behind the church indicates the start of a narrow trail to a meadow with a number of real petroglyphs carved into the open bedrock up to 5000 years ago.
Another 2.1 km east of the church, turn right on Coast Road, then immediately right again on Stalker Road. Drumbeg Provincial Park, 1.4 km off South Road, has sandstone rock formations, a rare Garry oak forest, and varied views. Gabriola Passage opposite Valdes Island has a strong tidal current and it's relaxing to sit and watch the world go by.
Return to South Road and head 1.5 km northeast to the Silva Bay Resort and Marina, 3383 South Road. If you're hungry, the resort's bar and grill has a wonderful outdoor deck with great views of the Flat Top Islands. A less expensive snackbar with an even nicer terrace is down on the wharf opposite the Marina Office. There's also a dive shop, kayaking operation, and seaplane flights to Vancouver. The Silva Bay Shipyard School next to the resort is Canada's only full-time wooden boatbuilding school.
From Silva Bay, drive 9.4 km west on North Road, then right on Barrett Road. After a km turn left on Bluewater Road and immediately left on Bond Road. Three hundred meters ahead, turn left on The Strand which runs 800 meters to Sandwell Provincial Park. A 10-minute walk along a broad path leads through the forest to a long, log-strewn beach with good swimming at high tide. There's a spectacular view of the volcanic cone of Mount Baker in Washington State from the north end of the beach.
From the park it's 2.1 km back to North Road, where you turn right and drive another 3.6 km back to the ferry. Watch for deer along all of the roads of Gabriola.