Thursday, September 8, 2011

Saltspring Island in the Summertime

Wow, it's been awhile since I last posted! Admittedly, it's been hard to want to stay indoors long enough to compose and post an entry - the weather has finally turned for the better!

Ah, the brown grass, green forest and blue sea: Summer in the Gulf Islands!
Which is rather ironic, seeing as it's September and I've already purchased / revamped my Fall 2011 wardrobe, virtually all of which requires about 15 degrees Celsius less to wear...! (Stay tuned for my next post - I snagged some fantastic finds from My Sister's Closet (Seymour and Helmcken) and the Salvation Army Thrift store at 4th and Cypress and can't wait to brag!).

Quickly, here's a few places on Saltspring Island that I highly recommend visiting either this week, next week, or next summer. Actually, let's extend that into October - the nights might get brisk and mornings crisp, but until the rains really set in, Saltspring is still a fantastic place to go camping! All the info you need for your visit can be found here at Saltspring Island Tourism (either in person, over the phone, or online).

Camping at Ruckle Park

I must admit that if my readership was higher, I would be loath to further publicize this amazing park. Now Montague (Galiano Island) may be already booking into 2012*, but Ruckle Park almost never fills up completely, according to a relative of mine that works for the Saltspring Tourism Board.
*if you have a boat (preferably a sailboat...), Montague really is the best spot in the Gulf Islands. If you don't have a boat, go to Ruckle Park on Saltspring instead. Both have shoreline camping, but Ruckle is by far the better option if you don't require anchorage.

Ruckle Park's walk-in sites

Ruckle is a Provincial Park (which means FREE PARKING, for now! Enjoy it while it lasts - I'm sure there'll be some HST-removal related reason why we'll have to pay to park at the campgrounds our taxes pay for in the first place....grrr). At $18 a site per night, it's also one of the more affordable Provincial Campgrounds, which is astounding when you realise just how gorgeous, historical, and big Ruckle actually is. Did I mention you can camp along the shoreline?! Ocean view, ocean breeze, ocean access, you name it!

Arrival at Fulford Harbour

Ruckle is easy driving (or biking) distance from the Fulford Harbour ferry (connects to Swartz Bay, a.k.a. Victoria's closest BC Ferries terminal), but can also be accessed directly from Tsawwassen via Long Harbour. A word of warning, though - you ABSOLUTELY MUST BOOK THE TSAWWASSEN-LONG HARBOUR (SSI) FERRY WEEKS IN ADVANCE. BC Ferries allows that route to be reserved (online) at 100%, meaning even if you show up 5 hours early, you won't be getting on that 12:15pm sailing. Same goes for the way back home - and an extra warning that our ferry out of Long Harbour left 10-15 minutes earlier than scheduled because there were enough cars waiting (so don't walk too far during your wait, or you'll be sprinting back to the car from Scott Point road!).

S'mores = Quintessential

Fire pits are available at Ruckle Park, so unless there's a fire ban in effect (and there hasn't been yet this summer that I'm aware of), the group fire circles are still available for use. You do have to spend $6 on a bundle of firewood (available from the nearby trailer - the park rangers are very nice guys), but then again you can share the cost with other campers, or just be generous and buy one for everyone to enjoy.

Firewood Trailer ($6/bundle)

There aren't any showers at Ruckle, which must be why it's never 100% full (I can't think of a single other reason - yes, the toilets are pit toilets/outhouses, but honestly they're the cleanest I've used), and there is a curious problem that resulted in part of the park to be fenced in for quarantine purposes: Carpet Burweed. This invasive species from South America has naturalized nowhere else but Ruckle Park. And it's a nasty little thing too, leaving spines in the feet of those unfortunate enough to trod on it.

We had spot #22, which is right up against the fence for the quarantine area (a nice quiet spot, if you don't mind the deer bounding over the fences all night!). Ruckle is seriously one of the nicest places to camp - they do have drive-in/camper sites as well, but they're in the trees. The "walk-in sites" (waterfront) aren't far from the parking lot and really should be considered first! If you're in love with the iconic BC Ferries, this is the place to come and watch them en route, as well as other commercial (but mostly recreational) marine traffic.

There are some amazing group sites as well (these are reservable; all other Ruckle sites are first-come, first-served), and kilometres of gorgeous hiking trails (easy to moderate). The historical Ruckle farm is still active (the park curls around the working farm), but the old orchard and outbuildings are within the park's boundaries and are great to explore (especially at night, when you can hear Barn Owls, Saw-Whet Owls and Great Grey Owls hooting!).

Potable water available in the campground
For those who didn't grow up on the West Coast, there are even tours of the intertidal zone available. If you miss one, just go down to the seashore (minding the ferry waves that roll in every 1/2 hour or so! They surge rather nicely, so watch the small children carefully!) and find a tidal pool. Please be gentle with the delicate sea critters (and watch out for those purple fiddler crabs - they'll pinch harder than you think), and remember not to touch the water or anything in it if your hands have sunscreen or lotion on them. The tidal pools are usually shallow enough that you don't need to actually poke around to see anything anyway.

Barnacles, high and dry.
Ferry waves - don't let the kids get too close to the water.
A typical tidal pool. Blue shells = mussels.
Sea anemones (open, waiting to catch a meal)
One of the bigger sorts of fiddler crabs (ouch - watch the fingers!)
These adorable little guys were having a great holiday at Ruckle
Ruckle is a great first camping location for families - there's lots to see and do, and there's no bears for a change, which means you don't have to stay up all night terrified that your kid's gummy hands and faces are going to be attracting carnivores while they sleep.

On Saturday morning, the campground empties out . . . find out why below:

The Saltspring Saturday Market 

Ganges is the location of arguably the best farmer's and artisan market in the whole of North America (I read that somewhere online - I told someone it was the best I'd ever been to, probably the best in BC, but apparently it's internationally competitive!).

If I went to the trouble of listing all of the vendors and products, I'd be up all night. So I'll just leave a few good links (like this and this) if you're interested, and point out some of the highlights for me:

Homemade fudge. I didn't get a photo of this, 'cause we devoured it.

Brunch. It didn't just consist of fudge! Coffee (mine was iced), savory and sweet snacks abound. I also forgot to get a shot of the food. I was hungry by the time we found a place to park and walk down!

Earrings. These are always great gift options (Chantal got the stag-horn and pressed flower earrings).

Jams, jellies, preserves. I actually bought mine at the Saltspring Island Cheese farm shop instead (see end of post).

Bouquets of freshly picked farm flowers. Women love flowers. Men should remember this, and often!

Tie Dye. Not my style, but if it's yours, this is the best place to find it.

The guitar is pretty rad.

Gluten and Dairy Free Bread. Lots of vegan and vegetarian options too, of course! And it's also the best place I know to find hemp everything (hemp fabric, hemp jewelry, hemp cosmetics, hemp baked goods, ...and probably illegal forms of 'hemp' as well, though I didn't see an actual tent selling it).

Fresh fruit, lavender, garlic braids. Though no garlic for me, seeing as I have a rather unfortunate sensitivity to it, red onion, and shallots (damn and blast).

The Market is an amazing place, but it's crazy busy in the summer (expect crowds on the Vancouver scale). There's music, there's face painting, there's a playground in the park - you could kill an entire afternoon browsing the market and wandering about downtown Ganges.

The ever-popular Saltspring SoapWorks
More of the main stretch
Eco-Friendly: What's not to love?
You won't go hungry!
Antiquated playground toys. They took out my favourite. >:(
The Balloon Man was exceedingly popular!
Face painting queue
Henna (Mehndi/Mehandi) Temporary Tattoo
Jewelry shopping
Main stretch
Near the playground
Near the playground / cenotaph
More stalls than you can shake a stick at!
Friendly farm folk
A long-standing market stall
Veggie Heaven and a flower tent in foreground
Beautiful, colourful pottery
This group was amazing - and I heard it was an impromtu jam session between 2 separate groups of buskers.
Sheep skins (Saltspring is famous for its lamb)
Local woodturner

Another great place to visit (if you have a car) is the Saltspring Island Cheese Farm (conveniently located near Ruckle Park, so plan your trip!)

Saltspring Island Cheese Farm Shop

I'd never been here before, and was glad to visit! A great place to buy (and sample! And sample, sample, sample!) cheeses, olives, preserves, goat's milk ice cream (which is fantastic, despite how skeptical I was to try it!), and other nibbles.

Saltspring Island Cheese Farm shop (at right)
They've really made this place welcoming, clean and charming - it was such a lovely pit stop on the way from Ruckle into Ganges for the market. 

A lovely garden with picnic benches
Where to buy cheese and awesome nibbles
Goat's milk ice cream is AWESOME. I was skeptical, but now am a believer!
Now you don't have to buy them at Caper's!
Friendly hens
Even friendlier goats
Where to see the goats and baby chicks!
Pretty birds
Plump hen
A rooster!


And that's about it! If you're wealthy (and you've probably stumbled across my little 'broke blog' by accident), there's always the option of flying into Ganges Harbour by several different companies'  float planes, or sailing into one of the many anchorages nearby.

Saltspring isn't one of those places where you can show up at 10pm and find a place to stay for the night - make sure you plan at least a day in advance, but much later if you want to stay at one of the highest rated B&B's.

But if you're a poor student, Ruckle is the best option. And if you're an outdoors person, it's probably still the best option regardless of your income.

Ganges is a great place for a day-trip; be sure to visit Glad's Ice Cream, Mouat's stores, Harlan's Chocolates, and Salt Spring Coffee Company.

The ever-popular (in the summer!) Tree House Cafe

Hope this post was inspirational for you! Visit Saltspring Island soon!

Beautiful copper windmills
An arbutus (or Madrona) tree, found throughout the southern coast
I just love arbutus trees - they symbolize home for me
Grace Point (Ganges)
Beddis Beach
Burgoyne Bay Government Wharf

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