Last September I turned the grand old age of 33. To celebrate this “Master number of numerology” and also the fact that I still felt so young and adventurous despite being a fully-fledged adult, team paprika ventured to Salt Spring Island for a spot of camping. Salt Spring is one of the Gulf Islands along the Strait of Georgia, nestled in between Vancouver Island and the mainland of BC. One of the highlights for us is that it only takes half an hour on a ferry to get there from Sidney harbour on Vancouver Island, and once there, it’s just a 20 minute drive to get to Ruckle Provincial Park, which is adjacent to Ruckle Farm (owned by the Ruckle family since the 1870’s and still farmed by them today). Many would consider the park one of the most beautiful camping spots in the Pacific Northwest.
Cruising up to Fulford Harbour on BC Ferry’s Skeena Queen, we catch our first glimpse of what Salt Spring Island is all about; a dreadlocked new age hippy is playing guitar by the quaint harbour coffee shop, and a couple of mucky relaxed dogs sit patiently outside the tie-dye clothing store, panting and happy from an outdoor adventure no doubt, next to an eclectic assortment of push bikes from travellers who have left their cars (and their worries) behind. There is an aura of complete relaxation and you know that the people of Salt Spring are not about to judge you, no matter your look, lifestyle, or background.
With a sigh of happiness, we leave the harbour and make our way to Ruckle Park to set up camp.
On every trip I’ve taken to Salt Spring, the sun has been shining, lending a “CSI Miami” hue to my memories of the place. The greens and oranges of the fir and arbutus trees on the way to Ruckle Park are vivid. They contrast beautifully with the yellow of the trail leading to the park. I feel like I’m Judy Garland in a re-make of the Wizard of Oz. But I most certainly don’t feel the need to tap my heels together to leave.
On arrival at the park, which is just a short drive from the harbour to the south east, other smiling campers leave the handy wheelbarrows with us, for carrying our gear into the expansive beach front camping grounds. We wonder if we left too late in the day and there won’t be any good spots left (it is a long weekend after all, we worry). But our worries disappear as we venture deeper into the campsite and find a perfect spot just metres from the sea.
All set up, it’s time to explore! There are 15 km of trails in Ruckle Park. A nice hike runs through the campsite, along the shoreline, all the way from the Ruckle Farm to Yeo Point. We set off, dogs on leash (as they should always be in this area) and see what we can find.
One thing we do miss this year are the red and purple sea stars, which we normally find nestled in rocks and tide pools on the coasts of all of the Gulf Islands that we’ve ever visited. They were ubiquitous in the same area just a few years ago: These are pictures taken in Ruckle Provincial Park just over 5 years ago, when we stumbled across too much sea life to count!
The lack of these bright creatures is a sad reminder of the ongoing battle they are having against the wasting virus, densovirus, that seems to be killing them from the inside out, reducing the stars to a sorrowful pile of goop. Other sea dwellers such as urchins have also been affected, all along the Pacific coast reaching as far as California in the south, and Alaska in the north. There’s nothing we can do to overcome this death but thankfully there’s evidence that the epidemic is winding down – we can only hope that the population re-builds itself over the next decade and we are once again blessed with a blanket of stars on our ocean floors.
As we continued our hike, a huge sea lion came up to the shore to say hello! I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to snap a picture but it definitely put a smile on our faces. A couple sitting on the rocks nearby, staring too intently at their phones missed this spectacle. A reminder that sometimes it’s best to leave the gadgets behind once in while and look up at the world around us, I guess.
Hours later, exhausted and pink from the sun, we settled in to our campsite for the first night, only to be stirred from our daze by the last BC ferry of the night on its way to Vancouver from Victoria, blasting Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” as loudly as possible out of its loudspeakers!! It caused quite the stir at the campsite and laughter rippled through along the shoreline. The next night we were treated to another ’80s classic, “Livin’ on Prayer” by Bon Jovi. The captain of the ship was no doubt having a bit of fun. Although I did feel sorry for the couple with the 6 month old kid in the campsite next to ours! I wonder if this is a nightly occurrence, or was just a long-weekend treat for us happy campers?!
Days two and three on Salt Spring saw us take more coastal hikes, erect a tarp for our cooking area (which came in handy during night two’s torrential downpour!) and take a drive to Ganges village, where there always seems to be a farmer’s market taking place (although officially it’s just on Saturday mornings if you interested). At Ganges we ate fish n’ chips and explored the shops selling trinkets and treats. On the day of my actual birthday, the hubs bought me a chocolate cake, which we took back to the campsite and scoffed in front of the communal campfires. You meet some interesting people at these group campfire spots. One couple had recently retired and we found out that Salt Spring was one of their last stops of a 3 month journey taking them from Calgary, across the Rockies, over to Vancouver Island. Another family were local to Victoria, and were enjoying some ‘medicinal herbs’ by the fire before leaving in the morning to get ready for their kid’s first day at school. An eclectic bunch indeed!
We left Salt Spring on the afternoon of our third day. Not being in a rush to leave, we didn’t get back home until well after 5pm. Relaxed and sunkissed, we got take out that night and enjoyed a beer in the back yard to try to extend the mini vacation some more. A successful birthday? I think so.