Car-Free Weekend – Gabriola Island

To celebrate our two-year anniversary, Emily (being the amazing person she is) planned a surprise weekend for us – a surprise for me that is, as she knew exactly what we were doing. I was just told to pack clothes for 2 days, including rain gear and a bathing suit, and be ready to leave Friday at 4pm.

When Emily arrived at my work with her bike, I was a little confused. Did she want to leave it in the bike room? No. Surprise! We’re going on a bike trip. I felt a little unprepared (luckily I had my bike pump to inflate my tires), but extremely excited about a biking weekend. I still had no idea where we were going. I followed her a few blocks to a crowded bus stop, where we waited for the Horseshoe Bay Express. Ok, that narrowed down the possibilities. We were taking a ferry somewhere – probably the Sunshine Coast, or so I thought.

Luckily, we were the only two people hoping to get our bikes on the bus, as it only has room for 2. At Horseshoe Bay we bought 2 tickets to Nanaimo (to my confusion) and boarded the ferry. BC Ferries allows people to bring bikes on ferries, but charges $2 on the big routes. The $2 is a minimal fee, especially compared to the cost of a car ($47.15 to Nanaimo plus a $17.50 reservation fee). I just wish they would provide some service for my $2. The ferry to Nanaimo had one overloaded bike rack, and on the way back there was nothing so we had to lock our bikes to a railing. The dogs are provided better facilities, for free.

Once we got to Nanaimo, I was still confused as to our destination. Nanaimo isn’t exactly a scenic place to visit. Emily led the way as we biked into town, along the seawall, and to another ferry terminal (it took about 20 minutes), this one to Gabriola Island – our ultimate destination.

Gabriola Island is one of the Gulf Islands. It’s a cute little tourist location, full of artisan shops, bed and breakfasts, local agriculture, and marinas. It’s also relatively bike-friendly, which is why Emily chose it. It was probably too hilly for Emily’s liking, but there wasn’t much traffic, so biking was pleasant. We only had to stop and push our bikes up a steep hill twice.

We arrived around 9 pm, and the owner our bed and breakfast (Cliff Cottage was waiting at the ferry terminal with a truck so we didn’t have to bike in the dark. The B&B was really nice – with fancy robes, a big bedroom, a hot tub (very welcoming after a day of biking), and yummy breakfasts both mornings (frittata and waffles).

On Saturday, the weather was gorgeous and we biked down to Silva Bay, stopping at Brickyard Beach and the petroglyphs behind the church. The petroglyphs were interesting, but hard to make out when they were dry. The museum near the ferry terminal had reproductions, that we looked at on Sunday after it rained, which were much easier to see and enjoy.

At Silva Bay, we took a kayak tour from Jim’s Kayaks. I figured the kayak “tour” would shed some local insight on the area, but it turned out to be just a follow-the-leader kayak trip designed for people who were afraid of kayaking. It was still good, but we would have gotten just as much from a kayak rental and a map. The islands around Silva Bay were great for kayaking, with sandstone cliffs that have been carved into weird shapes by wind and rain, and loads of seals sunning themselves on the rocks.

Sunday brought the rain – luckily we were prepared. It wasn’t too bad, by 11 am, when we were set to roll out, it was barely drizzling and stopped soon after. We biked down to the Malaspina Galleries, a particularly impressive sandstone cliff on Gabriola Island. We sat under the overhanding cliffs and ate a snack. We were almost stranded when a passing ferry sent huge waves and forced us to scramble to find dry ground. Afterwards, we checked out some of the shops and ate a late lunch before taking the ferry back.

In the end, it was a perfect weekend. Emily did an amazing job planning and keeping it a surprise. Gabriola Island makes a for a perfect bike trip from Vancouver. Biking is a lot cheaper then driving, especially since we would have had to rent a car plus pay over $150 extra for the ferries. And with the bikes, we could just walk on to any ferry, without having to worry about reservations or lineups. The only concerns were getting our bikes on a bus and handling the rain, which luckily were a breeze.

Biking on the Ferry Bath Robes The Bed in Bed & Breakfast Giant Shower View from our B&B Cliff Cottage B&B Steep Hill Brickyard Beach Garlic Chocolate? I'm a Kayaker Kayaking Emily Sandstone Cliff Kayakers Ingenious Fly Ingenious Soup Plea for Slow Sex Long and Windy Hill Alien-Head Biker Me and My Bike Petroglyph Boogy Bug Man Bug Man Male Alien Crazy Petroglyph Petroglyph She's All Mime Dancing Alien Peanut Man Off With Your Head Spiderweb Danger Emily! Malaspina Galleries Pocketed Rocks Jaws High and Dry Bikes on the Ferry


  1. I totally agree on the wish that bc ferries would actually at least provide some bike racks for that $2… And the dog facilities really aren’t that great either! Though better than the cat facilities, which are in the same cold, noisy, smelly room, potentially housing large scary dogs (poor kitty!) – luckily it is pretty easy to smuggle a calm cat to the upper decks. Ah BC Ferries. Then again, it’s still not a bad deal for a beautiful boat ride from which I have seen porpoises on several occasions!


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