In one word this trip was Awesome!
I have our biking and backpacking trips down in some ways. I had backpacking food leftover from our SCT trip so it wasn’t a big deal to pick up a bunch of other food for the trip. We packed enough to get through most meals without going to the grocery store on the island where island pricing exists.
We packed up the car the night before the trip and the alarm on Monday morning went off early at 515 AM. I quickly made us all Egg McMuffin sandwiches and woke the kids up to be out the door at 545 AM.
This time on the drop off at Tsawwassen I decided that the kids could just wait in the waiting area while I parked the car and then biked back.
I got back to the kids no problem within 30 minutes. That was a good plan because I ripped back down the causeway with no concerns about their safety.
The ferry ride to Nanaimo was beautiful. We remembered the cards so it gave us something to do.
When we got to Nanaimo (1 hour 50 minute ferry ride) we unloaded the ferry (you always get off first) and we let all the traffic clear first. That way we didn’t have to go down the busy highway with cars in a hurry to get someplace.
I was a little concerned about the ride between the ferries being too challenging for the kids. This turned out to be no concern at all. The kids were biking really well and doing a great job staying in the bike lane on busy roads and staying off to the side on the less busy streets.
We used a bicycle app to find the best route. It had us follow the highway only for 2 blocks and the rest was decent. There was one road that had a lot of cars (Cedar Road) but it wasn’t so bad.
The stroller weight was good. I ditched our backpacks and went with garbage bags. I’m not sure why I carried them last time and now I know I cut at least 10 lbs using this method. Although it looks completely stuffed it was mostly bulky stuff like sleeping bags. We went with minimal clothes again and packed like we were going backpacking. I had no issue pulling the weight even on the hills.
Note: We discovered shopping at the ferry terminal in Nanaimo Harbour.
We got to the Gabriola ferry and missed catching the ferry by 5 minutes. It was literally just pulling away. I wasn’t planning on making it to this one anyway. It was a surprise that we got there so fast. If I could do things again I would have shopped right here and not pedaled with the extra weight. There is a great shopping mall right across the street with a Dollarama and a proper reasonable grocery store. Oh well, live and learn and share.
I realized at this time that I forgot the battery attachment to my phone in the car. One was purchased at Dollarama and we were all set. The ferry lady cut us a break and didn’t charge for our bikes – thank you. We must have looked like hobos!
The ferry ride from Nanaimo to Gabriola Island takes about 15-20 minutes and it is a nice ride.
Once we were across the ferry (about 1230) then it was a simple 1 km ride to the Descano Bay Regional Park. This place was fantastic! It was car camping convenience without the price. At $17/night it was a steal. There were pit toilets only but running water at taps throughout the campground. I’d say 25% of the people came by bike. It had a cool feel to it as well. I didn’t bring cash and the lady says ‘oh, don’t worry you can pay whenever’.
Tip – go to the grocery store, get lunch, get cashback and skip the silly bank fees.
The sites were as good as any provincial campground.
After parking the bikes we decided to check out the shopping on the island. We were really surprised that the grocery store was fantastic. They had a bakery and basically anything you would need including a local meats section. We just bought some fresh bread and spinach dip and headed to the Malaspina Gallery for our lunch. Malaspina Gallery is this cool sandstone rock feature that looks like a wave.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather the entire weekend. It was perfect!
When we got back to the campground the kids both tried my bike. They both did really well although my daughter whacked her shin on the pedal and gave herself a bump. I wish I didn’t know exactly what that feels like!
The rest of day one was spent riding around the campground, checking out the sunset and just lounging around with books.
These pictures are from the campground. There is a little trail out to and sandstone area where you can jump in and swim or just hang out. Many of us decided to have an adult beverage down here but later I saw the RCMP officer checking out this area at dusk.
The next morning I spotted a new camper next door to us. She had a sweet mountain bike. We ended up hitting it off and spent a lot of time with her over the next 4 days. She was really nice and great with the kids too.
I gave into the kid’s persistence to pull each other in the stroller. Their logic was sound. They weighed less than the maximum weight of 45 kg and about the same as our load.
On day 2 we rode to the provincial beach (Sandwell Twin Beaches). Again we packed fresh bread and this time Nutella…and some carrots for health reasons. 😉
The beach was about 30 C so between reading I got in a few times. The kids played like they used to by digging holes and just having fun.
I didn’t do a great job documenting this trip but the rest of the days were similar. On day 3 we went to another beach. It wasn’t quite as hot that day but it was still really nice.
The biking on the Island was great. The roads were normal roads with no bike lane but the drivers were very courteous often waiting behind you to pass. I was impressed and grateful!
The sandstone on the island is very cool how it has been carved over time by the tides.
After day 3 we started talking about staying for 5 nights and our new friend from California was working out her trip plans. I helped her with some local knowledge about Cumberland and Tofino.
She decided to stay another night and said we could stay on her site. Cool, we didn’t have a site and it was going to be busy. That day we went mountain bike riding on the local hiking trails and had a blast. My daughter ran the trails and the rest of ripped them on our bikes. I really loved watching my son ride his bike. He could not get enough!
We went to the llama farm and pet the goats, llamas and ponies.
On day 5 we biked around the entire Island which amounted to 30 km I did not think this was going to happen as neither kid was too enthusiastic about the idea. We went down South Road to Drumbeg Provincial Park for lunch. Then the kids decided it was easiest at that point just to ride the whole thing. Bonus! It was a bit of trickery on my part. 😉
The North Road was an easy ride. We went through a long section where there were trees on either side of the road. It was beautiful!
After 5 nights and 6 days it was time to head back to the mainland. The trip home was simple although I started to seriously think my car was likely towed. I was beginning to question my wisdom (although there were no signs regarding parking I learned that 48 hours or something like that generally is the maximum that a car can sit).
On the way back from the ferry you can get on the other side of the median. It’s polluted with garbage and crap but feels much safer.
We avoided as much traffic as possible going down dirt roads. When we had to hit the main street in Tsawwassen the bike lane was huge. Thankfully we got to the car and it wasn’t towed. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Turned out another neighbour spotted us and came to tell me the bylaw guys chalked my tires. I got lucky.
Note: I’ve since learned the long term parking at $12/day has a bike rack. Next time I’d drop the kids, drive to the long term parking and only bring my bike back on the front. It’s tricky doing this as 1 adult and 2 kids. We would still have to bike back (only 2 bikes fit) or I’d have to go back solo and return with the car.
This is a great introductory bike camping trip. It was much easier than Saturna Island in all respects but partly that could be experience too. I highly recommend jumping on your bike and heading over to Gabriola Island. Sure, the logistics are a bit tricky the first time you try a bike trip but soon you wonder why you didn’t start earlier. It’s very freeing!
Next Island trip is already being planned – Denman & Hornby Island!
Trip Costs – 5 nights
Beer – $19.60
Ferry to Nanaimo – $39.95
Ferry to Gabriola – $22.20
Camping Fees – $68 (1 free night with our friend)
Ferry to Tsawwassen – $39.95
Parking – $0 (Pay at the long term lot, take transit with 2 riders or bike to the ferry)
Total = $189.7