The Telegraph
| Sunday, January 18, 2015 |


On an island trail

Saturna Island off the coast of Vancouver is all about nature at its best, says Arnab Nandy

  • A colony of colourful starfish nestling by the rocks makes for a spectacular sight; (Top) The picturesque East Point is one of Saturna Island’s top sightseeing spots ; Pix: Saila Kumar Nandy

Where are you headed? Want a ride?” A young man driving a muddy blue truck stopped and asked cheerfully. We were heading to the Breezy Bay Bed & Breakfast, which the young man assured us was just 15 minutes away. “We’ll enjoy the walk,” I said which produced a friendly grin.

We had just arrived on Saturna Island, a 31sqkm dot in the ocean, one of the southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia in Canada about four hours from Vancouver’s Tsawwassen ferry terminal. The island has a permanent population of about 300 people and most people I asked said there wasn’t much to see. The only time a lot of people headed there was on July 1 for the Canada Day Lamb Barbecue, they said.

But it had appeared to be my kind of place — quiet, not too many people and nature at its best. That was enough to inspire me to book a room for two nights.

A little way ahead, we reached a fork in the road and were figuring which way to go when another passing car stopped and offered to turn around and take us to our destination.

I was already glad to come here — and I didn’t meet a single unfriendly person during my two days on Saturna.

The B&B, when we got there, turned out to be a delightfully rural affair and was, in fact, a farm. We spotted three ponies, several ducks and geese and also some cows. The house itself was built in 1890 and we were given the friendly welcome we’d already come to expect on the island, from our hosts Shawn and Corinne. “This is the island’s third-oldest house. But the first one was destroyed in a fire and the second one has been renovated a lot and it doesn’t look so old now. But this building is pretty much the same as it looked a hundred years ago,” said Shawn.

  • A double-decker bus turned into a café is one of the few eateries on Saturna; Pic:  Arnab Nandy

There’s only one general store on the island. And the only place we could have dinner that night was a pub at the ferry pier. It was a Sunday and everything else was closed. Of course, we wouldn’t have had many options even if we had been earlier. The only other place that served dinner was a double-decker bus converted into a café.

About 300 people live on Saturna. It has two ATM counters but no bank. There isn’t even a doctor and in case of emergencies, patients are airlifted to Victoria, the nearest city. Shawn told me young people did not like the stay. There’s a significant temporary population on the island who have jobs elsewhere. Shawn himself was a chef in Victoria.

The next morning we headed to East Point, the island’s eastern tip where, the guidebooks said we might see whales. It was going to be almost a three-hour hike but part of the way was along the sea and the views would be lovely.

Saturna has a system of community-backed hitchhiking and at most road crossings there are “Car stop” signs. If you wait by one of these signs a passing car is very likely to offer you a lift.

The signboard indicated that East Point was 10.5km away but it was a lovely day and the sea was sparklingly blue. We occasionally spotted otters and lots of geese and even a bald eagle. We were only 2km away from East Point when a car offered us a lift.

  • The island has just one general store that’s a meeting point for all the residents; Pic: Saila Kumar Nandy

My first impression of East Point was: It’s a postcard! You followed a walking trail and suddenly there’s a green grassy stretch in front. Beyond the green is the blue sea with a few islands some distance away.

As we sat on the grass eating sandwiches I noticed something moving on a big rock a few hundred metres from the shore. Looking through my binoculars I saw scores of seals basking in the sun. 

We went near the water and found ourselves looking at colonies of starfish. There were hundreds and they were mostly a pretty shade of purple with the occasional orange here and there. 

Our next destination was the Saturna Vineyards. From the Saturna General Store, the road snaked into a densely forested hill. Then, we passed by a very still lake and we could hear birds chirping. It looked almost like the most peaceful place on earth.

The vineyard, when we reached there, was beautiful and we could almost have been in Italy’s Montepulciano but for the sea in the background.

The next morning, Shawn drove us to Mount Warburton Pike the island’s highest point. The road passed through forests of giant old trees and when we reached our destination, a spontaneous “Wow!” escaped my lips.

The hilltop had a little flat grassy surface beyond which it sloped towards the sea. If you looked straight, you could see the blue sea and the Gulf Islands. The wind was strong and chilly and rattled my bones. But that took little away from the beauty of this place.

By the time our boat left Saturna a few hours later, I realised I had fallen in love with this unusually beautiful place and its friendly residents.


How to get there: There are connecting flights to Vancouver from all major Indian airports. Saturna Island is a ferry ride away from Vancouver’s Tsawwassen ferry terminal

Where to stay: Breezy Bay Bed & Breakfast