Tucked in the rain shadow of Vancouver Island, 180-square-kilometre Salt Spring Island (so named for the cold and briny saltwater springs on the north end of the island), is home to the eclectic and the eccentric

From the tie-dyed and the well-heeled to the vintners, artisans, cheesemakers and organic farmers, Salt Spring (the largest of the Southern Gulf Islands), draws more than 180,000 visitors annually who arrive via ferry or airplane.

Sustaining the island's equilibrium is tricky: an even symmetry of visitor influx, limited developments, building restrictions, a ban on short-term vacation rentals, and population density is the key to maintaining harmony within the community and a local sustainable economy. 

Arrival and Departure

Three entry points provide various travel options. Vesuvius (northwest end) boasts the warmest beaches on the island with 20-minute sailings between Crofton and Vesuvius; Ganges (seaside village and heart of the Island) 1.5 and 3-hour sailings between Tsawwassen and Long Harbour; and Fulford Harbour, colourful village with a Boho spirit offers frequent 35-minute sailings between Swartz Bay and Fulford Harbour. Aircraft touch down at Ganges Airport from Richmond's YVR with frequent 25-minute flights.

The Salt Spring Visitor Centre in downtown Ganges offers a wealth of information including free local maps, ferry and bus schedules, and the Salt Spring Island brochure.

What to See and Do on Salt Spring

Arrive on a Saturday in Ganges and you can't help but gravitate to the Market in the Park. With an ever-changing line-up of vendors, fresh fare is standard, upholding a local "make it, bake it, grow it" principle. Your senses will be seduced with the likes of aromatic organically grown lavender and heady wheels of cheese. Think pistachio-cranberry shortbread, organic/Fair Trade chocolate, crusty loaves of artisan bread, and salmon pates with homegrown herbs — just a sampling of what's easily bound for your basket, not to mention a heavy presence from artists/craftspeople.

Health-restoring tonics and healing are commonly sought-out island commodities. Yoga retreats (Santosha Yoga Retreats with Dorothy Price) and spa services (Spa by Lenice) pay homage to the wellness movement. Ayurvedic therapies are the specialty at Salt Springs Spa Resort, and for guests who overnight, super-sized hydro-jet tubs rich in mineral waters await in your private chalet. Restore your personal balance and channel your downward dog at Ganges Yoga Studio, where the study of asanas (postures) and meditation is practiced.

Balance for many residents comes in the form of exercising their creative muse. More than 100 artists make their living on Salt Spring, which is recognized as home to the greatest collection of artists in Canada. Take the self-guided Salt Spring Studio Tour with 34 stops from potters, painters, and jewellers to woodworkers, fibre artists, candle makers, and more.

Outdoor Recreation

Take a kayaking tour with Salt Spring Adventure Company, rent a bike and set your compass for a cycling trip, or cruise the open waters with a sailing charter. Visit Island Escapades for gear and clothing plus a range of outings: sunset and full moon kayaking, camping expeditions, youth camps, Eco Ed programs, and sailing excursions.

Lace up and hit the trails in Mount Maxwell Provincial Park. Hikers who stay the course to Baynes Peak, Saltspring Island's highest point, will be rewarded with dramatic panoramic island views.

Explore Ruckle Provincial Park with its seven kilometres of shoreline, rocky headlands and tiny coves and bays — it's a perfect daytrip for viewing marine life; keep your eye out for cavorting sea lions along the shoreline.

Wine & Casual Dine

While the mercury spikes during long hot days, evenings are cooled by gentle sea breezes, making perfect conditions to grow Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Noir grapes. Mistaken Identity (north), Salt Spring Winery and Garry Oaks Winery (south) are the Island's three vineyards.

Picnic at Mistaken Identity and Salt Spring Winery (regular live music on Friday and Sunday afternoons) and for introspection after a glass, visit a classic seven-circuit Cretan labyrinth at Garry Oaks. Annual wine events include: the Summer Solstice Celebration (June), Sip and Savour (Sept.), and Harvest Grape Stomp (Oct.).

Pair your wine with a fresh artisan handcrafted chèvre (goat cheese) from Salt Spring Island Cheese Company. Individually packaged, the chèvre varieties include: basil, chilli, garlic, lemon, pepper, and white truffle.

Round up your picnic provisions from roadside stands offering farm-fresh organic produce and such grain staples as stone oven baked breads. Like the farm stand at Chorus Frog Farm (check out their preserves), these unmanned stands sell mainly on the honour system, often accompanied with complimentary refreshments.

Moby's Oyster Bar & Marine Grill is the only Oceanwise™ certified restaurant on Salt Spring, just steps from the marina. Lightly battered Pacific Ocean-run cod sets the bar for good fish n' chips; good for the ecosystem too. Also in Ganges, the Oystercatcher Seafood Bar & Grill and Shipstone's English Pub share an outside deck next to the float plane dock — the perfect spot for otter viewing — those with whiskers or pontoons.

Tap into your inner Dr. Seuss with an order of Green Eggs and Ham at Fulford Harbour's Rock Salt Restaurant & Café or fuel up before your ferry with a handmade beef burger, touted by many as one of the best you'll eat anywhere. Free recipe for the asking.

Where to Bed Down

Settle in at Hastings House Country House Hotel, an intimate, elegant resort on 22 acres overlooking Ganges Harbour. Seven lovingly maintained buildings with 18 guest suites and rooms punctuate the sculptured grounds, while the 11th century Sussex-style Manor House is the heart of the estate. It's famous for its regional cuisine, and you'll want to tuck into a rack of Salt Spring Island lamb with honey mustard jus, roasted garlic potato purée and patty pan squash, all locally sourced.

Tent, RV and walk-in sites are easily accessible at Mowhinna Creek Campground, one kilometre south of Ganges. Amenities include water and septic hook-ups, flush toilets, showers, WiFi, and a playground. Leashed pets are welcome.

Check out the full accommodations listing for various lodgings including: B&Bs, cottages, cabins, farm stays, motels, resorts, and more.

Getting There — Getting Around

BC Ferries scheduled sailings from Vancouver's Tsawwassen terminal (90 minutes, longer if stopping at other Gulf Islands en route). Prepaid vehicle reservations are recommended on all sailings between Tsawwassen and the Southern Gulf Islands. Use their online reservations service. You may also travel on a stand-by basis (check schedule for exceptions). *BCF (*223 from your cell on Rogers or Telus Mobility networks).

Book flights aboard Harbour Air and Saltspring Air between Vancouver Harbour (below Bayshore Hotel) and/or YVR and Ganges. Cruise around the island in a sporty ragtop or buzz about on a scooter from Salt Spring Car Rentals, located at the Salt Spring Marina in Ganges Harbour.