Take it easy on Saturna Island

  • Story and Photos by Sue Frause / Special to The Herald
  • Friday, November 24, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

I t wasn’t tough selling my four gal pals on a Saturna Island getaway.

The ingredients were enticing: biking, kayaking, wine tasting and sunshine. Although I couldn’t guarantee the latter, the other elements made it appealing to the five of us.

Saturna is in British Columbia’s southern Gulf Islands. Accessible by both B.C. Ferries from Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island, it’s my favorite of what many Americans call the Canadian San Juans.

Part of the allure is that it’s the least developed of the major islands. With only 350 full-time residents and infrequent ferry service, this is life in the slow, slow lane. There is no ATM on the island and cell phone reception is spotty at best.

I stopped by the office of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve across the road from the Saturna General Store, where Park Warden Jay Leopkey gave me tips on where to cycle and explore.

It was good to hear that in 2003 nearly half of Saturna’s bays, valleys and high rock bluffs became part of the national park reserve, preserving it and a number of nearby islets and islands for future generations.


After a lunch of fresh salmon skewers at the Saturna Cafe, we set out to Narvaez Bay. The eight-mile round-trip bike ride is fairly moderate, although we did have to dismount several times – I don’t remember the hills being so steep when I was here before.

Park your bike near the gate at the end of Narvaez Bay Road and walk down the road. You can enjoy the view from the bluff or scramble down the hill to the beach.

On the pedal back, stop at Haggis Farm, a funky old bakery featuring organic baked goods. We bought big chewy cookies. We also poked around nearby Saturna Cemetery, site of the first public school on the island.

Probably the most scenic and easiest roads for bicycling are East Point and Tumbo Channel Roads. Make time for East Point Regional Park, with its 1888 lighthouse, unfortunately surrounded by an uninviting barbed wire fence and some ugly outbuildings.

Bypass the lighthouse and head to the meadow with its old weathered foghorn building. From here you look out to the broad expanse of waters of Boundary Pass with Mount Baker looming high above.

At the end of the park is a plaque marking the spot where Spanish explorer Jose Maria Narvaez spotted and named Saturna Island, “Punta de Santa Saturnina.”

And for the hardy ones in the group (all of us declined), there’s always a bike ride to the top of Mount Warburton Pike. Named after an eccentric and wealthy English scholar and explorer who owned much of the island in the late 1880s, it’s home to feral goats that graze on the slopes along the gravel road that takes you to the top.

It’s the island’s highest viewpoint at 1,630 feet and has stunning views of the Pender Islands, the San Juan Islands and Mount Baker.

It’s also accessible by car.


Our quintet’s kayaking skills ranged from fear of the water to overnight kayaking and camping experience. With that in mind, a guided trip seemed the best option.

Bob and Bev Bruce are the owners of Saturna Sea Kayaking. Having lived on the island for more than 20 years, they know their stuff and Bob was the perfect guide for our gaggle of gals.

The three-hour paddle, which includes orientation and safety instruction along with equipment, took us from Boot Cove around Payne Point into Plumper Sound. With azure skies and matching water, we were happy paddlers, admiring the arbutus trees, sandstone cliffs, eagles and seals.

Our trip continued along Elliot Bluff to Breezy Bay, with Bob giving lively personalized commentary along the way.

We landed at Saturna Beach for the 10-minute hike up to the Saturna Island Vineyards.

After settling into our chairs on the outdoor patio, we ordered a bottle of the award-winning 2004 Pinot Gris wine to accompany our light summer meals.

The view of the lush 60-acre vineyard stretched out to the glistening waters beyond.

Who needs a cell phone, anyway?

Sue Frause is a Whidbey Island freelance writer and photographer. She may be contacted at skfrause@whidbey.com.

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