Transcending America’s Pacific coastline aboard Amtrak’s Coast Starlight.
After eight days exploring North America, it was time to visit some more westerly extremities. Flying out from Toronto, my first stop was Saltspring Island, via Vancouver Airport and a float plane. This is the more expensive means of reaching the Gulf Islands (the other being a succession of ferries) but it’s by far the quickest — and the most exciting. I saw views to die for. For small propellor driven aircraft that use harbours to take off and land, float planes are surprising comfortable.
In what’s becoming a regular feature of recent travel, I headed to Saltspring to meet my friend Phil, who I previously dinned with when I was in Melbourne. Having bought a beautiful house that previously served as a bed and breakfast, he was more than happy to put me up for a few nights too. I also got to meet his wonderful wife Claire and their lovely children, Amelia and Lily.
I quickly found myself drawn into island life. I started my first day with a filling breakfast (and a spectacular waterfront view) at Auntie Pestos before a quick drive to the top of Mount Maxwell. This was followed by a gruelling hike up Mount Erskine, where I left a message in the logbook sat beneath Rosie’s Bowl. Recovery was aided by a tasty hot chocolate from Talia.
The sense of community on this island of 10,500 is palpable, but even more so during Halloween. Workmen fixing power lines joined parents, teachers and children wearing fancy dress costumes throughout the day. That evening we went trick or treating. A small cul-de-sac of houses happily welcomed the hoards of kids that had descended on their quiet neighbourhood. We were greeted by cobwebs, ghastly decorations, intricately carved pumpkins and plenty of ghosts, with one controlled by a willing conspirator on a roof, tasked with dangling white sheets from a fishing rod!
Phil and I then checked out the haunted house. On display was some seriously scary amateur dramatics performed by kids from the local school; humorous and heart warming at the same time. As the evening drew to a close with a fireworks display over the harbour, I rejoiced in having experienced a very memorable Halloween.
The next day Claire gave me a tour of the south end of the island, including breakfast at Rock Salt and a walk around Ruckle Park. Yet my stay on the island was concluding all to quickly. I planned to return to Vancouver by ferry, but a three hour journey with multiple transfers couldn’t compete with another flight on a float plane — especially one that would include a flight over the city of Vancouver.
In the front seat of a float plane, I enjoyed a breathtaking view of Vancouver as I descended into its harbour. For such a densely populated city, I’d arrived somewhere small and friendly.
Some cities are best arrived at by air, while some are best approached by car. Others are best suited to arrival by train. Toronto is one such city.