Like the Southern Gulf Islands , Gabriola Island (population 3,500) is partly residential, but also holds large expanses of forest, abundant wildlife, and long stretches of unspoiled coastline. The ferry from Nanaimo  docks at Descanso Bay, on the west side of the island.
Take Taylor Bay Road north from the ferry terminal to access the island’s best beaches, including those within tiny Gabriola Sands Provincial Park. Walk out to the park’s southern headland to view sandstone cliffs eroded into interesting shapes by eons of wave action.
The North and South Roads encircle the island, combining for a 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) loop perfect for a leisurely bike ride. Many scenic spots invite you to pull off—at petroglyphs, secluded bays, and lookouts.
Drumbeg Provincial Park protects the island’s southeast corner, where a short trail through dense forest leads to a secluded bay.
For romantic themed bed-and-breakfast accommodation, Marina’s Hideaway (943 Canso Dr., 250/247-8854 or 888/208-9850, www.marinashideaway.com , $165 s or d), overlooking Northumberland Channel, is an excellent choice. Each of the three spacious guest rooms in this magnificent waterfront home has a king-size bed, gas fireplace, private entrance, and balcony.
Basic services are available a little over one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the ferry terminal on North Road. There you’ll find a café, grocery store, and Gabriola Island Visitor Centre (Berry Point Rd., 250/247-9332, www.gabriolaisland.org , daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m. July–early Sept.).
BC Ferries (250/386-3431) schedules 15 sailings daily between the terminal off Front Street in Nanaimo  (downtown, across from Harbour Park Mall) and Gabriola Island. The trip takes 20 minutes each way. The peak round-trip fare is adult $8.60, child $4.30, vehicle $20.50.