Terrain: Access Hilly; Destination Flat

Traffic: Access Heavy; Destination Very Light

Season: Year Round

Distance: 29.5 km r/t

Access: From the north end of King George SkyTrain station follow 100 A Avenue for 5 km east until it ends at 160th Street. From there, turn left [north] and continue to 104 Avenue less than a kilometer away. This intersection is a confusing one due to the convergence of overpasses and on ramps related to TransCanada Highway 1. The most obvious overpass is poorly set up for cyclists though a narrow walkway on the bridge separates cyclists and pedestrians from the excessively heavy traffic here. Slightly east of that is a more accommodating overpass but either will do in a pinch. Cross the highway then continue eastward along 104 Avenue to the Barneston Island ferry just shy of four kilometres away.

Note: Avoid taking the more direct route along 104 Avenue from Surrey Central SkyTrain station. The traffic along this route is excessive with many large commercial vehicles. At a minimum ride on the sidewalk and enjoy the fumes from a safe distance.

The inhabitants of Surrey are completely brainwashed to the automobile-centric ethos of the mid-20th century. That mindlessness is reflected in decision making at the municipal level and naturally extends to the city engineering department where establishing a bike route means posting a green sign with a bicycle on it. Inexplicably, posted bike routes suddenly disappear at key intersections then reappear again somewhere down the road as if to suggest most cyclists are equipped with personal teleporting devices. We aren't.

Jerry Rig: The ferry -- a barge and a tug lashed together -- to Barnston Island takes just a few minutes and costs nothing.

To avoid the urban sprawl and suburban hideousness that Surrey is infamous for, it is possible to get closer to your destination by transferring to a bike-rack-equipped bus at Gateway SkyTrain Station. Board at Bay 4 at the south end of the station. The #501 Langley Centre bus will take cyclists, or those who prefer walking, to within 1.5 km of the ferry slip. Get off the bus immediately after it crosses the TransCanada Highway and follow 176th Street north to 104 Avenue. Be forewarned: the landscape hereabouts is industrial, as is the traffic. A right turn on 104 Avenue will take you a few short steps to the ferry. The bus runs from five in the morning until after midnight at half-hour intervals for most of the day with more frequent service during rush hour.

The ferry to Barnston Island takes just a few minutes and operates continuously M - F 6:20 AM - 11:55 PM and Sat - Sun 6:20 AM - 12:55 PM. There is no charge for this service operated on contract with the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure by Western Pacific Marine.

You'll immediately note an agrarian whiff in the air upon landing at Barnston Island. In addition to some 150 residents of the human kind, Barnston Island is home to countless cattle, horses and goats. Avalon Dairy, the BC's first organic milk producer, has a significant operation here. Opus Cranberries is a major supplier to the Ocean Spray brand, helping to establish BC as the second largest grower of the pleasantly tart fruit in North America. The annual cranberry harvest at the end of September is as visually stimulating as the berries are flavourful.


Whether in Vain: This weather vane on Barnston Island aims for the stars.

Inclusion in the province's Agricultural Land Reserve has so far preserved the rural nature of Barnston Island though certain elements among the residents are bent on having that land-use restriction lifted. The pressures of greed are great; expect a catastrophe of the condominium kind at some point in the island's future. In the meantime enjoy the pastoral ride.

Barnston Island was named after George Barnston, a member of the Hudson's Bay Company team that founded Fort Langley nearby in 1827.

From the ferry dock a route counterclockwise around the island passes barns, silos and discarded tractors and other farm implements. A screen of trees mercifully obscures much of the industrial development and log booming operations along the shore of North Surrey. Within a few kilometers the road cuts through Katzie Indian Reserve Number Three. The road here is a little more fractured, enough so that a delicate road bike might be rattled to the core.

A farmhand on Barnston Island wades through a corral of colourful cranberries.

At Mann Point, the easternmost tip of the island, the route hugs the main channel of the mighty muddy Fraser River. For much of the way the view opens up, embracing the Golden Ears peaks in the distance and the eponymous suspension bridge at mid-ground. The foreground is littered with condo developments along the opposite bank in Pitt Meadows.

Though Barnston Island has none of the commercial retailing often associated with popular recreation destinations, the northern tip of the island has a pit stop in the form of Robert Point Rest Area. Nothing fancy here: a washroom, a few picnic tables and access to the river shore from which tugboats may be observed hauling log booms to nearby mills. There is no potable water on the island so be sure to bring your own. The ferry dock lies a mere 1.8 km south of Robert Point.

At 9.8 km, a circle tour of the island is certainly walkable. Shutterbugs will find much in this pastoral microcosm during any season.

Back in Surrey, the return journey is largely uphill though not overly demaning. If running low on water there is a convenience store at 168th Street and 104 Avenue just over 2 km away from the ferry dock.

The End

Vanilla Leaf

Vanilla Leaf

While modern adventurers smear their skin with toxic chemicals to keep pesky bugs at bay, natives of the Pacific Northwest took a less carcinogous approach. The fresh-squeezed juice of common Vanilla Leaf was applied to fend off mosquitos and black flies. Dried leaves, smelling faintly of vanilla, were hung in bunches about the longhouse for the same purpose. A potion of boiled Vanilla Leaf was used to wash bedding to eliminate bed bugs and mites and as a hair treatment to fend off lice and fleas. Look for Vanilla Leaf at trailside in heavy forest wherever moisture accumulates.

Illustration by Manami Kimura