Want to get out of Vancouver but avoid that long congested drive to go anywhere? Since spring is almost here I am giving you another quick get away that involves you riding or walking: Iona Beach otherwise known as “the Spit”.
Located in West Richmond adjacent to the Vancouver International Airport and the Iona Island sewage treatment ponds. To get there: head to the Vancouver airport, and at the last set of lights – turn right – there is a small sign that leads you to Iona Beach. You can park the car about 200 meters from the right hand turn in the grassy area (you will see other cars here – either watching planes or taking bikes off their racks) here you can ride the 5 km ride to the start of “the Spit” or continue driving until you get to the yellow gate – either way the road is in great shape and you will see a couple of small horse farms on the route – don’t speed – the police are often waiting in the little pull outs.
You have some options once you arrive. There are picnic tables to have lunch with a fantastic viewing area of oceanic birds. Two artificial ponds have been constructed in the park that aim at restoring marsh vegetation and providing wildlife habitat, and they are a significant stopover spot for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. Numerous rare birds have been spotted in the park and vicinity, including white pelican, long-tailed Jaeger, ruff and yellow-headed blackbirds. A breeding population of yellow-headed blackbirds is found here. Daily birding lists are maintained in the kiosk in the sewage treatment plant.
If you don’t want to have lunch yet and prefer some exercise (for both eyes and legs!) you can hike or ride the 4-kilometer pipeline out into the Georgia Straight. In the parking lot just look for the long pipeline and follow it to the end. Be warned, it is often windy out on the “pipeline” and it gets very blustery. Dress warm day or evening it can get cold even when the sun is out. Take a snack and some water with you, you can enjoy it along the way.
Keep your eyes in the sky – there are planes arriving or leaving every 2 or 3 minutes. The airport is directly to your left and you can see its busy traffic – planes leaving on runways or arriving. On your right is the western portion of the north jetty just beyond the log salvage operation, there is a developing small sand dune system with associated beach communities. The narrow sand beach runs along the south shore of the Iona sand spit – feast your eyes here for the rare bird wildlife that is active here. There is also busy traffic in the water – you can see a large ferry leaving for Victoria or smaller boats working the log salvage operation near UBC. The hike is not difficult, it is a flat pipeline – when you get to the end find a nice rock and sit here and have your lunch.
There is a lookout at the end – but arachnophobia’s be warmed: there are huge nests of spiders looking for yummy bugs and critters to fall prey to their giant webs. The first time I was there I was shocked to discover that spiders had taken time to weave giant webs in the blustery wind. On a warm day you can find a great sunny spot and just watch life around you. I have often used the Spit to train for a duathalon – I ride from my house to the start of the Spit and then run the 8 km (return) pipeline – then hop back on the bike and go home and eat. The spit is a fantastic little jewel that keeps you in constant entertainment. Just don’t be too surprised at the horrible stench from the sewage plant that is .5 km from the Spit’s start. A small price to pay! Enjoy your hike or ride.