The Sunshine Coast

Get your ocean fix

You will be awestruck by this island experience

by Phyllis Crook
island shop and seating area
Driftwood Centre where the islanders shop and meet. Near the mall a grass landing strip and helicopter pad services the island with its only airport. — Phyllis Crook photo

For those who can’t resist the call of an “ocean fix,” there is no better place to explore than Pender Island. Tucked in the patchwork of the Gulf Islands of B.C., 35 square kilometres make up two islands, linked by a single-lane wooden bridge. Now known as the friendly islands, haunts of smugglers ran rum between the nearby American San Juan Islands and here.

Docking at the Otter Bay Ferry terminal, I realized the tangy sea breeze seemed to whet my appetite. Although the Penders do not have a village or town, Driftwood Centre is the hub for shopping or perhaps merely enjoying a cup of java at an open-air bistro table. Keep an eye on your fuel gauge, as this is the only gas station on the island.

Ferns entangled with moss wind up the trunks of the Douglas firs and the contrasting wildflowers give the forest a punch of color. The balmy sub-Mediterranean climate is so mild that palm, kiwi and olive trees can be grown. Visitors, painters, artists, artisans, craftspeople and other creative folks are stimulated by the ambience of the island—yet their proximity to the urban centres of Vancouver and Victoria make for a beautiful location for rampant creativity.

A camper's choice

Campers weave their way to Port Browning Marina, leading to a selection of campsites on a carpet of lush lawn or in the shade of an orchard. Boaters appreciate the sheltered cove with over 3,000 lineal feet of wharf. Although Port Browning is within walking distance of Driftwood Centre, it is a full marina resort and offers a pub, wine store, swimming pool and a café serving fresh crab and prawns. A crackling campfire and the silhouettes of the boat sails end a perfect day.

From May to September the Pender Island Recreation and Agricultural Hall is busting with activity. Saturday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., the local folks display and sell fresh grown produce, pottery, art and crafts at the weekly Farmers Market. The community hall also hosts the Christmas Craft Fair on November 24th. The B.C. Fairs Award was won by the ever-so-popular Pender Fall Fair, which will be held this year on August 25th. This event is so popular that it creates the only real traffic jam of the year.

It is only fitting that Magic Lake hosts the most magical event of the year, Pender Islands New Year's Eve Lantern Festival. Pulsating rhythm of the Pender Island African Drumming Band leads lantern carriers, stilt-walkers and torchbearers in the lantern parade. A million stars and hundreds of luminaries’ candles light the end of the lake in
a breathtaking display – a quiet oasis of peace and light. Kayaks sprinkled with multi-coloured lights perform a magnificent water ballet. Father Time leaving on a barge out into Magic Lake signifies the spectators to light sparklers and ring in the New Year.

The ribbon road shadowed by towering fir and cedar is a mere 10-minute drive from Driftwood Centre to the Roe House museum. The humble 1908 farmhouse is that of an era that was once a seaside resort in the 1920s. Perched on a grassy slope in Roesland, the museum is one of the properties that form the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.

Greeted by a deep-rooted gnarled tree when crossing the footbridge, one cannot help but imagine what secrets of the past the Arbutus may hold. Only for a flock of Canada geese lingering on the clear aqua green islet, the trail remains quiet and serene. A fresh water lake is rare on the Gulf Islands and worth the hike up hill to find a secluded ridge in the unspoiled countryside of Roe Lake.

Head on to Hope Bay

Meet Hope Bay, a corner of the world with one the most beautiful waterfront settings on the island. For the lucky tourists and boaters who discover this hidden gem, Hope Bay offers a mix of shops, a waterfront restaurant, marina and Hope Bay General Store. Being the oldest established general store on the Gulf Islands, it was a gathering place for the locals. However, along with its colourful history, a 1998 fire destroyed the landmark. The reconstructed replica is again a gathering place and enjoys the spirit of the rural Pender Island lifestyle.

Bald eagles soar high above the valley and the morning sea mist lingers over the greens of Pender Island Golf and Country Club. One of B.C.’s most beautiful nine hole public courses. Offering year round golfing, the links is located one kilometre from the ferry terminal.

On the other hand, try a twist on the game and challenge yourself to the rapidly growing international sport of disc golf. The unique 27 hole Golf Islands Disc Park at Magic Lake Estates is the first to introduce the craze across the islands. The rules are quite similar to traditional golf except players use golf discs. Instead of greens with cups, the Frisbee-like discs target chain baskets and tone poles. Each Sunday morning the locals wind their way amongst the lush rainforest and rocky landscape for their weekly tournament, led by Alex Fraser.

Fraser said, “the sport of disc golf is an international sport and has mushroomed at other locations on the islands, becoming a popular activity.”

Grapes dangling from the creeping vines cover the terraced slopes of Plumper Sound. Offering tastings and wine tours, the Morning Bay Vineyard is the only winery on the island. Catering and hosting special events, the spectacular ocean view and distant mountains becomes a romantic wedding setting. As an alternative, vows can be exchanged in the candle-lit barrel room surrounded by casts.

South Pender also boasts as one of the world’s most beautiful floating customs posts. It is the first stop in Canadian waters for international boaters. Near the customs post and tucked in the Bedwell Harbour, Poets Cove Resort and Spa is recognized as one of the top anchorages in the western hemisphere. Vacationers enjoy the ocean view accommodations, fine dining and pools while the moored boaters relish revitalization at the spa and the resorts amenities.

Rich in scenery, Mount Norman Park challenges the hiker to the highest point on the island on the sea-to-summit trail. The views sweeping across the islands are spectacular and a worthwhile reward. The picturesque freshwater lake of Greenburn Lake promises a serene paddle for kayaker’s. Both North and South Pender Islands provide great kayaking opportunities in reasonably well protected waters. Although you might want to avoid some “dangerous” areas in certain conditions and depending on your skill level.

Locals can usually always tell a first time visitor to the Gulf Islands. They are the people who have stopped their cars and are staring in fascination at eagles fishing in the lagoon, or the blue herons patiently watching the water. The ten-acre property at Brooks Point on South Pender Island is the ideal viewing point.

A mixture of woodlands and rocky shoreline, it is the idea spot to view seabirds, killer whales (Orcas) and the
most spectacular views of the Gulf islands. A birding delight, the islands are on the migratory path, and are the temporary home to a wide variety of birds. Enveloped by silence and only interrupted by the melodious chirping of birds, which nest in the surrounding trees makes this a bird watching paradise.

The sensation that nature has enriched and embellished the island makes it easy to understand why the locals share a slice of their tranquillity and contentment to the visitor.

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