Pender Island, British Columbia: The Perfect Weekend Away
If you are looking for a new adventure, why not consider one of the Gulf Islands situated off the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia? A few summers ago we decided to pick one or two Gulf Islands each year to explore, and Pender Island proved to be an excellent choice.
To get to Pender Island, you take a ferry either from Tsawwassen or from Swartz Bay. When planning your trip, remember to check the routes and schedules on the BC Ferries website because they vary depending on the time of the year. If you are travelling during peak times, it is well worth making a reservation.
On our trip, we departed from Tsawwassen south of Vancouver and stopped at both Galiano and Mayne Islands before arriving at Otter Bay on North Pender Island; it took a little less than 2 hours with no transfers. If you are coming from Swartz Bay (Sidney, Vancouver Island), then the ferry is about 40 minutes.
Pender Island is actually two islands (North Pender and South Pender) joined by a small one-lane bridge, which was built in 1955. The canal was dredged in the early 1900s to allow the passage of boats including the SS Iroquois, a steamboat ferry which provided transportation between the Gulf Islands, Sidney and Nanaimo. Unfortunately in 1911 it sank outside Sidney, killing over 20 people.
We spent a lot of time exploring the 34 square kilometers of the islands; we wanted to see as much as possible on our few days there. Based on 2021 census data there are just over 2,400 full-time residents on the north island and about 300 on the south. It is the second largest of the Gulf Islands that we have visited: Salt Spring (11,635), Galiano (1,396), Mayne (1,304) and finally, Saturna (465) which we still have on our list to visit. It was interesting looking up the census data as I really had a sense that the south island was much less populated with a more rural/farming feel.
There is no public transportation on the island but, as with Mayne Island, they have “car stops” set up to encourage giving those travelling-on-foot a ride. Apparently Pender Island was the first island to start the program and it has been successfully running since 2008; it now has 29 stops. The Pender Island Chamber of Commerce has a great map which highlights all the car stops on the island.
When planning a place to stay, I would recommend Prior Centennial Campground on North Pender Island with 17 sites. There are lots of trails in the park and, for those interested in Disc Golf, there is a trail from the campsite to the Golf Island Disc Park. Reservations at this park are through the Parks Canada website. Speaking of golf, and considering that my husband is an avid golfer, we had to check out the Pender Island Golf and Country Club, a nine-hole course known for its challenging shots and beautiful views.
For those arriving on Pender Island by boat, there is moorage available at Port Browning Marina Resort near Bedwell Harbour. We had lunch at the pub on their patio and enjoyed the view and excellent food.
Our getaways always seem to focus on food and hiking!
We found some fun trails on North Pender around Magic Lake and will definitely return to Mount Norman on South Pender. We picked up Mount Norman trail head on Ainslie Point Road (just off Canal Road). The first part of the trail winds its way through the lush, beautiful trees before you start the climb to the summit which is the highest point on Pender at 800 feet. From the observation platform at the top, you will have a panoramic view of the surrounding islands, including Salt Spring.
Since I am a bit of a history buff, we had to visit the Pender Island Museum at Roesland in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (2408 South Otter Bay Road). Roesland is an old homestead with the museum in the historic Roe House. For 70+ years, it was the heart of the rustic Roesland Resort, attracting families year after year.
The museum website describes the Roe house as being built in “1908, and a “kit” house ordered from a Vancouver Island lumber company. All the pre-cut lumber was delivered to Roesland by barge and put together on its log base in about a week. Total cost for the three-bedroom house: $589.62!
It was a beautiful sunny day on our visit; we enjoyed tea and goodies in the historic Roe House. The property and buildings sit on Roe Inlet which has lots of easy walking trails around the property.
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Pender is perfect for a weekend getaway and year-round holiday destination. I would suggest a visit any season; whether you choose the busy summer months or the sleepy shoulder seasons, you will not be disappointed.
For places to RV and camp in British Columbia go to the Camping Map.
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Published: March 17th, 2022
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