3 Gulf Islands retreats that offer rest and a chance to recharge

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      The Southern Gulf Islands are a visitor’s dream: spectacular vistas, pristine nature, fresh air… It’s hard to beat the beauty and wonder of this easily accessible B.C. region.

      These islands offer more than whale watching, standup paddleboarding, and supreme camping, though; they also provide the opportunity to heal and recharge. A range of retreats exist throughout the islands geared to everyone from yogis seeking to improve their sun salutations to people wanting to take charge of their health.

      Dog days of Summer

      Situated on Pender Island, Dog Mermaid specializes in eco-excursions and education via nature-based retreats, among other activities and programs.

      “A typical retreat day involves yoga, paddling, local food and eateries, ceremonies according to theme of the retreat, and just plain relaxing,” says Dog Mermaid’s owner-operator Kye Nahanni. “Every retreat is open to a theme, like full moon, goddess, mothers and daughters, family fun, pirates… Our options are endless.”

      Yoga classes take place outside or on paddleboards on the water. “We come at it from a therapeutic standpoint, not a western-culture view,” says Nahanni, who’s also a yoga instructor. “Meaning, we take the ‘lululemon’ out and bring it back to the basics, from which point we build onto it. We encourage laughter, joking, yelling to release energies, falling over, and partner participation, all while in a safe environment. We prefer to call it ‘noga’, as yoga holds an air of fear for a majority of society.”

      Whether it’s kayaking or standup paddleboarding, paddling ranges from short outings to daylong excursions, during which people stop to hike, discover wildlife, and learn how to respect the environment. “On our full-moon paddles, we head out to set our intentions for the coming month, howl at the rising moon, dance on the beach, and share a lot of laughing with good people,” Nahanni says.

      “We also incorporate native culture any chance we get,” Nahanni adds. “From paddle ceremonies to drum circles to culinary dishes, we try to share that history and respect with all who come to visit. Each area we work out of is based on its native influence and how we can incorporate that into today’s fast-moving lifestyle. It helps us bring it all back to the basics, slow people down, and teach them how to take care of their inner self. Teach them to live less large.”

      North and South Pender islands used to be a single island joined by an isthmus, which was dredged in 1902 to make a canal large enough for the passage of the steamship Iroquois. In 1955, the islands were joined again by a one-lane bridge. Today there’s a public disc-golf course plus a regular golf course, several lakes, and ample opportunity to see whales, dolphins, porpoises, otters, seals, sea lions, and other wildlife.

      Living life in peace

      The Haven, an educational institute on Gabriola Island, is aimed at people looking for richer connections with themselves and others and offers a curriculum that integrates eastern and western practices and disciplines, including medical science, psychotherapy, existential thought, and eastern medicine.

      “We have been running programs in the art and science of living well together, since 1983,” says executive director Rachel Davey. “Our participants come from all walks of life and all around the world.…We continue to attract participants who are seeking tools for self-responsible, relational living.”

      During the summer, there are programs for kids and teens as well as adults, with the centre’s flagship adult program, Come Alive, running year-round. It’s described as a program to “revitalize your life, discover and activate your resources and realize your full potential”. The Haven welcomes members of the LGBT community and sometimes offers programs for participants of a specific gender identity or gender expression.

      With over 30 beach access points—more than any other B.C. island—Gabriola is ideal for swimming, snorkelling, fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, scuba diving, beachcombing, and sandcastle-building.

      Bird's-eye view

      Galiano Island is the home of the waterfront Eagles Nest Retreat, which is adjacent to Collision Point Provincial Park. Co-owners Line Marie St Jacques and Bernard Mignault celebrate the vegan lifestyle and take pride in their accommodations and retreats being earth-friendly and cruelty-free.

      Come fall, the two will be creating plant-based retreats. St Jacques says she has been inspired by Brendan Brazier, a vegan, former Ironman athlete, and author of Thrive Fitness, Thrive Energy Cookbook, and other books.

      “His words resonate daily, and we have been investing our time and energy into our health,” St Jacques says. “Sharing the richness of a plant-based diet is desirable, because every day someone asks me ‘What do you eat? What are your proteins?’ Now I have an easy response.”

      With a population of just over 1,000, Galiano boasts a series of sandstone caves accessible by sea kayak and claims to be the sunniest of all the Gulf Islands. Named after 18th-century Spanish explorer Dionisio Alcalá Galiano, the island is also home to aboriginal people from the Penelakut First Nation and other Coast Salish nations. There’s a nine-hole golf course, and Galiano is also on a flight path for migrating birds.