Easy getaways refresh body, mind, and soul: Pender Island offers relaxing escape into nature

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      Hear that? The nothing? The lack of sirens, honking horns, and roaring buses?

      The combination of that silence with tranquil woods, picturesque oceanscapes, and limited rainfall makes it easy to understand why people would move to Pender Island to live. Despite all those attractive qualities, though, it’s one of the Southern Gulf Islands that may not be on many people’s vacation radars.

      Why? That may be chalked up to the limited accommodation options available. Because it is primarily a residential community, it tends to be more of a visiting destination for those who have connections to residents there, or for camping. Yet with its proximity to Vancouver, it’s the ideal spot for city folk to decompress from the frenetic pace of tech-driven, traffic-congested urban lives and stroll through the forests or loll upon the shore.

      Covering about 34 square kilometres (13 square miles), it actually consists of two islands: North and South Pender. They’re separated by a canal, dredged across an isthmus in 1903, and are connected by a one-lane bridge (built in 1955). Most of the residences are concentrated on North Pender, and there’s no shortage of hiking trails, forests, and seaside vistas to explore on both of them.

      Craig Takeuchi

      Marty Swan, who moved from Vancouver to the island in 1999 and owns the Pender Island Pharmacy, took the Georgia Straight on a tour of Pender while highlighting some of the best places for hikes and views. After all, he runs the Pender Island Cab Company, so could there be a more knowledgeable tour guide?

      Although the island is populated with wildlife like mink and beaver, visitors will inevitably see deer that tend to wander across lawns at dawn and dusk—or at least poke their heads out of the bushes. Orcas also often circle the island clockwise. Swan explained that word of arriving orcas spreads by phone among residents, prompting them to rush out to Thieves Bay, near Buck Lake on the west side of North Pender, to view the seafaring wonders.

      Orcas can also sometimes be viewed from one of Swan’s recommended seaside spots. The crescent-shaped Bridges Road Beach on the northeastern tip of North Pender offers views of Salt Spring Island. At low tide, Swan said, the beach is rife with tide pools brimming with sea life, which makes it a great place to for children of all ages to explore.

      Another ideal spot is Craddock Beach on the southern edge of South Pender. Sheltered in a cove, a sprawling rock cliff face creates a luxurious microclimate by absorbing sunlight and radiating heat throughout the day. Swan also recommended it as a great place for kids to explore and examine sea caves and marine life at low tide.

      Magic Lake
      Craig Takeuchi

      For hiking, a good tip Swan offered is that if you’re taking the Hooson Road Trail (located in a cul-de-sac with available parking) on North Pender, follow the trail without a marker. The trail that heads to Mount Menzies winds up in a field without a view. However, the unmarked trail heads up to a cliff that looks out upon the sea.

      Another recommended hike is up to Roe Lake on the west side of North Pender—part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve—which offers a trail around the freshwater lake located within a Douglas fir forest on a mountaintop.

      For those seeking to camp, Swan said there are a few campsite options (available from May 15 to September 30).

      North Pender’s Shingle Bay campground opened up last year in a former orchard by the water’s edge. Campers can walk along a 400-metre road, or kayak or boat in, to the gravel beach. The area includes 10 campsites and picturesque views below Roe Lake. While there are pit toilets and picnic tables, there is no freshwater available, so be sure to take your own.

      Craig Takeuchi

      Another beachside camping option is South Pender’s Beaumont Marine Park, to which campers can walk via a half-hour cliffside hike. The sandy beach has 11 campsites, with mooring buoys for boaters, drinking water, pit toilets, and picnic tables.

      Meanwhile, for those who don’t mind not having a view, North Pender’s Prior Centennial Campground is enclosed within a forest of maple, alder, cedar, and fir trees.

      Of course, this is just a sampling of the multitude of what Pender Island has to offer, ranging from kayaking and disc golf to restaurants and a winery. For further details about what to do and see on Pender Island, see this article or visit the island’s tourism website.

      Getting there: Ferries run from Tsawwassen to Pender Island’s Otter Bay, and the island also has marinas for access by boat. There isn’t a bus system, although there is a two-year pilot-project community shuttle on North Pender and Swan’s Pender Island Cab Company, which also offers customized tours. As well, there are car stops, or organized hitchhiking. Cycling is also an option, though some areas can be challenging due to steep hills or places where there aren’t road shoulders.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook