Former Vancouverites raise the bar on Pender Island with Woods on Pender and Sea Star Vineyards
As tranquil, low-key, and unassuming as Pender Island may be, there's no dearth of things to do.
Among the southern Gulf Islands, it may be one of the lesser-known destinations for tourism but by no means less interesting. Quite the contrary. Both outdoor and indoor options abound, ranging from hiking, camping, and water-based activities to art shows and cultural events. Even paddle yoga has made to the island (courtesy of Dog Mermaid, which offers paddling and hiking tours and rentals, as well).
For the best of both worlds, there's even the Tour des Îles Festival from June 23 to 25. Small vessels will shuttle people between Galiano, Saturna, Mayne, Saltspring, and Pender islands to view art displays, live music, sightseeing, and more. (For more information, visit their Facebook webpage.)
A range of accommodations on Pender are available, with Poets Cove Resort and Spa being the primary destination for those seeking an upscale stay.
Meanwhile, two somewhat recent additions to the island, both opened by Vancouver transplants, are raising the bar for tourist offerings.
Getting into the woods
While glamping has been all the rage for city dwellers, Woods on Pender owner Curtis Redel is wary of the term for what he calls a "cultural resort". That's because he doesn't want to give people the mistaken visions of Palm Spring glitz commonly associated with high-end campgrounds.
On a tour of his grounds, he describes his place, which is his own personal project, as a "camp-vibe resort in nature" influenced by modern Danish design.
"There's a specific emotional thing that you feel when you come here," he says of the place, which he opened in 2015. "It's intentionally rustic but clean, well-cared for."
That's easy to see in how his various accommodations are organized and clearly delineated but enveloped within trees and other greenery. For those uninterested in going the full-on camping route (for which Pender Island provides numerous opportunities to do so), Redel's multifaceted property provides something for visitors who want to dip their toes into being immersed in nature without creature comforts like great bedding, hot showers, and French press coffee.
As his primary market is urban customers, Redel, who previously worked in Vancouver real-estate, development, and design, is focused on offering the benefits of urban life but within a natural setting, often using Gastown as a benchmark for his standards.
Even though he acknowledges his outfit is more social-media- and urban-oriented (such as using Gastown as a benchmark, for example) than most of Pender Island, he says his primary concept of relaxation and being in touch with nature "fits in perfectly with the Pender culture".
The 7.3-acre wooded site (the former location of the Inn on Pender Island and Memories Restaurant) consists of several sections with different types of accommodations to suit varying needs and interests: Airstreams, cabins, Shasta Airflytes, and a lodge. With a total of 38 beds, he says he can accommodate up to a maximum of 78 people.
For those seeking more traditional accommodations, such as for overnight stays or work visits, the centrally located lodge offers nine smartly designed motel-style rooms, with access to a shared hot tub.
Three compact and cozy cabins offer a more rural alternative for a more immersive feel of the setting. Two feature private hot tubs while a third (with an ocean view) has a supplementary glamping tent sleeping pod.
But if you're seeking a place for a small group or a family to congregate and longer-term stays, the seven Airstream trailers are probably the best options.
The Airstreams, which Redel says help to "represent both vintage and modern co-existing", all have cedar decks, with many are housed within fenced-in yards (which are good for those watching over small children). Several are also outfitted with kitchens, hot tubs, outdoors showers, barbecues, fire pits, French presses, and more.
There's also the two-person Shasta Airflyte. This modern 1960s replica includes a kitchen, bath with shower, TV, barbecue, fire pit, and a cedar deck.
Redel notes that his accommodations are fully booked on weekends until November so unless there are cancellations, your best bet is midweek.
Having grown up working in the hospitality industry working in capacities from chef to bartender, Redel is the culinary talent behind the on-site, farm-to-table comfort food eatery, Coffee + Kitchen, which can seat about 30 people (with a longtable on the deck). With limited hours and seating, and a popular spot for locals, Redel says it's pretty much reservations-only.
His menu draws upon locally sourced ingredients, including herbs from his own greenhouse and gelato made in-house. His seasonal single-page fresh-sheet menu usually offers items such as pizza, burgers, salads, charcuterie boards, hormone-free steak, or wild B.C. salmon.
His drinks list spans an espresso bar, kombucha, craft beer and ciders, and about 20 cocktails. What's more, the wine list, which includes seven B.C. wines on tap, was curated by none other than Georgia Straight wine columnist Kurtis Kolt.
Wine and vines by the sea
Some of those bottles come from Pender Island's own Sea Star Vineyards, which opened in 2014 and just bottled their fourth vintage. Proprietor David Goudge took over the 26-acre property from Morning Bay Winery, which started in 2002.
Located at the end of the road at 6621 Harbour Hill Drive, Goudge tells the Georgia Straight during a visit that the winery building we're standing in was constructed in 2005 by Vancouver architect Walter Francl.
"A lot of people pull up and they're surprised to see this building because they kind of expected to see a barn leaning to the left, or something like that," Goudge said of the minimalist, two-floor concrete structure.
Their venue can host up to about 50 people and a food truck called Café at Large (by the former owner of Hope Bay Café) will be serving casual fare, such as halibut tacos, all summer long. To create an artful ambiance, a guitarist plays live music and art shows, featuring three or more local artists per show, will start in June.
Like Redel, Goudge is also a former Vancouver real-estate agent, who made connections in the Vancouver restaurants which facilitated the entry of his wine into establishments such as Ancora, AnnaLena, the Arbutus Club, Bauhaus, Blue Water Café, Chambar, Hawksworth, Royal Dinette, the Vancouver Club, Zest, and more.
Of course, being selected to be served so many highly esteemed restaurants obviously goes beyond simply having contacts.
That credit goes to winemaker Ian Baker, former owner and winemaker of Salt Spring Island's Mistaken Identity. (His wife Wendy Baker works in the tasting room.)
Goudge said their first vintage of 1,600 cases sold out in six months. Although they've been progressively increasing the number of cases they make, they've continued to sell out, with 60 to 65 percent sold on location, despite the island's small population.
What Goudge is most proud of is that the majority of their wines are made from Pender Island grapes, which express terroir to reflect where they're from.
"They're very bright, fresh, and a lot of them are very aromatic so they're just perfect summertime wines," he tells the Georgia Straight during a visit to the premises. "They're great wines with seafood too."
The name Sea Star also reflects where they're from, as Goudge says they're the only Canadian winery that goes right to beach.
"I wanted to think of something that people would think about when they're out beachcombing or kayaking or canoeing in the Gulf Islands so that's where the name came from," he explains.
As Goudge chats about his wines, he points out that the Oretga ($20) is the most common planted varietal on Vancouver Island. Due its thin skin, it can potentially burst in the Okanagan and Pender Island's longer growing season than the Okanagan and allows them to leave them hanging on the vines longer.
He describes their Siegerrebe ($20), which means "victory grape" in German, as "beautifully aromatic" and great for patios.
"When you open that wine, it just smells like you're in a garden," he says.
Their popular Salish Sea ($22), a blend of the Ortega and Sieggerrebe, is sold by the glass in many Vancouver restaurants.
Their Pinot Gris ($22) and Maréchal Foch ($23) are new additions. Goudge says they've made their light Maréchal Foch, a French variety of a red-juiced grape, like a Beaujolais Nouveau style, in stainless steel tank and not aged, and can be chilled.
The wine their most famous for is their Blanc de Noir ($24), thanks to some prominent awards. In 2016, Galiano Island's Pilgrimme restaurant chose the Blanc de Noir for the Gold Medal Plates, and the pair was named best B.C. chef and wine. As if that's not all, this year, the wine won the title best wine in Canada at the Canadian Culinary Championships. Impressive.
But they’re also sharing their gains by lending a helping hand (or paw) to those in need. They've donated a cumulative $60,000 in total to support four animal-oriented charities: Pender Animal Welfare, Victoria's BC SPCA, Vancouver Island's North Island Wildlife Recovery, and Salt Spring Island's Island Wildlife Natural Care Centre.
But there are other intriguing new developments on the island when it comes to the food and drink front.
Not far from the vineyard, Twin Island Cider has opened at 5601 Lupin Road. The cidery uses heirloom apples from Pender, Mayne, other southern Gulf Islands, and Vancouver Island. offering tastings, bottle sales, and draught cider growler fills.
Then over at Bridgemans Pub and Bistro at Port Browning Marina (4605 Oak Road), which serves burgers, salads, pizza, and pasta along with pictureqsue waterfront views, has been undergoing major renovations, complete with an upgrade to the kitchen.
Yet even with these new elements, what Goudge appreciates most is the island maintains its quaint, laidback vibe where the polite remain polite and one can escape from the stress of city life.
"For me, when you're coming to Pender, you just kinda breathe out as soon as you get off the ferry and you're driving on to the island," he says, with an exhalation of gratitude.
For more information about Pender Island, check out this online travel and tourism guide or visit or contact the Pender Island Info Centre.