Pender Island in the fall is my favourite time to visit. These two Gulf Islands – North Pender and South Pender, connected by a bridge but referred to in the singular – provide the quintessential West Coast vibe: enough activities to choose from but so laid back that you feel a world away from the city.
Art Galleries on Pender Island
There are so many artists living on Pender Island and most of them open their studios to the public or sell their work from art galleries. You could spend a whole day driving from artist to artist, meeting Andrea Spalding at BookEnds Studio at the north tip of North Pender (she makes ingenious creations from discarded books, furniture embellished with visual stories and mixed media using recycled materials, as well as authors children’s books) to Susan Taylor & Frank Ducote of Blood Star Gallery at the southern end of the road on South Pender (they create Gulf Island-inspired drawings, paintings, photographs and folk art).
I spent most of my time at the Red Tree Gallery in Hope Bay, a cooperative featuring almost a dozen local artists who have gone through a juried process. I particularly loved the photographs by Diane MacDonald and Eve Pollard, the jewellery by Jaime MacLean and the poetic drawings by Terry Chantler.
Make sure to pick up the Pender Islands Art Guide when you arrive on the island for a map and list of all the studios and galleries.
Kayaking from Pender Island
Fall is a great time to get outdoors on Pender Island. I’ve kayaked from Poets Cove Resort & Spa, heading into Bedwell Harbour and out near the ocean. (And I did it during the start of a storm, which was fun, thanks to my supportive kayak guide!). You can hire a guide or simply rent a kayak, canoe or paddle board to get out on the water.
There’s also kayaking opportunities in Otter Bay (where the ferry comes in) on North Pender. Dog Mermaid takes people out on paddling and hiking tours (including lunch and sometimes a yoga class) or you can rent a kayak, canoe or paddle board for your own exploration. (They also run a program from Poets Cove Resort & Spa on South Pender.)
In Port Browning, near where the islands join at a tiny bridge, Pender Island Kayak Adventures operates tours, lessons and has plenty of kayaks, canoes and paddle boards to rent. This area is great for beginners, as the water is calmer and more protected. But, like the locations mentioned above, it’s easy to get out into the open water for ocean kayaking, if you want more of a challenge.
Wildlife Viewing on Pender Island
The best way to see wildlife is to get out on the water. When I was out kayaking from South Pender, a seal came within three metres of me, and birds, eagles and ducks flew overhead; bright purple starfish could be seen clinging to the protected rocks as I paddled by coves.
If you really aren’t into doing the paddling yourself, Dog Mermaid has boat tours for wildlife viewing and offers whale watching tours from a small plane.
Spa Treatments on Pender Island
When you’re finished with the outdoors and just want to relax in a steam cave and have someone else get the knots out of your back, Poets Cove Resort & Spa has a beautiful space for doing just that. Their Susurrus Spa has a eucalyptus steam cave, which is a must before and/or after any treatment.
I had an outstanding massage the last time I was there. The massage therapist was exceptionally good and gave me exercises to do afterwards, too. As well as massages, the spa offers reflexology, myofascia cupping, facials, body wraps and exfoliations, and hand, foot and nail care. Next time I’m there I want to try their Chiro Abhyanga treatment, a 30-minute scalp massage with essential oils.