Pender Island – a magical weekend getaway.

I always love escaping the city’s hustle and bustle so I thought that we’d have fun with good company, good food & wine and perhaps a little quiet. We were invited to join our friends at their cabin on North Pender Island. This cabin has been in the family since our friend was six years of age. What I didn’t know is that we were en route to somewhere magical.

The first magic? Orcas / killer whales diving around us just as the sun was setting on the BC Ferry ride. The BC Ferry ride from Tsawwassen (in Vancouver) is approximately a 2 hour trip to the Island ferry terminal called Otter Bay. You are required to be at the Vancouver terminal 40 minutes prior. It is way more relaxing to take your car onto the ferry and relax rather than drive for hours and arrive exhausted. This method of transport for a weekend away does not exist in Sydney, Australia. We booked an evening journey hoping that it would coincide with kid’s being asleep for all or most of it.

Pender Island is one of the smallest islands in the group of Southern Gulf Islands with a population of 2,200. It is also known as the Hawaii of Canada with a sub-mediteranean climate. The Gulf Islands are in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia, Canada.

Firstly, my idea of a cabin was perhaps a basic square-shaped cedar log house, you know like those cute ones you’ve seen in a movie; one room, a fireplace with perhaps a small kitchen and bathroom to get you by in the middle of the forest. I was actually looking forward to an adventure of roughing it like a castaway on an Island. Boy, was I wrong!  We were surprised on our arrival to be greeted by this luxurious cabin with stylish finishes mixed with the warmth and character of wooden beams. I did discover though, that originally there was a cabin not too dissimilar to my vision which had been moved by crane to make way for this newly evolved modern form. Perfectly comfortable, our friend’s father even demands to stay in there whenever he visits! A welcome celebratory wine or two was opened, photos of the cabin’s history were viewed with childhood memories shared and without realising it was 1am and we headed off to bed as the kids would be up at dawn.

Magic in the morning…on waking, we were in the presence of the most nonchalant baby deer grazing on the clover and flowers right outside the window. What really struck a chord with me was the peaceful surrounds of the forest. We were sitting in this beautiful light filled home, with serenity that I yearn for and hardly remember savouring for a long time (okay, excluding noise from children). We forget that our concept of silence usually includes white noise in the background; the hum of traffic, the sound of appliances, machinery, something buzzing constantly. I think here, you just enjoy one’s solitude.

After a breakfast of home made granola and muffins (see previous recipe posted), berries and coffee we headed off to the Pender Island Farmers’ Market.

These are open every Saturday and what impressed me was the serious and committed following for George and Kelly’s produce. This was the only stall with a queue; everyone wanting the pick of the crop! We loved the tayberries, as well as many other items, but they were something I had never tried before.

There are a few artisan bread stands which sell beautiful hand-made sourdoughs, rye and grainy loaves which I adore. Fresh fettucine seemed to be hiding under the table of the ‘felts lady’ – it took me a while to find it as she has her hand in arts, crafts and pasta some would think an odd combination, however it was delicious and so fresh.

If I hadn’t eaten breakfast, I probably would have been tempted by the polish lady selling a selection of homemade european cakes and she was happy to do taste tests!

My husband and son stationed themselves at the preserves lady’s stand staring out the bacon jam! What a concept my husband exclaimed excitedly.

As well as the passionate producers, there were a number of designers of arts, crafts and jewellery. One of the better known artists on the Island is Frank Ducote who thoughtfully gave my son a card signed with one of his works designed in honour of the late writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak of Where the Wild Things are which is one of his favourite bedtime books.

There is an Art Festival running on Pender Island presently with Frank Ducote and many others featuring heavily. More on Frank Ducote can be viewed on 

Back at the cabin, fresh pasta for lunch and everyone was happy. Then onto the next activity…more magic or treasure? Our friends took us to this private beach they called ‘Chinaman’s beach’ (I cannot reveal the location – it’s secret!) and we learnt there was real treasure to be found on it. Over a period of time, pieces of fine blue china have been washing up on the shores and although they are only the size of a fingernail there is quite a collection they have found. Each piece of the puzzle revealing a different design; another clue to perhaps unlocking the mystery of a shipwreck perhaps? Our friends almost had me believe it may be from the Titanic, but I am not so sure it made all the way from Newfoundland, Canada to the shores of Gulf Islands.

The children enjoyed looking for crabs more than the treasure so we were all happy.

Back to the cabin, and where would we be without a barbecue? Contentment is sometimes so easy to attain; on this occasion it was a juicy hamburger, fresh cut chips from hand picked potatoes, some bubbles and smiling kids. Now that’s magic!

An evening of poker, wine and a dessert of ‘chocolate dirt’ and ice-cream (secret recipe from a friend of our friend and it’s incredibly good) was really a divine way to end the day.

Next morning, a hike to Fern Tree Gully which is a heavenly bed of ferns in a rainforest environment. The air was so fresh you could taste it, and the smell of cedar was invigorating. This I tell you was better than any hangover cure and that’s magic too!

On our travels we saw the monstrous Cedar and Douglas Fir trees, giant-sized slugs (I had to mention as I had never seen anything like them and they were in camouflaged colours too!), and heard some sheep in the distance from a farm nearby.

Lunch time was a sumptuous selection of produce from the Farmers’ Market and our friends vegetable garden at the cabin. We all ate very well, with flavour and abundance from all the fresh food. Then off to the next adventure.

We drove to Hope Bay, which is on the southern part of the Island. A quaint area with an art gallery, a gift shop, a cafe/restaurant and few other small stores with the backdrop of the water. The children caught some jellyfish in their nets, we snacked on some fries from ‘The Cafe at Hope Bay‘ – 4301 Bedwell Harbour Road, British Columbia. It has a good selection of dishes on the menu and changes between lunch and dinner. It would certainly make for a romantic setting on an evening out.

We also visited another beach which has been washing up a few recently discovered pieces of blue china too. I saw my first Arbutus tree, bright flaming orange their trunks were and they had an Aussie blue gum type of feel about them too. Another magical spot where we searched for more treasure, spotted crabs and generally soaked up the tranquil beauty and views in this secluded spot.

Can you spot the seal? We saw a little something moving in the distance…

Like sands through the hourglass, our restful time is coming to an end, or should I say a close for now because I do hope we return. This Island is magnificent in so many ways as it offered us the creature comforts we enjoy while away; good food, good wine, good beds and good views and the peace and quiet that you could only imagine was 100 years ago  in a far away land from what we know today.

We have all had a truly fun and magical weekend. When the weather forecast for Vancouver this weekend was doom and gloom, we were blessed with sunny, breezy days.

Our friends were the perfect hosts, company and entertainment for our little one with many games and activities planned. It will be recorded as one of our most memorable and delightful experiences that we have had here in British Columbia. For more on Pender Island with accommodation available please see this website Chamber of Commerce.

Pender Island has it all…the sub-mediterranean climate, the coves, beaches, rainforest, small mountains, lakes and open farmland.  I highly recommend this Island (ssh, don’t tell too many people) as a getaway for all people; families, couples, singles that are seeking a weekend getaway or longer that offers so much more including a little bit of magic.

For now so long Pender, I am so thankful we were introduced to you and we hope to return again.


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