Destination – The Perfect Penders

February 11th, 2011  |  Published in Hot off the press, On the Water  |  19 Comments

Greenburn Lake

Greenburn Lake

North and South Pender combined may only be 36.6 sq. kilometres – but trust me – lots of attractions are crammed into these compact islands.

Start with three marinas, one marine park, three public docks, and abundant bays and nooks for daytime anchoring. Then add accessible hiking opportunities; nearby campsites if your cockpit is spilling over with summer guests; and grocery, liquor and galleries all within a short walk of your moorage or anchorage. Lastly, mix in historical buildings, several federal park reserves, beautiful beaches, and ancient First Nations’ sites, and you’ve got an enticing cruising destination.

Many skippers arrive at the Penders by way of Active or Porlier Pass and head to Otter Bay. We frequently anchor overnight here just beyond the ferry dock, putting up with ferry wash in order to dinghy ashore at nearby Roesland, part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. This historic site was originally homesteaded by the Roes, later purchased by the Davidsons, and flourished as a resort for over 70 years. The resort closed in 1991 but several of the original cabins and buildings are still standing. The Roes’ home was restored into a great little museum in 2005 and is well worth a visit on summer weekends. A stroll over the little bridge winds along arbutus and chocolate lilies in season, culminating in scenic lookouts and benches.

Sometimes, when we’re feeling energetic, we’ll hike from Roseland up to Roe Lake, and then slip our way down to Shingle Bay, returning on the same route. Tack on an hour for this worthwhile trek and you’ll feel no guilt treating yourself to a later ice cream cone at The Stand!

Otter Bay Marina, concealed behind its bank of colorful flags, is tucked into Hayashi Cove, once the site of Matsuyama Company, a flourishing saltery, packing and shipping herring to Asia before its property was confiscated from Japanese owners in 1942. It continued to operate until it burnt down 14 years later. Transient moorage is available here, with kayak rentals, a small gift shop and restaurant, and a swimming pool. A short distance away is the nine-hole golf course, with its clubhouse featuring excellent value meals and specials. A stroll in the other direction takes you to the ferry dock and The Stand, Penders’ popular little pocket takeout, for that promised ice cream.

Now we exit Otter Bay and head south in Swanson Channel, passing Shingle Bay and its old pilings, all that remain of what used to be a busy, odiferous dogfish and herring reduction plant seasonally employing fifteen to twenty men. Built in 1926, it burnt down in 1958. A small community park lies at the head of the shallow bay. Temporary anchorage here is open to north westerlies and ferry swells, but don’t venture too close past the old pilings, as the bay is very shallow.

Thieves Bay

Thieves Bay

Nearby Thieves Bay, a private marina for local residents and home of the Pender Islands’ Yacht Club, is marked by an indefatigable rock breakwater. This is a whale viewing area par excellence. The swirling currents bring Orcas close in, in search of salmon. When the pinks are running, these waters bristle with boats and fishing rods as well.

Rounding this point, we’ll be in Bedwell Harbour in an hour or so, depending on the tides and winds. Bedwell is named after Edward Parker Bedwell, the second master of the Plumper. Overnight choices abound here. Depending on our mood and budget, we anchor in the bay off Medicine Beach, tie up at Poets Cove Marina, or snaffle a mooring buoy at nearby 34-hectare Beaumont Marine Park. There’s no dinghy dock but we’ve got a marine host dock, picnic tables, outhouses, a beautiful beach, and a 5-star hiking opportunity. The 40-minute energetic hike along the canal is a real bonus, and if we’re in the mood to really sweat, we carry on for another 30 minutes past the Mt. Norman turnoff to a panoramic viewpoint of the islands. Or, we head downhill to the canal bridge. That trip takes only ten minutes, and we enjoy watching the boating traffic churning under the one-lane bridge before we cross over to check out the cairn on the far side. Excavations here in 1957 resulted in it being designated as a provincial heritage site, and a later Simon Fraser University archeological dig uncovered thousands of artifacts. After this, there’s usually time to cross back over and wander down to Mortimer Spit, the locals’ favourite beach.

Other interesting walks can be accessed from Poets Cove Marina. The stroll along Gowlland Point Road to the most southerly tip of the Penders is a level 3.7 kilometers and culminates in a public beach and great views of Mt. Baker. An added bonus is the side trail to Brooks Point, a grassy headland acquired by Penderites in 2001. Again, if we’re up for it, we take the steep road by the fire hall, up to Greenburn Lake. It’s well marked, but you can ask about the trails at the marina.

Curious about the writing on the cliff adjacent to the marina docks, we were told that it dates back to 1905 when the crew of the Royal Navy survey vessel, HMS Egeria, decided to immortalize themselves. Another Poets Cove attraction is the tree standing between the new hotel and the beach; it’s reputed to be haunted. See if you can find the oarlocks buried in the tree trunk, and then see if you can find someone from the resort to tell you how they got there. Brrrr. Creepy.

Poets Cove is where we tie up when we want to pamper ourselves. A full service spa with steam room and a hot tub near the ‘waterfalls’ provides external bliss, while the 5-star restaurant, Aurora, takes care of the interior. The downstairs lounge serves casual meals, and the adjacent complex offers a coffee shop, a swimming pool, showers, and a jacuzzi for marina guests.

From Bedwell, power boaters often take a short cut through the narrow canal. Take it slow; locals are concerned about wakes eroding the banks. This route is a scenic short cut to Port Browning, but with a 28′ clearance under the bridge, sailors like us need to sail eastward, past Camp Bay and between Teece Point and Blunden Islet. This is a good spot to look for birds, dolphins, and even killer whales, which are drawn by the rich feeding grounds around this area.

We find Port Browning provides good holding ground, although somewhat exposed to winds and seas from the southeast. Sometimes we’ve been lucky and found space in the public wharf’s 50-metre dock space. Port Browning marina is the other option. (See sidebar.) This is the place to be when my galley needs restocking, I want to enjoy some fresh baking, or I feel like checking out shops at the ever-expanding Driftwood Mall. There’s a popular new café, Fish on Pender, that’s been buzzing since it opened last summer.

Hamilton Beach at Port Browning is where the Polar Bear Swim is held every New Year’s Day, and it’s also the starting point for the popular Round-the-Penders yacht race every August. The marina also features camping in the orchard, a swimming pool, a lively pub, and a restaurant.

Leaving Port Browning, we round Razor Point and continue northwest down Plumper Sound to our favourite ‘shore leave’ spot. There are ninety metres of public moorage at the Hope Bay wharf at the west entrance into Hope Bay. It’s open to weather from the east, but boats can sometimes slip into the back of the T- shaped float for more protection. The mooring buoys that the friendly folk at Hope Bay have recently provided for visiting boats are the best option, if you have a tender. Beyond the docks, the bay almost drains at minus tide.

Tragically gutted by fire in 1998, the heritage Hope Bay store, originally built in 1912, hunkered in ruins for some time before its happy rescue by a group of 27 Penderites. Since 2005, visitors now have a choice of many amenities: a café hanging over the water, a lush gallery, a terrific goldsmith shop, a stylish home furnishing boutique, and many other outlets.

Once down Plumper Sound and around Stanley Point, we view Port Washington’s public docks, 80 meters of dock space in Grimmer Bay. Named after the first postmaster, Washington Grimmer, Port Washington is another good temporary stop. Check out the Penders’ other heritage store beside the dock. Built in 1910, this building awaits plans to bring it once more to life. There used to be terrific rivalry between Hope Bay and Port Washington, as each location strove to be the islands’ hub. At the moment, Hope Bay is winning. There are no amenities here, but boaters can walk a short distance to view the Old Orchard Farm on the left, Grimmer’s original residence, and to buy heritage fruit from the honour box, in season.

Of course in the right conditions you can easily circumnavigate the Penders in a day, but with all this to do and see, why would you want to?

Poets Cove

Poets Cove

Marinas galore.
• Otter Bay Marina. 250-639-3579,
Recent dock and power upgrades. In season staff usually provides rides to the golf course and Driftwood Mall. Currents, the recent development here, is quarter share cottage ownership.

• Poets Cove Marina and Resort, 250-629-2100 or 1-888-512-7638, is home to the Penders’ only marine gas dock, the Canada Customs, and a quarter share ownership resort. Operating for fifty years as Bedwell Harbour Resort, Poets Cove offers transient moorage year around.

• Port Browning Marina, 250-629-3493. Pool, camping, pub and restaurant.

One island or two?
For thousands of years they were one island, joined by an isthmus the Coast Salish called “helisen” (lying between). In 1902, a canal was dug to allow the ferry, Iroquois, a quicker and safer transit from Hope Bay to Sidney on its weekly sailing. The canal cut 9 miles off the route and made the trip safer, although in an ironic twist of fate, the Iroquois foundered off Sidney on April 10, 1911, with considerable loss of life. In 1955, the present one lane bridge was built to connect the two islands.

What’s in a Name?
The Pender Islands were named after Daniel Pender, who surveyed the islands in 1857. His vessel, the HMS Plumper, gave its name to the body of water between the Penders and Saturna Island.

Other websites on the Penders


  1. Cynthia Collingwood says:

    March 1st, 2011at 2:04 pm(#)

    Hi Cherie
    The Penders are certainly perfect and you have enabled me to relive the many visits I have made. Thank you!
    Pender is an old established Cornish surname and I believe Daniel’s family came from Mousehole near Penzance.

  2. Cherie says:

    March 1st, 2011at 2:45 pm(#)

    So Penzance and Pender are connected in more than one way! Many thanks for your comments and for visiting my site.

  3. Julie H. Ferguson says:

    April 29th, 2012at 6:59 pm(#)

    I’ve lived in BC for nearly 43 years and I’ve never visited Pender. You’ve convinced to change that! Thanks for great info.

  4. chris says:

    September 1st, 2012at 1:48 am(#)

    Are there any good prawning waters in the southern gulf islands? have never had much luck

  5. Cherie says:

    September 1st, 2012at 3:16 pm(#)

    Hi Chris, We’ve never found the Gulf Islands any good for prawning, athough the commercial boats do catch them locally. You would probably have far better luck going further north along the Sunshine Coast, Lund, and Desolation Sound. That’s such a beautiful area.

  6. Cherie says:

    September 1st, 2012at 3:26 pm(#)

    Thanks for your kind comments, Julie. Plan to visit in August when Art Off the Fence happens on South Pender. It’s a long time South Pender artistic event held in a waterfront garden, with music, food, and art showing up in the most unusual places. Dates will be on the Penders’ Chamber of Commerce website: We truly are an island of art.

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    Well, thanks Betsy.

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  14. Ahmed says:

    December 16th, 2015at 3:00 pm(#)

    We are coming in from Scotland next year, my fimaly and I, and we would like exactly the same facilities as you. We would also like to know if there’s the possibility of going swimming anywhere, apart from the sea. I have not looked at information about this Island or any of the other Gulf Islands so it would be great if you could get back to me.E.Hutchinson

  15. Cherie says:

    December 16th, 2015at 4:22 pm(#)

    I assume you are coming in summer? Yes there are swimming pools available at Poets Cove and Port Washington.

  16. wendy says:

    August 3rd, 2016at 1:58 pm(#)

    I am very curious about the buildings at Port Washington. Do you know what’s happening there? There is the boarded up old general store, as well as the building called the Shed. It seems like such a shame that nothing is happening there now.

  17. Cherie says:

    August 7th, 2016at 5:23 pm(#)

    Hi Wendy,
    Yes it is sad, isn’t it? Unfortunately I have heard that it is too late now to save the old Port Washington Store. It has been so many things over the years: a general store, a book store, a meat store, and once plans were to make it into a soda shop. The location, which used to be so central in those early days when Hope Bay and Port Washington used to vie for the post office and ferry services, seem long gone now. It is just out of the way to be commercially viable.

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