Pender Island has undergone something of a culinary upgrade over the past few years, and we would be lying if we said we weren't pretty excited about it. The 12 km-long island still has all the thrills of the almost-off-grid getaway you’ve been dreaming of (you can easily spend your whole time transitioning from hot tub to massage table, to your game of backgammon, and back to the hot tub). But now there’s a craft cidery that’s been winning awards, an overhauled winery with an incredible food truck, and a resort with retro Airstreams serving the best gnocchi you’ve probably ever had. Factor in activities like disc golf, actual golf, kayaking, and farmer’s markets, and Pender Island is no longer a place to go and do nothing.
It only takes three hours to walk to and from each end of North Pender Island, so going on-foot with some hiking boots and a backpack might seem like a fun thing to do. However, once you see tourists teetering along non-existent footpaths while trucks zoom past, you’ll be really glad you brought the car. You can always take advantage of the island’s two taxis if pressuring one of your fellow vacationees into being the designated driver doesn’t work out.
Make it an early start and hop on the ferry from Tsawwassen to Otter Bay (non-stop trips are only an hour and twenty minutes), so you can be sipping Pinot Gris at Sea Star’s tasting room by lunch time. The vineyard was taken over from the neglected Morning Bay Winery in 2014, and so far things have seen a massive improvement.
It’s one of the only wineries you’ll find right next to the ocean, and you can catch glimpses of the water through the trees from their picnic area out the back. The spot is pretty beautiful and you’ll likely want to spend all day here, especially when you discover Sea Star's food truck, Island Time, serving things like blue cheese stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, crab cakes and a cheese board. Buy a bottle of the blended white, Salish Sea, and settle in, but speaking of island time, most businesses are literally on this, including your next stop that closes at 4 p.m., so don’t stay too long.
Apples, apples, apples
Take a twenty-minute stroll downhill (there’s an order to these things) from Sea Star, and you’ll arrive at a wooden signpost that will remove any reservations you had about trespassing down someone’s driveway. At the bottom you’ll find yourself in what appears to be a parking lot with a garage and a tiny wooden shack—on closer inspection, the Twin Island tasting room.
Its old-growth orchard has been quickly gaining notoriety for the drier-style, small-batch cider that the brewers have been bottling since 2017. Join the crowds vying to get their hands on a bottle of their limited-release batches, like their Wolf Moon Pet-Nat, which sold out shortly after its debut, and/or grab a flight. It won’t take long for you to see why they won People’s Choice Award at the 2019 B.C Cider Awards.
Hit the Farmer’s Market
If sampling fermented apples and grapes isn’t really your thing, but the thought of shopping for mini felted animals and fresh arugula is, then you’re probably going to want to opt for the Farmer’s Market version of this itinerary. Keep in mind that it’s on Saturday only (from 9:30 to 1:00), and closer to the ferry side of the island. Get yourself some fresh flowers or vegan food, watch some live music or buy some incredible handmade pasta from Pender Pasta (they’re the same people who make the pasta at Woods, below).
A Feast in the Woods
By now you’re either a little bit tipsy or in possession of multiple very cool felt animals, and it’s time to get yourself to Woods on Pender so you can start enjoying the two next best things on your itinerary—hot tubs and gnocchi.
Considering what Woods has to offer—refurbished retro Airstreams, hammocks, private hot tubs, and a tent you can get a massage in—it’s no surprise that the Airstreams are booked out for whole summers at a time. But what people might not know is that even if you can’t manage to get a last-minute booking here (although keep in mind they also have motel rooms which sell out less quickly), one of the main reasons you should be heading here, is for the food.
You’ll find dishes here that you’ll desperately try and find out the recipe for, like homemade pizza or super-soft mushroom gnocchi from the on-site restaurant and bar, Coffee and Kitchen, and the beet-stuffed “culurgiones” (a Sardinian version of perogies) from the food truck. There's also local beer and wine on tap here, so have a few beverages before you settle in to your private hot tub.
After waking up, and no longer pruney from the hot tub, order yourself some poached eggs with latkes for breakfast at Coffee and Kitchen to fuel up before you take on the outdoors. Stroll (twenty minutes) or drive on over to Pender Island Kayak Adventures (book ahead) and set out on a tour of the surrounding water, where you have a high probability of meeting a seal, an even higher probability of seeing an incredible view and you can also finally discover how effective your windmill paddling technique really is.
You can decide to take anywhere from a two-hour tour to a full day—depending on your enthusiasm, upper arm strength and how good you are at not paddling around in circles (although, hey, that’s what the tour guide can help you with). You can also rent by the hour if you want to set out on your own expedition, but couples renting the tandem kayak beware—not having a compatible paddling style can make this activity less romantic than it seems. Don’t be deterred if it’s raining: kayaking can be just as fun that way, just make sure you wear something waterproof.
Mussels after muscles
Once you’ve worked up an appetite and gracefully disembarked your kayak while somehow not bruising both shins, you can hop over to Port Browning Marina Pub, where you’ll find your standard pub fare like mussels or fish and chips paired with a pretty waterfront view. It’s right next door to the kayaking spot, and it’s a great place to relax and not kayak while you watch other people take their turn splashing around.
If you’ve watched too many reruns of Jaws or want to give your biceps a break, perhaps kayaking isn’t your go-to activity. Maybe you feel like playing golf but are frustrated with your golf swing lately. For a lower-impact sport where you can still use your arms, that’s like golf but not golf, disc golf may just be your new favourite thing. The island has a course with 27 holes that you can make an afternoon out of—rent discs from Woods on Pender or buy some from Pender Island Kayak Adventures.
After a big day of paddling against the wind or strategically throwing discs at a chain basket, you can pat yourself on the back and head to the ferry terminal. Heading back to the big city might seem like a sad undertaking, which is why you should have stocked up on cider and wine at the winery and cidery so you can relive the experience at home (no, we didn’t mean drown your sorrows on the ferry—that would be illegal). Or just start planning your return shortly.
This story was originally published on August 22, 2019.