Pender Harbour is a tough part of the Sunshine Coast to get a handle on. If you try to figure it out as you pass by on Hwy 101, you’ll have only a half-baked notion of where freshwater lakes end and saltwater coves begin. This place is a wonderful geographical mess. Even if you take the plunge and begin exploring the roads that connect the three oceanside communities that comprise Pender Harbour – Madeira Park, Garden Bay, and Irvines Landing – you’d be hard pressed to keep your bearings. You’d probably do just as well if you were blindfolded and spun around three times.
Pender Harbour was once the winter headquarters of the Sechelt Nation, and on nearby Mount Daniel you can see the remains of moon rings (stone circles built by Sechelt girls as they entered womanhood), and Sechelt pictographs mark the cliffs above Sakinaw Lake.
Originally famous for fabulous sport fishing, the tranquil and bustling Pender Harbour today is also a favourite spot for artists and photographers, as well as canoeists and kayakers. The 52 kilometres of jagged harbour shoreline support all sorts of housing, marine and recreational developments.
World-class yachts make Pender Harbour their evening destination anchorage, where the sunsets are amongst the best in British Columbia. The deep, clear waters of the harbour are recognized, especially during winter months, as one of the world’s premier sites for underwater exploration and photography.
Location: Pender Harbour is located north of Sechelt on the Sechelt Peninsula of the Sunshine Coast of BC. The Sunshine Coast is accessible from the rest of the Lower Mainland only by boat or airplane. Travellers aboard BC Ferries leave Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver for the 45-minute ride to Langdale on the Sechelt Peninsula. Highway 101 links Langdale with Pender Harbour, 31 miles (50 km) to the northwest.
An accessible, year-round retreat, Pender Harbour can be reached by road and ferry or by yacht in a leisurely day’s journey from Vancouver, along the Sunshine Coast of BC.
Built in 1930, the one-time St. Mary’s Hospital at Hospital Bay is now a privately owned lodge, available for dining and overnight accommodations.
Attend the always popular Pender Harbour Jazz Festival. This three-day festival in September showcases musicians in intimate settings in a variety of venues throughout the area.
Diving: The maze of coves, bays, and islands around Pender Harbour make it the most popular diving spot on the Sechelt Peninsula. You’ll need a boat to reach the four most popular sites at Fearney Bluffs, Nelson Rock, and Anderson and Charles Islands.
Golf: Pender Harbour Golf Course was built with a unique combination of flat and hilly fairways, and water hazards scattered throughout to add challenge to your game. The fairways are tight, with elevated greens and tees that enable you to take in the great views of the surrounding mountains and scenery. Nine holes with four tee boxes allow 18-hole rounds. Covered driving range. Located just five kilometres north of Madeira Park at 13823 Sunshine Coast Highway. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Fishing: The many lakes and streams in the Pender Harbour area offer plenty of excitement to freshwater anglers. Klein Lake offers private campsites and fine trout and Ruby Lake is an idyllic jewel surrounded by beautiful mountains offering panoramic vistas, abundant wildlife and exciting fishing.
The eastern peak of Mount Daniel is of great ceremonial significance to the Sechelt First Nation, whose ancestors used it as a setting for puberty rites. The summit of Mount Daniel (like the cemetery on the waterfront) is a protected archeological site.
Hiking: Two hiking trails lead to viewpoints overlooking Pender Harbour. Pender Hill (758 feet/231 m) rises sharply from the saltchuk (a Native term for water) above Irvines Landing, while Mount Daniel (1,375 feet/419 m) sits above Garden Bay. Both present moderately difficult, unrelentingly steep hiking. Packing a water bottle (or two) is a must. If time is of the essence, choose the Pender Hill Trail (moderate; 2 miles/3 km return) where a 30-minute cardiovascular workout will have you at the top. Plan on 90 minutes to reach the top of Mount Daniel (moderate; 5 miles/8 km return). Take a map to make sense of the view; NTS 92G/12 is the most detailed. Mount Daniel is too diminutive to be identified on most maps (tell that to someone who’s just made the ascent) but the surrounding lakes and bays are. Mount Daniel is west of Hwy 101 on Garden Bay Rd. Drive some 2 miles (3.5 km), watching for a trail sign on the left side of the road. Park here and hike a short distance along a dirt road to the trailhead. To find the trail for Pender Hill, stay on Garden Bay Road to Irvines Landing Road, then along to Lee Road. Watch for a sign on the right side of Lee Road that announces the trailhead.
Garden Bay Marine Provincial Park is a delightful 163-hectare forested park in Garden Bay on the north shore of Pender Harbour. Energetic hikers will be rewarded with spectacular views from atop Mount Daniel, known as “Kwiss Cham” by the local Sechelt people, and of great ceremonial and ritual significance. It was atop Kwiss Cham that young maidens made their rites of passage into puberty.
Francis Point Provincial Park protects pristine waterfront on the Francis Peninsula, west of Madeira Park. This extremely fragile and sensitive ecosystem combines the scenic and ecological attributes that have made the Gulf of Georgia world famous; intricate coves, windswept pines, mossy headlands and towering old-growth veteran Douglas fir. The park offers unlimited opportunities for kayaking and swimming, and some of the best diving on the Sunshine Coast. There is a short (one hour) wooded and rocky hiking trail that leads to the viewpoint at the top of the Francis Peninsula, with scenic views of Vancouver Island, Texada Island and the BC Gulf Islands. A branch of the trail leads down to the rocky oceanfront. The proposed park is easily accessible, and features cozy bays suitable for sheltering small craft.
Spipiyus Provincial Park is documented as the oldest closed-canopy temperate rain forest in Canada. The park protects pockets of old-growth Douglas-fir stands, and contains groves of the oldest living Yellow Cedars, Mountain and Western Hemlocks in the world. Also known as the Caren Range, the 2,979-hectare Spipiyus park also protects prime habitat for the Marbled Murrelet, which was found breeding close to the many lakes and in the ancient forests of the Caren Range above Pender Harbour.
Madeira Park is the main shopping centre for the Pender Harbour region, on the southeastern shore of Pender Harbour. The Madeira Park government floats provide over 400 metres of moorage space- only a brief walk from ‘downtown’ Madeira Park.
In Joe Bay, at the mouth of Pender Harbour, is the historic community of Irvines Landing, a popular tourist and fishing stop. The lifestyle of Irvines Landing is centred around the water and the boat launch ramp, with many residents engaged in commercial fishing, sports fishing and pleasure boating. Irvines Landing offers a campsite, and a general store is located at John Henry’s at Hospital Bay.
The small village of Garden Bay is tucked between Hospital Bay and Garden Bay in Pender Harbour. Postcard-pretty Garden Bay, with its yacht club, marinas, general store, restaurants and heritage inn, offers a gorgeous setting and terrific ocean views, amongst the prettiest in British Columbia.
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on a driving Circle Tour. Head north out of Vancouver for the scenic Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island Circle Tour. Board a B.C. Ferries vessel at Powell River that will take you across the waters of the Strait of Georgia to Comox, on Vancouver Island’s east coast. Travel south to Victoria and return to Vancouver by ferry from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen. Circle Tours in British Columbia.