When it comes to Christmas, Pender Harbour has it in the boat
Story and photos by Rebecca Bollwitt
Pender Harbour, BC – “This area is about boats, entirely about boats,” said Mark Brezer of SloCat Tours after he picked my mother and I up from John Henry’s Resort & Marina. Mom and I had just spent the night in the adorably quaint Prawn Palace, a well-appointed cottage literally right on top of the water in Hospital Bay. We sat back in the bench seats, armed with the binoculars and harbour map provided by Mark and slipped past our waterfront cottage and its sister cabin next door, the Oyster Shack.
During the upcoming Pender Harbour Christmas Market (Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, Dec. 7 to Dec. 9), John Henry’s waterfront cottages transform into shops filled with artisans, vendors and art. Replace the hot coffee we got at the General Store with mulled wine, the bright autumn colours of the trees with strands of lights and the calls of great blue heron with carollers. The coastal resort is magical enough in the autumn, but it ramps up into a holiday wonderland during the winter.
Mark from SloCat Tours
“It was a boat access community for 70 years, then the ferry came,” Mark said as we continued through the emerald waters, cruising from one bay to the next. We followed the route that the Pender Harbour Boat Parade of Lights (December 21st) will take during the festive season. Residents and visitors all crowd the shores to view this brilliant spectacle on the water.
That’s not the only place you’ll find lights during the festive season, especially since Pender Harbour celebrates Christmas from Nov. 30 to Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, and there's events happening all through the community.
When you first head up the Sunshine Coast Highway, you’ll arrive in Madeira Park, which could be referred to as the Downtown of Pender Harbour. It has the highway, the Government Dock and it will host the annual Christmas Tree Lighting event. Residents are encouraged to light up their homes for a decorating competition and local businesses like the Mad Park Cantina (home to amazing Mexican food, including some great breakfast options) get in the spirit as well.
With lights aglow on land and on the sea, it’s also worthy to note the freshwater that also gives Pender Harbour its character. Heading north from Madeira Park, there’s another highway turnoff to Garden Bay, which is more of a lake community. Mark says it’s the best place for recreation on the entire Sunshine Coast.
Sunset at the Prawn Palace overlooking Hospital Bay
“You have Mount Daniel and the entrance to Pender Hill for hiking and mountain biking, lakes for kayaking. It (Garden Bay) combines the ruggedness of the West Coast mountains erupting out of the ocean, but it also has all those great freshwater elements.”
On the water, we sailed from John Henry’s in Hospital Bay over to Gerrans Bay, which is commonly referred to as Whiskey Slough (a nod to some prohibition-era rum running). Another little island, another cove, a narrow channel and every one with a story.
Touring Pender Harbour’s coves and bays by boat
Gunboat Bay is your best bet to spot a rainbow from the water. We pulled out the binoculars to identify some birds and read the names of a mismatched fleet of boats we saw in marinas, at docks or washed up on a rocky shore.
“The character of Pender Harbour is found in its boats.” With such a modest population, Mark says the local pastime is boat-watching vs people-watching.
We passed Irving’s Landing where the old Union Steamship from Vancouver used to dock and went by Painted Boat Resort Spa & Marina’s luxury accommodations. Around the corner was PODS – the Pacific Ocean Discovery Station. PODS hosts a bonfire, music and carolling during the festive season.
Past another shipwreck, a bald eagle took flight from the top of a yellow cedar as we turned back around Francis Peninsula. “The only way to see Pender Harbour is on the water,” Mark reaffirmed when we docked back at John Henry’s. “It’s a community that was built on the water and that’s the best way to see it.”
You can book your own 90-minute tour with Mark and the SloCat team anytime or experience something totally unique when you visit during December. From Nov. 30 to Dec. 9, this charming coastal community will be a holiday wonderland, with lights twinkling off the water and over a dozen events taking place from Madeira Park to Garden Bay, all guaranteed to ignite your festive spirit.
If You Go
BC Ferries leaves from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast with around 10 sailings daily, plus sailings from Vancouver Island to the northern Sunshine Coast (Powell River), or you can take advantage of the many other transportation services including float planes, passenger ferry service, and more.
Tag #SunshineCoastBC and #ZenSeekers on your travels here and you might be featured on their social media channels.