Kayaking the Southern Gulf Islands

Aug 3-5 ,2019

Pender Island – (Saturna Island) – Cabbage Island – Mayne Island – Pender Island.

I love the Southern Gulf Islands and it was only a matter of time before I explored this area by kayak.

We booked our kayaks with Pender Island Kayak Adventures as they were very responsive and helpful – I totally recommend renting through them.

Below is an itinerary you can use as a base for your paddle trip however keep in mind winds, tides, currents and skill level will all factor into how you manage this route. We are a fairly experienced group in double kayaks (faster) however took our time and paddled very leisurely (lazily) for much of the trip. If you don’t have any sea kayaking experience, consider booking a guided tour. If you are an experienced paddler, this was a pretty light itinerary with only 2-3 hours of paddling a day – perfect for what we wanted.

We departed Hope Bay on Pender Island and arrived at Winter Cove one hour and 15 minutes later. *note* this does pass a ferry crossing. Check ferry times before you cross. We had a peek at boat passage thinking we could cross instead of waiting for slack tide. Nope. It looked a bit too wild for us so we parked our kayaks on the beach and climbed up the little lookout while we waited for slack tide.

The crossing through boat passage was uneventful and from there we paddled for one hour and 25 minutes to cabbage island, stopping many times to get photos of the seals, otters, eagles and other birds. Sadly, we did not see any whales.

Cabbage island did not disappoint. We set up our camp on the white sand beach and explored the island before settling in to watch one of the most stunning sunsets ever.

A few Cabbage Island tips:

– there is no fresh water on the island. None.

– camping fee is $9.80/person/night cash (paid in the little box when you arrive)

– the tide comes in FAST. We were out exploding an area at low tide and had to wade back. You can even walk over to Tumbo Island when the tide is super low – but good luck getting back.

– use the food cache and remove all your garbage. The curious raccoons will raid your food if left out. Maybe leave some fresh water out for the raccoons though since there is no water source for them.

An example of the harm our garbage can do to raccoons.

– there is only one composting outhouse for the whole island. Children, it is not a playground (a group of kids occupied it for a significant period of time – not sure what game involves a composting toilet…)

– speaking of children… how did they get here? Cabbage Island is a popular spot for boaters and so there were quite a few people on the island. Not as secluded as one would hope.

– there is cell service on the entire island (which is useful for checking weather, winds, etc)

– there are NO fires allowed on Cabbage Island. Make alternate arrangements for your s’mores.

Due to the current schedule, we didn’t plan to leave until late afternoon the following day to make the three hour paddle to Bennett Bay on Mayne Island. This was a blessing as the winds were quite significant earlier in the day. The winds were strong enough we had contemplated not leaving Cabbage Island until the following day. For this reason, you may not want to reserve any resorts as kayak plans can get changed.

An hour after leaving Cabbage Island, some friends we met on the island texted to let us know a humpback whale was swimming by! Cabbage Island had some incredible wildlife viewing but sadly we didn’t see any whales ourselves.

It is disappointing that there aren’t really any campsites near Bennett Bay. The surrounding islands are private and do not allow camping. You could leave your kayak on the shore at the Mayne Island Resort and hitch a ride to a car stop to the campground on Mayne, or you could check into a $400/night cabin at the Mayne Island Resort as we did. With four of us, it was only $100 each and the shower, king sized bed, and BBQ s’mores made it all worth it! Be mindful about booking in advance as we almost didn’t leave Cabbage Island due to winds. Camping always makes the most sense as you do need some flexibility with kayak plans to accommodate weather.

Remember when I mentioned the tide comes up fast? It seriously does! In the few minutes we took to inquire about renting a cottage, one of our kayaks floated away! We had pulled it competely out of the water and the tide rose that fast! Thankfully some kind people rescued it for us. Phew.

After a nice dinner at the bistro and a solid sleep in our king sized bed, we launched at 7 am for the 2.5 hour paddle back to Port Browning on Pender Island. We departed to catch slack tide but really lucked out with the glass like calm water and almost zero wind.

If you want a solid post kayak meal, walk 10 minutes up the road from the Port Browning pub to Jo’s on Pender instead. You’ll thank me for this tip.

The Southern Gulf Islands are the only BC Ferries route that allow reservations for walk ons. Reserve your ferry far in advance! When we phoned to reserve, we were told the ferry home was 100% full, even for walk ons (I didn’t know BC Ferries even reserved 100% of space!) but it worked out as we ended up catching the earlier ferry to Swartz Bay and then onward to Tsawwassen from there which was actually faster than the Tsawwassen ferry from Pender via the gulf islands. Pro tip: if you choose this option, make sure to ask for the through fare instead of paying the full fare in Swartz Bay.

This kayak trip worked out perfectly but I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing your stuff so you can plan routes according to currents, tides, winds, etc. If you are in doubt, book a guided tour since it can be dangerous out there!