British Columbia’s Gulf Islands stretch from Victoria to Nanaimo on the east coast of Vancouver Island in the Strait of Georgia. Despite the area’s Pacific Northwest locale, the Gulf Islands benefit from the “rain shadow” effect, which gives them a cool mediterranean climate with more than 2,000 hours of sunshine and only 30 inches of rain a year.
The islands offer an impressive variety of art, scenery, hiking trails, history, restaurants, quaint anchorages, and more! Here are some of the best boating spots in B.C.’s Gulf Islands.
To start, the best place to clear customs is at Bedwell Harbour, located on South Pender Island and just four miles north of Stuart Island. There, you can dock at Poets Cove Resort and Spa—an elegant, five star resort with fine dining, a spa, and plenty of marina amenities! In fact, the Poets Cove marina was ranked one of the top ten anchorages in the Western Hemisphere by Motor Boating and Sailing Magazines, and boasts 110 deepwater slips, along with fuel and 30 amp power. Tie up to the dock and kick back for the evening—taking advantage of the resort pool, gift shop, hot tub, coffee bar, and more.
Butchart gardens is an absolutely stunning 55-acre garden that boasts more than 900 varieties of plants and flowers, and showcases exotic foliage throughout their Japanese, Italian, and Mediterranean gardens. To get there by boat, you can either take a dinghy up to their wharf, or dock at the nearby Tod Inlet or Brentwood Bay. Be sure to catch the garden’s dazzling fireworks show, featured every Saturday night during the summer.
Ganges, located on Salt Spring Island, is an eclectic seaside village that offers ample anchorage at the Saltspring Marina, Ganges Marina, or Kanaka Wharf. Similar to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Ganges offers a hub of activity: watch seaplanes and boats come in and out of the harbor, stroll the more than 40 art studios and kiosks that showcase glass blowing and painting, and catch their famous Farmers Market on Saturdays from 9am to 4pm. Also keep an eye out for orcas, sea lions, and seals!
Offering one of the largest marinas in British Columbia, the Maple Bay Marina offers a sheltered harbor in the Cowichan Region on Vancouver Island. This quaint marina offers some unique touches, like old antique engines, waterside boathouses (which are rare for Vancouver Island), and well-manicured grounds.
The marina, which is open year-round, also offers a ton of amenities, like spacious washrooms, a restaurant and pub, gift shop, grocery store, gas and diesel, shuttle services, kayak rentals, float homes, and on-site mechanics. The Mariner’s Market and Espresso Bar also showcases a rotating display of local art.
There’s also plenty to explore outside of the marina—tour the wineries of Cowichan, take kayaks around Birds Eye Cove, do some bird watching around the bay, or tour the Cowichan Valley Lavender Farm and Labyrinth.
While Montague is a hotspot for local boaters, there’s always plenty of room to anchor! Enjoy a picnic or camp out for the weekend at the nearby provincial park, which boasts a white shell beach, lush evergreens, and plenty of bird watching opportunities.
And no trip to Montague Harbour is complete without climbing aboard the Hummingbird Pub Bus. This bus has one purpose, and one purpose only: to take people to and from the secluded Hummingbird Pub. The bus arrives at the marina on the hour, every hour from 5pm to 10pm. At the pub, enjoy live music, pool tables, a picnic area, and delicious pub fare!
Located on the southeastern tip of De Courcy Island, Pirates Cove Marine Provincial Park offers 75 acres of beautiful hiking trails, swimming, clamming, kayaking, and relaxing! This incredibly secluded and natural island offers a sheltered anchorage and two dinghy docks. While there, keep an eye out for harbour seals and sea lions; you might also catch a rare glimpse of Gray and Humpback whales in the summer.
For a bit of a history lesson, in the early 1920s and 30s, the marine park was the base camp for a religious cult called the “Aquarian Foundation.” The cult was led by Brother XII who convinced 8,000 followers to give up their possessions and live off the grid on De Courcy Island. The cult only lasted a few years, though, as suspicions over Brother XII’s motivations (and many mistresses) erupted. The cult eventually dissipated and Brother XII was said to have fled to Switzerland, where he ended up dying of a heart attack not long after. For years following his death, people visited the island in an attempt to hunt down what they believed was the cult’s buried treasure, but apart from a note penned by Brother XII, which read: “For fools and traitors—nothing,” no treasure was ever found.
Gabriola Island is known for its art—with the 6th highest amount per capita of artists in Canada, the island is home to hundreds of painters, dancers, musicians, potters, actors, and writers. Gabriola also has more public access points to beaches than other other B.C. island, and offers plenty of hiking trails, a 9-hole golf course, museum, and kayak rentals.
You can dock at either Page’s Resort and Marina or Silva Bay Marina, located on the southeast end of the island. Both marinas are open year-round and offer shore power, fuel dock, washrooms, picnic grounds, bike/scooter rentals, water, garbage, washrooms, and a store.
As Vancouver Island’s second largest city, Nanaimo offers plenty of activities and attractions. There are two marinas offered by the Port Authority: the older, inner Boat Basin, which is primarily permanent moorage, and the newer Cameron Island docks inside the breakwater pier. While there, explore the city’s museum, outdoor markets, quaint seaside shops, decadent seafood restaurants, and oceanside parks, and, of course—you’ll want to sample the world-famous Nanaimo bar, named after the lively city (there’s even an official Nanaimo Bar Trail, which lets you feast on the best and most unique variations of the famous bar). Then enjoy an evening cocktail and tasty pub fare at the Dinghy Dock—Canada’s only registered floating pub.
And don’t miss the canon firing ceremony held every day at noon at Nanaimo’s historic Bastion, built in 1853. Following the ceremony, tour three floors of the Bastion’s historical displays.
What do you think? What are your favorite Gulf Island boating spots? Leave a comment to let us know!