It’s just a short hop by ferry from Salt Spring Island  to Otter Bay on North Pender Island, from where a rickety wooden bridge forms a link to South Pender Island. Between them, the two islands are home to 2,400 people, most of whom live on North Pender.
The island has dozens of little beaches to explore, with public roads providing ocean access at more than 20 points. One of the nicest spots is Hamilton Beach on Browning Harbour.
The least expensive way to enjoy an overnight stay on North Pender Island is to camp at Prior Centennial Campground (mid-May–mid-Oct., $14), a unit of Gulf Islands National Park. Sites are primitive, with no showers or hookups, but the treed location is excellent. The facility is six kilometers (3.7 miles) south of the ferry terminal.
The island’s premier accommodation is the Oceanside Inn (4230 Armadale Rd. five km/3.1 mi from the ferry terminal, 250/629-6691 or 800/601-3284, www.penderisland.com , $169–239 s or d). Each room is elegantly furnished, and a wide balcony takes advantage of the waterfront location. Rates include breakfast in an oceanfront dining room, use of a fitness room, and in-room luxuries such as fluffy bathrobes.
The commercial hub of the Penders is the Driftwood Centre (Bedwell Harbour Rd.), a city-like shopping mall overlooking cleared pastureland south of the ferry terminal. In addition to gas, groceries, booze, and a bank, you’ll find a number of eateries, including a super-busy bakery.
For something a little more substantial, move along the mall to the Pistou Grill (250/629-3131, Tues.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5:30–8:30 p.m., $13.50–21) for surprisingly innovative cooking that includes seared halibut drizzled with a chardonnay sauce. Also in the mall is Talisman Books & Gallery (250/629-6944), stocking an excellent range of local literature and best sellers.
Ferries depart the Swartz Bay terminal (250/386-3431) up to seven times a day for North Pender Island. Most sailings are direct (40 minutes), although a couple of the early-morning trips go via Galiano and Mayne Islands (over two hours), so check the timetable carefully before boarding. The round-trip fare is adult $9.45, child $4.75, vehicle $28.