The view from the private hot tub outside our Christopher Deam-designed Airstream International Signature at WOODS on Pender offers both escape and connection. Framed by tall timbers, Saturna Island eclipses Mount Baker while the sea and sky blur together in the backdrop. Two bikers on Harleys roll up the gravel hill to a neighbouring campsite where their vintage 1978 Airstream Sovereign of the Road awaits; one waves, recognizing us from the beach. Later, a taxi drops off a young couple outside a T@B teardrop trailer, a modern remake of post-war campers constructed from American bombers and surplus materials. We share a smile, knowing we are staying at a special spot.
“We’ve created a unique modern camping experience without pretense,” says WOODS owner and operator Curtis Redel. “And that experience is all about community. The units are set up so there’s some separation, but at the same time there are opportunities for interaction. There’s a friendly campsite vibe.” But WOODS, which opened in June, is not your typical campground. Set on a forested 7.3-acre property on Pender Island, the stylish concept resort offers accommodations in vintage and modern Airstreams, retro trailers, rustic cabins, and a lodge. The well-appointed sites feature hammocks, decks, barbecues, fire pits, and a mid-century modern design aesthetic. Some units boast private hot tubs nestled in the woods. Luxury touches include cozy terrycloth robes in Airstreams with hot tubs, crisp white linens, and hand-knit cozies to keep your chocolaty French-press Fernwood Coffee warm. If you must, there’s Wi-Fi available in the lodge as well as Airstreams and cabins, as well as Apple TV in each cabin and Airstream—though the lawn and board games are perhaps more apropos activities.
“We’re all about juxtaposes here,” says Redel, as he kicks back on the deck outside the resort’s Coffee + Kitchen eatery, examining a new bottle of wine (Bastide Miraflors Syrah Grenache, to pair with ribs or a burger). “You can be in nature and have a rustic experience, but at the same time enjoy modern conveniences and good wine. The whole concept is based on urban benchmarks. We have all of the things you love about camp without those rough edges.”
The formula makes sense given Redel’s background. The former Vancouverite had never been to Pender nor owned a trailer until recently. He has been camping a few times; his gear includes Bialetti and a milk frother. “Camping with a lack of a cappuccino in the morning?” he asks. It’s a rhetorical question. The creative entrepreneur and real estate broker (he manages deals for the likes of Aritzia and Blue Ruby) was looking for a project in which he could combine hospitality with real estate. He explored a few coastal communities before settling on the site that was previously home to the Inn on Pender. “This is the right island for this concept,” he says. “There’s no pretense here. There’s a strong sense of community.”
One of the first things Redel did when he moved to the island was get to work on creating a restaurant that would bring together locals and visitors to share in modern comfort food and inspiring seasonal beverages in an inclusive setting. To this end, Redel, whose early career included serving dignitaries such as Princess Diana at Expo ’86 as beverage manager at the Pan Pacific, called upon industry friends from the mainland: celebrated cocktail consultant Shaun Layton and wine curator Kurtis Kolt. A husband and wife duo, formerly of Poets Cove, heads up the kitchen. The result is a fun, fresh, and accessible menu that’s coffee house by day and tapas bar by night. Six B.C. wines are on tap, while the cocktail list includes signature staples and playful conversation starters such as Spiked Lemonade. Long, narrow communal tables inside and out encourage guests to share tips on exploring the island, from which of 32 ocean access points are the most picturesque to how to conquer the 27 holes at the disc golf course.
“Pender is perfect for self-starters who enjoy nature and adventure,” says Redel, adding that the same kind of people tend to be attracted to Airstreams. “When I think of wanderlust I automatically think Airstream: the iconic design, the history, the freedom of the open road with no specific destination in mind.” To achieve a deeper appreciation of Airstream culture, he is planning to live in his latest acquisition, a 34-foot Airstream Excella, this winter following renovations. Resort puppy-in-residence, Woodsy, will join him. The rig is currently gutted, and Redel will be redesigning the interior himself, as he did the other units and the restaurant. He’s looking forward to the cultural experience and, in turn, extending the opportunity to future visitors. “Airstreams are nostalgic yet timeless, they cross generations, they appeal to kids and they appeal to 70-year-olds,” he says. “I’m making them approachable to people who wouldn’t be able to buy one on their own but would enjoy the experience of staying in one. They’re pretty unique. They exist in a world of their own.”