From wildlife spotting to wine tasting, the Gulf Islands off the coast of southern Vancouver Island are the perfect place to unwind and explore. Here, sheltered waters make for ideal sailing, scuba diving, and fishing; dreamy beaches beckon swimmers; and ecologically protected forests welcome hikers.

The creative atmosphere attracts numerous artists to the island and visitors find that island hopping over a week or so is a great way to soak it all in. Ferries and floatplanes depart Victoria and the mainland daily to each of these five unique islands:

Galiano Island, the driest of the Southern Gulf Islands, lies just east of busy Salt Spring Island and southwest of the BC mainland. Rent a Smart car or scooter to explore Galiano's beautiful beaches, parks and trails. Boaters will enjoy mooring at Montague Harbour and taking in the incredible views, while photographers will not want to miss the sunsets at Bellhouse Park. Enjoy perusing the stalls at the Annual Christmas Market and pick up a locally made gift.

Mayne Island lies about midway between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland. The island is best known for its collection of turn-of-the-19th-century buildings, and superb kayaking conditions. Watch boats and ferries cruising through Active Pass, cycle past sheep farms or hike to Mayne's highest viewpoint at Mount Parke Regional Park. Join a yoga retreat or visit one of the Island's many art galleries. Feel the spirit of the holidays at the caroling event around a roaring bonfire on Christmas Eve.

Once joined by a peninsula, the Pender Islands are densely forested and the coastline is dotted with the kind of small, secluded beaches that attract abundant wildlife. North and South Pender offer diverse experiences, from beach walks, day hikes and golfing to winery tours, spa treatments and boutique shopping. Enjoy events including Orca Fest and the Pender Fall Fair in August and the Magic Lake Lantern Festival on New Year's Eve.

Salt Spring Island's easy-going lifestyle, rich cultural scene and serene beauty have made it a top destination for Vancouver Islanders, B.C. residents and international travellers. The most populated of the Gulf Islands with 10,000 residents, Salt Spring Island is alive with art galleries and restaurants. Enjoy hiking Mount Maxwell's Cliffside trail or picnicking at Beddis Beach.

Saturna Island is the least developed and most sparsely populated of the Gulf Islands. Highlights of the landscape include interesting sandstone formations, a long stretch of undisturbed, old-growth forest, and Mount Warburton Pike. Visit local art studios and galleries or take a tour of Saturna Island Family Estate Winery.

Today, we're kicking off a two-week Community Spotlight on the southern Gulf Islands. Watch for upcoming blogs with more information about the Gulf Islands communities, outdoor adventure, agritourism, events, food and wine, art and much more!

Montague Harbour sunset kayak