Orcas and Islands Kayaking Exploration, Northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia
- Kayak Johnstone Strait, one of Canada’s best areas for viewing orcas
- Listen to whale vocalizations via hydrophones
- Boat to an abandoned First Nation (Indian) village and see historic totem poles
- Paddle among small verdant islands in the Broughton Archipelago Marine Park
- Double kayaks and kayaking equipment
- Experienced guides
- Transportation by water taxi back to Telegraph Cove
|Dates||Aug 11–16, 2013|
Please note that the trip dates have changed from what was originally published. If you have questions, please contact us.
“We know orcas organize themselves into sophisticated social groups… their powers of cognition may be too complex for us to quantify.” - Alexandra Morton in Listening to Whales
Intimately experience the grandeur and wildlife of Canada’s Johnstone Strait and nearby marine preserves and wilderness parks along the northeast side of Vancouver Island, home to a high concentration of orca whales, porpoises, and dolphins. Our nature “cruise” is in a group of sleek, stable sea kayaks. We will travel in this time-honored manner, peacefully exploring small inlets, creek mouths, cedar forested islands, and at times paddling hard through current-filled channels to better view creatures big and small, such as jumping coho salmon, organized orca pods, breaching humpback whales, rolling seals, bounding black bears and soaring bald eagles. On a clear day the glaciated peaks of the Coast Range loom large across the water. During our six-day exploration we'll have time to notice if hundreds of jelly fish happen to float past, pulsing with color and symmetry. We'll have passage quiet enough to hear the keening of sea birds, the yelping of sea mammals, and the splashing of playful Pacific white-sided dolphins. However, these marine creatures are wild -- animals roam a large area and the weather and winds can greatly influence where we go and what we see. At times we'll move slowly enough to watch a bear amble along the shore or a bald eagle preening in its aerie, while in one instance we’ll need to lean into our strokes across a two-mile-wide open channel. One of the days we’ll travel and land in much the same manner as the First Nation people of Mahmallilikullah did for hundreds of years to go home to their long house and totem poles on Village Island. We'll carry our food and camping gear with us in dry bags inside the kayaks. It's amazing what you can fit in a kayak!
The trip begins and ends in historic Telegraph Cove (TC), a tiny fishing village near Port McNeil on the northeastern corner of huge Vancouver Island. This is a remote location, but it is accessible by auto on paved roads or by small regional airlines. In TC we’ll hold our pre-trip meeting among the giant skeletons of marine creatures in the Whale Interpretive Center. The next day we’ll hold a safety and kayak orientation. After loading our boats we’ll paddle about six miles south down Johnstone Strait toward Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, a marine refuge created to protect high concentrations of orca whales and other sea life. We are likely to see both whales and other boaters, as this area is world renowned. Right in front of our camp we have seen Dall’s porpoises surfacing and orcas cruising for salmon. The next day, depending on the tides and winds, we’ll either stroke along the shore of Vancouver Island toward the reserve (which is off limits to boats) or start a two-mile crossing of Johnstone Straight for additional sightings. After landing on the east side of Johnstone Strait and with favorable weather conditions, a hike takes us up to the top of Eagle Eye Bluff to relish the view and hopefully talk with a local warden and staff of an orca observation station. Returning to shore we let the weather and tides dictate if we paddle farther or camp on Hanson Island in time for a delicious dinner. Although we cannot 100% guarantee you’ll see orcas, this is the time of year when they concentrate in the Johnstone Strait area, so viewing them from camp and on the water is quite likely and very exciting.
On days three through five, we leave behind most people and boats to explore the island maze of Broughton Archipelago Marine Provincial Park, where we may see distant spouts of humpback whales. Established in 1992 the provincial park is home to seals, harbor porpoises, sea lions and sea otters. River otters, mink and raccoons can often be seen playing along the shoreline, coastal black-tailed deer are common and black bears can sometimes be seen.Over this multi-day period we’ll have time to slow the pace and observe bird rookeries, learn about the area’s fascinating aboriginal, 19th- and 20th-century human historym and take short hikes in old-growth forests. At camp we may drop a crab pot or fishing line for additions to our dinner. You’ll also observe an uncommon but controversial element of the modern British Colombia seascape -- fish farms. That Atlantic salmon you get from your hometown store may be from one of these. You’ll learn about fish farm influences on wild Pacific salmon and the ocean environment. On one of the days we’ll observe Indian rock art on a cliff and then respectfully explore Village Island and the remains of a long house, which held old-time Potlatch’s, a grand scale gift-giving festival and legal and economic event practiced by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada. We hope to meet with a local First Nation resident to hear about their history and perspective on the area. On day six we have paddled our way to near Echo Bay, a remote outpost rich in Anglo history, where we load our kayaks on a water taxi for a return to Telegraph Cove and the trip’s end. A no-host dinner in TC that evening caps a wonderful trip.
This trip is designed for hardy individuals with wilderness camping experience. You must have had prior (sea) kayaking experience to participate in the trip (see Trip Difficulty below). We may paddle by kayak up to 10 miles in a day through mostly protected waters, but could encounter strong currents and two-foot waves large enough to wash over the deck. We all must make a two-mile crossing of exposed water. Your experienced licensed guides will read the tide and weather conditions, and choose the most appropriate route at the time. Proper pre-trip conditioning (see Trip Difficulty below) is important for your enjoyment and safety. The weather in coastal Canada can be rainy (that is why wildflowers are so abundant and tall!) and cool. You need to be very well prepared with personal equipment and in attitude/expectations about the weather. Proper raingear and tent are essential (a gear checklist will be sent to you). When the sun comes out the landscape becomes even more surreal, and we peel off the layers. This is a shared experience so all participants join in carrying group food and gear in their kayaks and in preparing camp. We will be using two-person kayaks for increased stability and safety (see Equipment below for limited option of a single kayak).
Your Sierra Club leader has over 20 years of kayaking experience and has participated in or led many sea kayaking and rafting trips into the wilds of Alaska and western Canada. The professional guides for the trip are licensed and have had many years of sea kayaking experience in Johnstone Strait and Broughton Archipelago. They are very willing to share their love and knowledge of this area and help you become a more confident and inspired kayaker.
Pre-trip: On Saturday, August 10 we'll have a pre-trip meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the lobby of the Whale Interpretive Center, 26 Boardwalk, Telegraph Cove, Vancouver Island, Canada. Learn trip details, receive your dry bags and enjoy a private tour and discussion with the Whale Interpretive Center staff. The guides will take your sleeping bag, pad, and small backpacking-sized tent and pack them for you in a kayak for the next day. You are strongly encouraged to stay overnight in Telegraph Cove as the next closest town is Port McNeil (18 miles away) and a no-host taxi is available but expensive.
Day 1: After you eat breakfast on your own on Sunday, August 11, we meet you 8:30 a.m. at the Telegraph Cove boat launch ramp next to the RV park. You will receive a thorough safety discussion and kayak orientation. Once all the gear is loaded we begin paddling along the east shore of Vancouver Island. After rest breaks and a 6- to 7-mile paddle, we reach camp near Kaikash Creek. We unload the kayaks, gear, and food, then carry them above the high water mark and set up camp. Guides prepare a hearty dinner, and afterward you can sit around a crackling campfire talking about the day and anticipating tomorrow.
Day 2: Today the guides look at the weather and tidal conditions and decide when to make the two-mile crossing of Johnstone Strait. Orcas roam all parts of the Strait and can be seen anytime during the day. Once on the other side of the Strait we’ll hike up to Robson Bight overlook to relish the view and hopefully talk with Preserve wardens. We’ll return to the boats and guides will lead us to camp at Hanson Island. The evening will include dinner, free time, and socializing. We may cover 6-8 miles today.
Days 3-5: After your favorite hot beverage and a tasty breakfast each day we will pack up and jump into the kayaks and explore the forested islands, rich intertidal zone, hidden coves, big beaches, and narrow passages in Broughton Archipelago Marine Park, Blackfish Sound, and Retreat Passage. Our stops and camps can vary depending on tides, wildlife, weather and group desires, but we will always try to visit the First Nation archeological sites at Compton or Village Island, as well as a fish farm. Days are typically several hours of paddling before lunch and somewhat shorter kayaking sessions in the afternoon before arriving in camp in the late afternoon. Evening is for dinner and a campfire or just a time to relax, view wildlife, walk in the rainforest, drop a fishing line, or read a book.
Day 6: On Friday, August 16, we’ll paddle for a few hours toward the remote outpost of Echo Bay and meet our water taxi for a ride back to Telegraph Cove, arriving about 3 p.m. After unloading our kayaks and gear you’ll walk back to your lodging in TC or be shuttled to the Haida Way Inn in Port McNeil. Here the trip officially ends. But after a warm shower, you and the entire group and guides are invited to a no-host dinner in Telegraph Cove.
We recommend that you do not make plans to fly out of Vancouver any earlier than 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 17. Our plan is to get into Telegraph Cove in the late afternoon on the 16th, and you will want to rest and clean up before dinner and travel the next day. Additionally, experienced Canadian backcountry travelers always leave at least one day leeway on either side of a trip to accommodate any sudden changes in weather or things taking longer than expected. We cannot guarantee you will arrive at Telegraph Cove at a specific time on August 16 and it is a minimum of 9 hours driving and ferry time to reach either Vancouver or Victoria airports (see section on Getting There).
Travel into Canada by USA citizens requires a passport and usually an international flight and transit through Customs and Immigration. This trip begins and ends in Telegraph Cove (TC), northern Vancouver Island, Canada. You have two realistic alternatives to directly access Telegraph Cove: A) automobile; or B) small regional aircraft.
Access by automobile: The very small harbor village of Telegraph Cove (TC) and the nearby small working harbor town of Port McNeil are accessible by paved roads from Victoria airport or by a combination of ferry service and road from Vancouver. From either Victoria or Vancouver it is a long travel day. If you are flying into Victoria you can rent a car and drive north on Highway 19 to just before Port McNeil where the paved Telegraph Cove Road leads to the TC harbor. Total travel time from Victoria to TC is about 8 hours and there are no ferries needed. If you are flying into Vancouver airport you must rent a car and drive about 45-60 minutes to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal (arrive 30 minutes prior to departure). The car ferry to Duke Point Terminal in the city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island takes about two hours and costs $51.70 each way for a small car and $15.70 per adult in 2012. It is then a four-hour drive to Telegraph Cove or Port McNeil. Pubic bus service is not realistic, as there is only one early morning bus from Nanaimo to Port McNeil. The Port McNeil Taxi provides service to Telegraph Cove.
The Sierra Club leader will be trying to organize carpools from Vancouver to help reduce costs and fuel consumption. Let the leader know if you are willing to share a rental car with one or two others, or if you desire to ride with another person on the trip.
Access by airplane: There is a full schedule of flights into Vancouver International Airport and they cost about $100 less than flights to Victoria in 2012. But if driving a rental car from the City of Vancouver you must use the BC ferry which will cost you about $136 round trip to get to/from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. If flying into Victoria, look into WestJet as well as the other carriers.
The quickest way to access Port McNeil from Vancouver is via the Pacific Coastal Airlines, a small regional air carrier that fly’s into Port Hardy, located about an half hour’s drive north of Port McNeil, but these can be very expensive. Several companies at Port Hardy offer rental cars to get you to Telegraph Cove. There is currently no direct regularly scheduled air service to Port McNeil.
Accommodations and Food
The trip meeting place is in the lobby of the Whale Interpretive Center in the small village of Telegraph Cove. You are strongly encouraged to stay overnight in Telegraph Cove (TC) as the next closest town is Port McNeil (18 miles away) and a no-host taxi is available but expensive. Within easy walking distance of the Center are the following accommodations:
Telegraph Cove Resort Historic Cabins. Located on or near the waterfront, each cabin sleeps two to six persons and is self-contained with bathroom and fully furnished kitchen (no phone or television). Highly recommended because of their scenic location, historic flair and proximity to meeting place. Only a few cabins are available so advanced reservations are a must. Costs in 2012: $115 for cabin sleeping two; $260 for cabin sleeping four; or cabin sleeping six is $260. Phone: 1(800) 200-4665. Email: email@example.com
Dockside 29 Hotel and Suites in Telegraph Cove. The only motel in the village. Newer rooms right on the water. Rooms starting at $146 in 2012. Close to meeting place. Phone: 250-928-3161 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Telegraph Cove Campsite. A forested campground with 120 sites, a short walk from the waterfront. Showers. Phone: 1(800) 200-4665. Email: email@example.com .
The town of Port McNeill is located 18 miles from Telegraph Cove and has a limited contingent of stores and below is a selection of accommodations there.
Haida Way Inn, Port McNeil. A basic but clean motel with restaurant and liquor store. Convenient if you have a rental car. Room with two queen beds was $109 in 2012. Phone 866-599-6674.
At Water’s Edge B&B, Port McNeil. A very nicely furnished new facility with separate bed rooms each with bathroom and a scenic location on the beach. Knowledgeable friendly owners. $125 in 2012. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hidden Cove Lodge, Port McNeil. A more remote facility in a scenic waterfront setting. Higher level of service. $175 in 2012. Phone (250) 956-3916
All food from lunch on August 12 through August 17 will be provided. While camping, the meals will be hearty and varied with foods that can still be prepared over small camp stoves, within the limitations of what our kayaks can hold. There will be no ice chests, and we will focus on easy-to-prepare items that are still tasty and fun. Vegetarians can be accommodated, so check with the trip leader first if you have dietary restrictions.
Guides will prepare meals but participants clean their own dishes. Participants will share equally in carrying group food and gear in each kayak.
Kayaking is a wonderful way to explore the wild and often otherwise inaccessible Canadian coastline. It requires boating skills and experience, stamina and preparation. Although our paddles will not likely be more than 10 miles in a day, the variables of a two-mile open water crossing, weather, potentially strong winds, and currents merit a moderate difficulty rating for this outing. Adequate pre-trip fitness preparation, paying particular attention to shoulder, arm, torso, abdominal and back muscles is essential and will enhance your enjoyment. If not already doing so, at least two months prior to the trip you must have a rigorous weekly exercise regime, including lifting weights and doing stretches focusing on the upper body. It is highly recommended that you paddle a kayak or canoe at least once just prior to the trip.
The trip is open to adult participants who are comfortable with wilderness camping in a possibly rainy environment. You must have previous kayaking experience and we can take people with moderate kayak experience. In particular, you must know how to swim, be experienced and comfortable with paddling in waves large enough to wash over the deck. You must be reasonably fit, can paddle up to 10 miles per day and sit with your legs in an extended position for a couple of hours at a time, without physical limitations. You should be comfortable around water, enjoy being in a small boat surrounded by cold water, beautiful scenery, possibly cool air, and just inches above a deep ocean. A PFD or life jacket is provided and must be worn at all times while on the water. Your guides will offer suggestions to make it fun and help you become a more confident paddler during the trip
When possible, we will go for hikes while on land, which could last an hour or two. Additionally, everyone needs to be able to help with the carrying of gear and boats up and down the beach each day as we set up or take down a camp. This is hard work, and can be difficult after a day of paddling, yet it is also a great way to build camaraderie among all of us. Despite the effort required, being in proximity to whales, marine birds, and cedar-covered islands will make it all worthwhile.
Equipment and Clothing
We will be camping in the wilderness every night. You will need to bring your own small high-quality tent, sleeping bag and pad, or rent it in Telegraph Cove. You must notify your Sierra Club leader at least one month in advance if you want to rent gear. Your tent must be very rainproof, and your sleeping bag must be synthetic rather than down so that you remain warm even if the bag gets damp. Optional rental package of sleeping bag, pad and high quality tent is $75. You must provide your own paddling and camping clothing. You are provided a two-person kayak that is shared with another person, paddle, life jacket, spray skirt, rescue float, and bilge pump. Single kayaks may be available for very experienced paddlers only (kayaking experience log will be required) with two month advanced reservations, approval of the Sierra Leader, there is an additional $70 single kayak charge, and you still must carry some group gear.
Detailed lists of recommended clothing and gear will be sent to participants after they have registered for the trip. Most of this will be similar to what you would need for a fall backpacking trip, but a few more items are needed to stay warm and dry on the water.
- Broughton Strait, Marine Chart #3546. British Columbia Hydrographic Service.
- Johnstone Strait and the Broughtons Recreation Map. Wavelength Magazine. www.wavelengthmagazine.com.
- The Wild Coast: Volume 2: A Kayaking, Hiking and Recreational Guide for the North and Central B.C. Coast. This is not particularly helpful for our trip, but is good if you plan to kayak more at other locations along the island at a later time.
- Morton, Alexandra, Listening to Whales. 2002. Ballentine Books. This is an absolute must read for this trip if you want to learn about orca whales from a renowned whale protection researcher and activist who lives in the area. It is an easy read, non-scientific story of her research starting at urban marine parks and then research and her home among the giants of the Broughton Archipelago. Much of the book is centered in the area we will be visiting.
- Proctor, Bill and Yvonne Maximchuk, Full Moon Flood Tide. 2003. Harbour Publishing. Another great book about the very area we will be kayaking through. It is a personal history of the Broughton Archipelago we will be kayaking in by whom many consider to be a coastal legend. He tells short stories of Native cultures and early European settlers, loggers and fishermen, many of which he knew, and shows how he has become an advocate for protecting the area. Although it may be a little tough reading before the trip, during and after our kayaking you may really enjoy this if you like history.
- Fisher, Robin and Gary Fiegehen, Vancouver's Voyage: Charting the Northwest Coast, 1791–1795. 1992. Published by Douglas & McIntyre.
- Troll, Ray and Amy Gulick, Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska’s Tongass Rainforest. 2010. A beautifully illustrated book on the lives salmon and the rain forest.
- Hansen, Dr. James, Storms of our Grand Children. Considered one of the best books on climate change by a world-renowned climate expert who has served as a consultant on the subject to three presidents.
“If we are to preserve any wilderness for generations after us, we have to understand that animals and plants have a right to life, not a right based on what makes money for us.” - Bill Proctor, Full Moon Flood Tide
We will place an emphasis on learning opportunities and conservation of orca whales and other marine mammals (porpoises, seals, sea lions). This area is renowned for its seasonal migration of orcas. Some research suggests their life span is half of what it was fifty years ago and a number of organizations are conducting studies to find out why. Inevitably, the questions arise on the health of the ocean, the effects of ocean temperature changes and other human activities are having on the delicately balanced life cycles of marine mammals, salmon, birds, jellies and plankton. Another controversial issue in coastal Canada is the decline in the number of returning wild salmon and what effects fish farms are having. The trip provides a wonderful chance to learn about these issues.
We’ll also need to think about how close we can come to whales and wildlife without disturbing them. Getting too close or chasing a whale to get that ultimate photo can be harmful to them, even in a kayak. Our group will adhere to the “Be Whale Wise” marine wildlife viewing guidelines for boaters.
Through much of Vancouver Island you will see forest clear cuts. What have these past actions done to the forest and animals that depend on it?
Issues beyond our immediate trip area will be raised, as British Columbia is a huge area of rich resources that have not always been utilized with conservation for the future in mind. Our discussions will roam from fisheries, to mining, to permafrost thaw and rising ocean levels, to lifestyle changes of First Nation people and more. Bring your favorite topics and local issues along to share!
Notes for Sierra Club Outings
- Carbon Offsets
- Electronic Billing and Forms
- Electronic Devices
- How to Apply for a Trip
- Leader Gratuities
- Liability Release and Assumption of Risk
- Medical Issues
- Non-discrimination Statement
- Participant Approval
- Reservation and Cancellation Policy
- Seller of Travel Disclosure
- Travel Insurance
- Trip Feedback
- Trip Price
- Wilderness Manners