Tuesday, 25 December 2012

BC Kayak Trip - 2007

It was after a canoe trip to Obabika Lake in the Temagami area in 2006 with our friends Bob and Allie where the idea of a west coast kayak trip was first mentioned by Bob and Allie. They had just completed an east coast trip on the north end of Newfoundland and wondered if we’d be interested in a trip. Well it was an instant starter for us – we had planned a kayaking trip for our 25th anniversary but life got in the way and it never happened but we always kept it high on the list of “to do”.
Bob had been given a great review of a 6 day whale watching trip in Johnstone Strait on the northern coast of Vancouver Island and it was decided to contact the outfitter and gather information on the logistics of a trip for the next summer. Long story short – the trip was booked for the following July. It was nice to know the dates etc as Jan and I sold our house to buy a smaller house and we managed to arrange the closing dates for the week following our return from BC!

The trip was booked with Pacific Northwest Expeditions in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. This was to be the first guided trip of any kind that Jan and I had ever taken although we have been canoeing and pursuing outdoor activities for many years. It was fun getting ready for the trip. We had all the gear required for this trip but we needed more dry bags suitable to pack our gear in and for packing in a kayak hull’s tight spaces. It’s not quite as simple as canoeing – get a big portage pack and throw it all in, do it up and head out! Kayaking involves smaller bags that will need to fit into the hatches and spaces in the kayak hull. However, acquiring more gear is always a good thing in my books and the company’s suggested gear lists are comprehensive and informative. Come July we finished off all the legal paperwork for the house deals and we packed for the trip, met Bob and Allie and flew to Comox on the island where we rented a van and headed north for Port McNeil where we’d spend the night before meeting our guides at Telegraph Cove just south of town for our orientation and departure. It had been almost 25 years since I had last been on the island although Jan had been a couple times on teaching trips and she had managed to fit in a bit of day trip kayaking on Quadra Island on her last trip.

The first day of the trip dawned overcast and drizzling – hey it’s the BC coast eh! We had a quick breakfast and headed south to Telegraph Cove where we met with Brian the company owner and our two guides – Kerry and Ian. After completing the necessary paperwork we were introduced to Marcela and Marycela from Mexico who where also traveling with our group. A quick orientation, fitting of PFD’s, helping with the loading of the kayaks ensued and we finally hit the water for our adventure.

We had booked the 6 day Johnstone Strait trip with its emphasis on killer and humpback whale watching along with the other abundant marine mammal life such as porpoises and sea lions and many species of birds. The company maintains a couple of private camp areas (Spyhop Point on Johnstone Strait and another on Blackfish Sound at the southern limits of the Broughton Archipelago) complete with tent accommodations, kitchen, sitting and toilet facilities. We exited Telegraph Cove and turned to the southeast down the strait heading for the camp at Spyhop Point. The weather was a mix of overcast skies and intermittent drizzle for much of the day. Kerry and Ian provided us a running commentary on the sights and wildlife we observed while in transit to the camp. Upon arrival everyone pitched in to help with unloading the kayaks and in setting up tents etc. Our trip was a combination of base camping with day trips and then a day was spent moving across Johnstone Strait through Blackney Passage and onto their other campsite on Blackfish Sound. After lunch we paddle for a few hours down the coastline seeing the sites and watching for whales. That evening after dark the phenomena of bioluminescence is active in the waters around camp and we enjoy watching the phenomena up close from the kayaks in the dark.

Morning dawns to the smell of cedar from the chips used to smooth out the tent pads and the sound of gentle waves under another grey sky. Kerry is already up preparing breakfast and I head down to the kitchen sitting area for a few cups of excellent coffee and watch the day come to life around us. This becomes a highly anticipated daily ritual for me and one I never tire of. After cleaning up we again head down the strait for a day of exploration. We kayak to the edge of the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve where the killer whales come to rub themselves on the pebble beach shorelines in the bight. Retreating up the coast a short way we land and Kerry and Ian prepare another excellent meal while we relax, beach comb and take pictures. The small cove area also has a small stream falling off the mountainous areas and after lunch we climb up to some of the small cascades. The area is a lush rainforest and as green as green can be – quite magical and the photos I take can’t adequately capture the essence of the area. As the day progresses the weather begins change and the sun begins to poke through the overcast with a hint of things to come.

The following morning is again partially clouded making for a colourful sunrise over the strait. As we are sitting with coffee the loud nasal sounds of whales blowing reaches us and shortly a small pod of killer whales pass the camp down bound the strait. We take photos and Kerry deploys the hydrophones he carries on the trip and we can listen to the whales vocalising amongst themselves and others as they travel. Several porpoises also appear travelling the strait.

The day turns to one of brilliant sunny skies and we head off for a day trip to Hanson Island to hike in the rainforest to an ancient Red Cedar tree. The tree is estimated to be 1100 – 1300 years old and it takes 8 of us to join hands to encircle the large trunk. The forest is green and lush with tall Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir along with the cedars and many kinds of ferns – small and tall and everything in between. After a leisurely shore lunch we again head back across the strait to camp. Johnstone Strait is the main shipping channel up and down the BC coast and there is always a multitude of boats and ships moving about. We watch freighters, tugs with barges, cruise ships, fishing boats and pleasure craft at all hours of the day transiting the strait. After another great meal and an evening campfire we retire for night with the plan of moving tomorrow from Spyhop Point to another camp over on Blackfish Sound.

Moving day! Everyone is up and pitches in to pack the tents and water and food in preparation for kayaking to the new camp. The plan is to kayak across Johnstone Strait to Growler Cove and have lunch. We will then paddle up the east shore and time our arrival at Blackney Passage to coincide with the slack tide to facilitate our passage into Blackfish Sound. We first head easterly to the small inlet and have lunch and a rest and then head up to Blackney Passage. As we paddle along we come across a rock which is covered with sea lions and seagulls basking in the warm afternoon sun. It has been another gorgeous day and everything goes according to plan and we arrive at our new camp in the late afternoon. The new campsite faces west with Hanson Island in the distance across Blackfish Sound. There is an eagle nest nearby and we manage to get a few photos of the immature eaglets and watch the adults as they fly back and forth in front of camp. The eagles keep this up throughout our stay at this camp amusing us with their antics and we come to name it “eagle tv”.

The sound is covered in mist and fog the next morning however it clears off quickly and the promise of another sunny day greats the later risers! We plan on a day paddle north around Swanson Island of the Broughton Archipelago. We pack the lunch kit and we’re off, however the winds are up quite a bit today and rather than head out into exposed water around Swanson Island we head easterly through West Passage and on into Village Channel and the Carey Group of islands. We visit a native pictograph site and also observe a native chief’s cedar burial box from the kayaks. It's a most pleasant day in the protected waters of the islands with the coastal mountain range and their snow covered peaks popping in and out of view as we cruise amongst the islands. After lunch we head back for camp as we round the corner we are greeted by the sight of a female humpback whale and her calf feeding in the sound. We watch the feeding behaviour of the whales from shore for about an hour and half and then watch the whales play. They slap their flukes, roll and the mother even breaches a few times over the next hour or so. Amazing display!

The following morning again dawns with fog, mist and overcast skies. Today is the final day of our trip and we slowly pack up and get ready to cross the sound and head for Telegraph Cove where we will have our final lunch as a group in the restaurant. Although it is overcast with a light mist from time to time there is still lots to see on the way back. A sea lion comes to investigate the group and surprises me by diving and swimming under my kayak, hard to believe that such a large animal that is so ungainly on land can swim so gracefully and effortlessly, almost like it was flying underwater. As it is a slack tide period we poke along the exposed shorelines taking photos of the brightly coloured starfish on the rocks.
All too soon we are back at Telegraph Cove and unloading and helping Kerry and Ian pack the van with the gear before lunch. We enjoy a quick meal with the group and then spend a couple hours visiting the Johnstone Strait Killer Whale Interpretive Centre which is just down the boardwalk from the restaurant. After getting Marcela and Marycela up to Port McNeil where they picked up their luggage and a ride to Port Hardy as they were flying to Vancouver, we headed off to the Black Bear Resort for the night. We plan for a leisurely trip back to the Comox/Courtney area the next day where we do some sightseeing and shopping. Then it was back on the plane home and back to work on Tuesday and prepare to move into our new house on Friday!!

It was an outstanding trip and the company and guides are first class. I would highly recommend them without hesitation – professional, accommodating with client safety and comfort first and foremost. Oh yeah, did I mention the food? It’s to die for!


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