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Sea Kayaking – Vancouver Island

Sea Kayaking in British Columbia

One of the great places to go sea kayaking is of the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia and as this is also one of the best places to see Orcas in the wild there are a number of tour companies offering trips in the region.

I booked a trip with Wildheart Adventures, the only reason being that they had a trip with space for the period that I wanted to paddle. The only problem was that the trip starts at Telegraph Cove which is on the North East of Vancouver Island, there is no train service and only an infrequent bus service, after mentioning to the company that I wanted to go on the trip they put me in touch with a couple already booked on the trip who where driving up from San Diegoand so I found myself standing at the ferry terminal at HorshoeBay Vancouver on a Saturday morning looking out for white 350 Ford van with California plates. About half an hour before the ferry was due I spotted a van in the traffic and approached, Roz opened the side door and I threw my rucksack in and climbed in after it, introductions done we drove on to the 10.30 boat.

The ferry only takes an hour but the rest of the day was spent driving up the Island. After arriving at a motel close to Telegraph Cove we bumped into out guides by accident, Michael and Jordan, well at least there would be no problems remember their names.

The trip starts early on a Sunday morning, after arriving a Telegraph Cove you pick a kayak, there where only a couple of singles, the others doubles, I bagged a single and loaded all my kit in the boat. I travelled light as I would have to paddle the kit round for the next 6 daysand I wanted to load some beers as well. After an initial safety talk from Jordan it was time to carry the boats to the water, a real effort as they where loaded with all the supplies for 12 people for the next 6 days.

After only an hour or so in the boats we pulled into a beach for lunch before paddling another 2 hours to where we would camp for the next two nights


The first full day of paddling saw us crossing Johnstone Straights, this can take a couple of hours depending upon winds and tides, but its a pretty straight forward paddle, just dodging the odd cruise ship that use the Straights on their way down to Vancouver.

After spending the afternoon lazing on a beach whilst some of the group went for a walk it was time to paddle back to our campsite. A short time after arriving back Jordan let out a cry of killer whales in the bay, I grabbed my camera and ran to the top of some rocks towards the edge of the bay, I was greeted by the sight of about half a dozen huge dorsal fins breaking the water as the Orcas swept past about 200 yards off shore. We had been told that we were just up the coast from the famous rubbing rocks in the Whale preserve of Robson Bite and as we watched three Orcas altered their course and headed directly towards the rocks that most of the group were now standing on.

No one knows why the Orcas rub the rocks, and to be honest I didnt care as I watched the Orcas swim by at no more than ten feet away, just glancing off the rock, Roz could have leant over and touched them as she sat right at the waters edge, its an amazing experience seeing such huge creatures at close quarters in the wild.

As they moved away yet more Orcas passed us by, somewhere in the region of thirty to forty, which by all accounts is a very large group. We watched the Orcas until they where nearly out of sight, well past our bay heading into the sunset when we were treated to a couple of tail splashes and then the grand finale as a full grown adult breached leaping clean out of the water, I still had my camera around my neck so I just grabbed it and focused on a spot, when out it came again, click, and I got the picture, at least thats what I hoped, I had to wait over a week to get the film developed to see if I had captured the moment, luckily I did.

Over the next couple of days we moved our campsite to the other side of Johnstone Straight and Blackfish Sound, staying on the native Indian owned Swanson Island. We paddled to around other Islands visiting an abandoned Indian settlement at Mamalilaculla, hearing what it would have been like to have been a native in these parts in days gone by from Tom a local native entrepreneur.

Mike managed to scavenge a freshly caught Sockeye Pacific Salmon one evening from a couple of local fisherman, this was duly BBQd and was a real treat in a fantastic food week. Mike and Jordan served up meal after excellent meal. No one was going to go hungry on this trip.

On the penultimate day of paddling we were up early to catch the tide in Blackfish Sound, this expanse of water narrows causing a huge tidal rush that would have seen any of us swept away and a long paddle back. As we paddled across the Sound the guides heard over their radios that some Orcas had entered the Sound, we paddled quickly over to the last third of the Sound to be as close as possible as they swam by.

We watched the dorsal fins as they approached, appearing at regular intervals, then for 5 minutes they disappeared, to re appear closer still, we stopped paddling and took pictures, as they swam by at no more that fifty yards. Then it was a mad dash to get out of the approaching tidal rip and to the safety of the calmer shore waters. Some of us stopped for a P break only to miss a Transient swim by, we saw it from the beach but Mike who had stayed on the water was treated to a close up inspection of this lone Orca. Transients are Orcas, but genetically different from those we had seen already, they are loners and have a totally different diet, eating mammals such as seals as opposed to their fish eating relatives.

We just made it out of the Sound with the onset of the tidal rip which created a nerve wracking eddy line to be crossed before we reached calmer waters, all of us had our moments as we crossed the eddy line but thankfully there where no swimmers. Today was a lengthy paddle back to the Blinkhorn Peninsula to be close to Telegraph Cove for the last half day of the trip.

After arriving a the last campsite and pitching the tents, Jordan built a huge fire, throwing in large rocks to heat up. A wig wam type steam house was then quickly built. After dinner those who wanted to partake climbed into the steam room which was filled with glowing red hot rocks and a bowl of sea water, just such a shame that we didnt have any beers to finish off and excellent week.

The last morning is a short paddle back to Telegraph Cove, civilisation and more importantly BEER, with the group pictures out of the way and having swapped email addresses I caught a lift back down the Island, before catching the bus and ferry back to the mainland that night.

Trips like this cater for all, with shorter 3 day trips available, no paddling experience is necessary, for more information, visit, the trip described was the Johnston Straights 6 day Orca tour, although they cannot guarantee you will see Orcas. Our guides Mike and Jordan were excellent, full of useful and not so useful information, some great stories were exchanged, if you ever bump into Jordan, get him to tell you the wolf story, it makes you glad we only have hedgehogs and badgers in this country.