When I was much younger (maybe early teens?) my Dad took my younger brother on a trip to Alberta and I was more than a little jealous. I asked him where he was going to take me for a trip and he told he’d been looking into kayaking trips in British Colombia with Orca whales. It sounded like a dream trip and I was more than a little excited but the trip never came to fruition. Fast forward to me as an adult; shortly after giving birth to my youngest son I’ll admit I was going a little stir-crazy so when talking with my Dad one day I asked when we were going to go on that “promised” kayaking trip! I told him we needed to plan it and just go and that I’d be ready to leave the kids for a week in summer 2019 (this was in 2016) because I figured my youngest would be weaned and I hoped I’d be okay leaving my 3 boys behind by then.
Fall of 2018 I started hassling my Dad about this trip again so he was researching tour operators. We decided to go in August and booked a 3 day tour with North Island Kayak. At first I was disappointed, thinking that 3 days was not long enough and thinking we should be kayaking for the whole week. Now that the trip is over, I can honestly say 3 days was the perfect amount of time and I’m glad he had that foresight!
We arrived in Victoria, BC on a Thursday and my Dad had a car rental booked for the week so we hopped in and headed to Victoria’s Old Town. My Dad is pretty awesome for looking for hotels that are maybe “outside the norm” so he had booked our first night at James Bay Inn. The hotel is the third oldest hotel in Victoria and quite beautiful. The room was spacious, clean and comfortable and the front desk staff were very friendly and helpful. We spent the afternoon and evening walking around Old Town, checking out the harbour and street vendors. We decided to eat in Chinatown which happens to be the oldest Chinatown in Canada and one of the oldest in North America.
The next morning we began our long drive north towards where our kayak tour would be taking place. The drive was a little over 5 hours but that stretched into a bit longer because my Dad loves to make an adventure out of everything. So when he saw signs for a trestle bridge he took a quick left and headed way off-course so we could go see the trestle. We finally arrived at the walking path to the Kinsol Trestle and walked about 1km to see it. To be honest, I didn’t know what a trestle bridge was and seeing it was pretty cool. It was a great chance to get out of the car for a bit before continuing our journey.
We arrived in Telegraph Cove just before North Island Kayak closed for the day so we could grab our dry bags to pack before going on the kayak trip the next morning. That night we stayed at Cluxewe Resort in a cabin that sat right next to a pebble beach overlooking the ocean. It was absolutely beautiful and we went for a long walk along the beach to look for cool rocks to bring home for the kids. That was our first sighting of Bald Eagles on this trip too and we saw lots of crabs and other birds too. The cabin was perfect and spacious enough for a family too, complete with a little kitchen. I slept in the loft and the bed was super comfy, I had one of my best sleeps there!
Bright and early on Saturday morning we drove to Telegraph Cove and had breakfast burritos at the Seahorse Café which were delicious. Then we went over to meet our guide Gareth and the rest of the people who would be traveling with us. As it turned out, it was quite the “family oriented” trip as there were two other pairs going with us – one a mother and daughter and one a father and son. We had an intro on how to paddle and get suited up in our spray skirt and life jacket then we packed our kayaks and hopped in. One thing that concerned me the most about this trip is that I get severe motion sickness very easily so I had taken Gravol as a preventative (the natural ginger one) and also had the Gravol that makes you sleepy close by! We were able to pack one larger dry bag in the storage area of the kayak and one smaller dry bag that was near our feet and accessible on the water. I found it to be more than enough room for everything I needed for the trip.
When we started out the water was like glass – it was so smooth and peaceful, it was a perfect start to the morning. It wasn’t long before our guide pointed out humpback whale spouts in the distance so we paddled over as quickly as possible to the area where they were seen. There are regulations on how close you can get to whales so we kept an appropriate distance but it was still close enough to be in absolute amazement as the mother and calf were diving and coming up for air all around us. We must have sat there taking photos and video for about an hour or more before we headed off to see what other animals we could spot. As we were paddling Gareth shouted out “Orcas!” and pointed in the distance to where a pod of transient orcas were. We started paddling like crazy to get closer to them and would have made it if two large motor boats hadn’t come speeding through and scared them off. So I didn’t get close enough to get a photo but I did see their gorgeous dorsal fins and almost died with excitement.
We stopped for a bathroom break (see: trying to find a secluded spot in the woods to squat) and lunch on an island. Lunch was Greek salad pitas, veggies with hummus, grapes, cookies and chips. I was surprised at all the food, I assumed we’d be eating somewhat light for this trip. After lunch we got back into our gear and our kayaks and headed out again. We saw so many bald eagles and seals and we found more humpback whales too! It was truly an amazing day. We ended at one of North Island Kayak’s base camps on a really quiet island that my Dad and I explored before dinner. Again, I was shocked by dinner; baked brie and crackers, fruit, roasted garlic and jelly for a pre-dinner snack and then stuffed portobello mushrooms with wild rice and grilled veggies. For those who weren’t vegetarian there was smoked salmon in lieu of the stuffed mushrooms. The food was absolutely delicious and so needed after a full day kayaking! The camp set up was fairly basic; tents on wooden platforms with mattress pads and there was an outhouse for bathroom breaks. There was no one else on the island so the only sounds were from the animals (we heard humpbacks splashing through the night) and the occasional boat.
In the morning we had a full breakfast (breakfast burritos) and after packing and cleaning up we headed out paddling again. Within the first few minutes of paddling we came to two seals who were so curious about us that they were swimming right up to and under our boats. I have a video of one of them swimming right under us and rubbing their belly along the bottom of our kayak, it was absolutely incredible. That was the closest animal encounter we had on the trip but certainly not the only! That day we saw more humpback whales, bald eagles, seals and then we even saw sea lions! We stopped for lunch on an island that had a huge smooth rock surface and because I was feeling slightly seasick I laid down on the rock for a snooze before lunch. From the island we watched another humpback whale while we ate lunch!
Unfortunately that afternoon my motion sickness would not let up and although I tried to paddle as best I could, I was pretty useless by the end of the day. At one point we stopped to watch a black bear mom and cub on an island flipping rocks over to eat the crabs beneath and, although I took lots of video, I was so sick at that point that it was hard to appreciate. Gareth saw that we were falling a bit behind the group as my Dad tried to pick up my slack so he came and tied onto our kayak to help us out for the last 15-20 minutes to camp. One neat thing about North Island Kayak is that they have several different base camps so you aren’t going back to the same spot each night – you have more freedom to go where the animals are. Camp that night was on the same island as the black bears (which meant I didn’t get up for a middle of the night bathroom break!) but it was a large island and we didn’t see them again. We did get to see another pod of Orcas, this time the Northern Resident Orcas (according to our extremely knowledgeable guide Gareth) and although they were a good distance away it was still beautiful to see them and know they were around. After dinner (which was vegan and crazy delicious) I tried to enjoy the campfire for a bit but the motion sickness won out and I went early to bed with some gravol on board.
By morning I was almost back to normal and ready for our last day on the kayak. That day we came really close to a couple of sea lions who popped up beside our kayaks unexpectedly and a humpback whale happened right along our path so we were super close without having meant to be. It was a surreal experience and hard to paddle away when they were that close. We did have to get back to Telegraph Cove though and the weather wasn’t the greatest that afternoon. We had to deal with rain (luckily it was the first time that trip) and some choppy water and on top of that it was day 3 of kayaking so we were sore and tired too. But we made it eventually and our kayak trip came to an end. I would highly recommend North Island Kayak for anyone wanting to try out the same experience. They were extremely organized, our guide was friendly and so knowledgeable, the food was incredible, they couldn’t have made the trip much more perfect. The other people on our tour were also awesome – it was so interesting to learn more about their lives and countries (they were from Ecuador and Germany) and they were so engaging and friendly, they made the trip even better.
That night we didn’t have a hotel pre-booked so we headed to Port McNeill and managed to get a room at the Black Bear Resort. I was very excited that the bathroom had a bathtub so I could soak for a while and also shower after 3 days of no running water! My arms were crazy sore that night – I think I must have been gripping the paddle way too hard because of the rain and rougher water that afternoon. I was pretty happy we had only booked the 3 day trip – a 6 or 7 day kayak trip would have been way too much for me!
The next day we headed back south to Port Alberni. On the way we made a few stops for hikes through the woods and we had to check out Goats On The Roof in Coombs which is, just as it sounds, goats that live on the roof of a restaurant there! It was a very popular touristy spot so very busy in all the surrounding shops but I picked up some sweaters for my kiddos and we had some ice cream before getting back in the car. When we got to Port Alberni I found out that we would be spending the next two nights at Swept Away Inn B&B which happens to be a tug boat. I’m fairly certain my Dad underestimated the extent of my motion sickness. The owners of the boat are a lovely couple who actually came from Peterborough, Ontario which is quite close to where I grew up – small world! The room we had was quite cozy with single bunk beds and the washrooms (one half bath and one with a shower stall) are shared with the other visitors but it was clean and the beds were fairly comfortable and surprisingly the boat was quiet for sleeping too. I did have to take a lot of Gravol over those 2 nights (I went through almost a whole bottle that week!) but “it was an experience” as my Dad would say!
Our last full day we drove to Ucluelet and Tofino which everyone talks about as a great tourist destination. Ucluelet had beautiful walking trails along the coast – we did one that was just under 3km. Tofino was more of a touristy/surfing community as far as we could tell and we didn’t spend a lot of time there before heading back to Port Alberni for our last night. On the way we, of course, stopped for another hike through the woods. The cedar trees in BC are something to see – hundreds and hundreds of years old just enormous – my Dad had to pat each of the big ones on our way past. Both nights in Port Alberni we ended up eating at Porto Taco as there were few options within walking distance of the boat and almost everything closes by 7pm. Porto Taco had delicious veggie tacos though and I ordered the same thing both nights!
Bright and early on Thursday we were heading back to the airport in Victoria. The whole week had gone by crazy fast and before I knew it my hubby was picking us up at Pearson in Toronto. I’m so grateful to my Dad for making this trip a priority and planning it all out. It was better than I could have expected and something I’ll always remember that we did, just the two of us.