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Kayaking in British Columbia: Here you can encounter giant sea creatures while paddling, watch humpback whales feed, meet the largest sea lion in the world and even see orcas. In this article, Off The Path reveals what moments of happiness are waiting for such a kayaking experience, when is the best time of year and which providers are recommended! 

All adventures have one thing in common: They can hardly be put into words and luck is always waiting at the end – and a very special luck awaits when kayaking in British Columbia.

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It starts with a water taxi

Together with the other participants we load our drybags onto the yellow boat at the small harbor of Port Hardy , a small town in the north of Vancouver Island. The waters of Johnstone Strait are calm, the sun is shining and seagulls are circling overhead.

You can tell from each and every one of us, the excitement, the anticipation. Like when you were a little kid and couldn’t wait to unwrap the presents under the Christmas tree.

Finally everything is on board and our captain starts the engine. Once the water taxi has left the port, the sea gets a little rougher. As if in a speedboat, we roar over the waves, past Port McNeill and Malcolm Island. Telegraph Cove is to our right and this is where the majority of whale watching tours depart from. Especially among orca researchers, Vancouver Island is one of the most important places in the world.

We drive on and keep course for Hanson Island – and sure enough: A few porpoises jump out of the water in front of us and in the distance we even spot a humpback whale!

Which whales will we probably encounter in the next few days?

We move into our camp on Hanson Island

We approach Hanson Island and drive past Weynton Island into a small bay. Our guide Darren is already waiting for us on the beach, now it’s time to unload everything. We form a chain and in no time our drybags are on land.

Sarah takes over and shows us the camp. In addition to a large outdoor kitchen and two toilets, there is even a shower here. In addition, several tents are waiting for us, we move into the “honeymoon tent”: It stands on a wooden platform, from the entrance you have a direct view of the sea and Telegraph Cove opposite. Inside there are two single beds. At the head end, a small table with a lamp separates them from each other.

Vancouver Island: A large green tent stands in the forest under trees.
Our tent at Kingfisher’s Orca Waters Base Camp overlooking the Johnstone Strait.
Vancouver Island: A woman wearing a red jacket sits on a rock overlooking the sea.
Every morning we sit in our favorite spot and watch whales with a cup of coffee in hand.

We walk from our tent to the top of the island and make ourselves comfortable on a huge log. A dull sound catches our attention: it is the blowing of a whale. This time, a giant humpback whale swims right past us, just a few meters from shore.

“Lunch time!” a voice pulls us out of our happiness and a little later we are served a delicious lunch. Then we get ready and walk to the bay where we went ashore this morning. Everyone is assigned a kayak and then our three guides Darren, Sarah and Ben give us an introduction to kayaking.

The wind is blowing too hard, hammocks are waiting for that

As we are about to push our kayaks into the water, Darren whistles at us. The wind has shifted and is now blowing so hard that a kayak tour would not only be less fun, but also dangerous. Disappointed, we push our kayaks back onto land.

The bad mood only lasts for a short time because we discover two hammocks. With jacket, blanket and book we snuggle up inside her. We spend at least two hours hanging in the trees and enjoy just having nothing to do – and just as bad no signal. We move to the other side of the island, lean against a rock in the sun and sink back into our books. This time, too, a voice brings us back to the present: “Appetizers ready!” calls Ben.

Vancouver Island: A person lies in a hammock with a book in hand.
It’s best read in a hammock in the middle of the Canadian wilderness!
Vancouver Island: A woman stands on a rock overlooking the sea.
Telegraph Cove is seen directly from the south-western tip of Hanson Island.

Between appetizers and dinner we spend time at another small bay behind our camp kitchen. With a bottle of beer in hand we just look at the sea until dinner is ready. Fully fed and full of anticipation, we later crawl into our tent.

We paddle to the famous Big Bay

The next day we finally go out with the kayaks. First we do a few exercises, learn to maneuver our kayak. Afterwards we paddle along the south coast of Hanson Island and discover colorful starfish, sea cucumbers and small fish, the water is so clear here. Sure, but cold. One reason why whales and especially orcas like to stay here.

Whale Watching Vancouver Island: Some kayaks line up on the water.
We paddle across the Johnstone Strait, along the wild south shore of Hanson Island.
Kayaking Vancouver Island: A woman from behind on a kayak.
The sun is shining and the sea is calm – perfect kayaking conditions!

We paddle to the southern end of Hanson Island and spot another humpback whale in the distance. On the way back to camp we stop at Big Bay, named after Mr. Big: he invented the method of distinguishing orcas by their dorsal fin. Since then, individuals have been identified worldwide and, unfortunately, we also know that the orca population is much smaller than expected – the animals are even threatened with extinction.We need your approvalThis content is provided by YouTube. By enabling this content, your personal data may be processed by the vendor and cookies may be set.

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While we watched the humpback whales feeding from land yesterday, we are now right in the middle of it. Just a few meters from us, a humpback whale opens its huge mouth – we catch our breath. We continue paddling through the Plumper Islands, past a huge colony of several hundred Steller sea lions, which doesn’t exactly smell good. These animals grow up to three meters tall and weigh a ton, making them the largest sea lion species in the world.

Vancouver Island: sea lions lying on a rock in the sea.
Steller’s sea lions, which weigh up to a ton and can be up to 3 meters tall, are not to be trifled with.
Vancouver Island: An eagle perches in a tree.
We even spot a beautiful bald eagle in the trees on Hanson Island.

Finally we discover the first orcas!

We go ashore on one of the Plumper Islands. At lunch we spot a small group of orcas in the distance and can hardly believe our eyes. But our binoculars confirm what we see: several orcas are swimming just off the coast of Swanson Island opposite.

We immediately pack our things and head into the water with our kayaks. Sarah knows the behavior of the animals and lets us paddle in the opposite direction of Swanson Island. Suddenly a huge orca appears in the distance in front of our kayaks. It must be a transient orca, Sarah tells us. Unlike other orcas, transient orcas feed exclusively on marine mammals.

Our trains are getting stronger, our tingling in our stomachs is getting stronger. To our left we discover two more orcas and it seems as if they are chasing a seal. They are so fast that we can hardly keep up with our kayaks and soon they disappear behind one of the Plumper Islands. Each of us has a huge smile on our face.

Whale Watching Vancouver Island: Two kayakers out at sea with a surfacing orca in the background.
A giant orca appears in front of our kayaks – we’ve all been waiting for this moment!

Every puff means pure luck

In the evening, the next goosebump moment awaits us: together we sit on the rocks of Hanson Island and look out to sea while a small family of orcas pass our camp in the golden light of the setting sun. We all agree: the last evening in the camp could not end better.

Even if it’s only a few minutes, it’s always a moment of happiness and the sound of the whales blowing will forever be remembered with a smile on our faces.

Whale Watching Vancouver Island: Three orca fins stick out of the water.
A small orca family swims past our camp in the golden light of the evening sun.
Whale Watching Vancouver Island: Three orca fins stick out of the water.
Also on the day of departure we are surprised by a small group of orcas!

More information about the kayak adventure

  • There are several providers who have such a kayak adventure in their program. We booked it through Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures  and would highly recommend them. A total of four days and three nights at Kingfisher’s Orca Waters Base Camp, including all meals and drinks such as water or coffee, as well as all kayaking equipment and a water-repellent jacket, costs CAD 1,450 per person (approx. 950 euros).
  • The quickest way to get to Port Hardy is to fly from Vancouver, such as with Pacific Coastal Airlines . Or you can build this kayaking adventure into a road trip, taking the ferry from Vancouver to Nanaimo and then driving on to Port Hardy or Port McNeill.
  • The camp is offered in the summer months, between June and September. However, the best time to travel is September: the temperatures are pleasantly warm, there are fewer visitors and there are more whales.
  • In addition to clothing, rain pants and sandals for kayaking, you should take a medium-sized microfibre towel, sunglasses and a headlamp, binoculars, an action cam if necessary and a small dry bag – larger dry bags are available from the local provider.
  • In addition to the Southern Resident Orcas, which live around Vancouver Island and feed on fish, the region is also infested by the Transient Orcas: They are much larger and feed on mammals such as seals or smaller whales. With a bit of luck you will not only spot orcas and humpback whales while kayaking, but also minke whales, porpoises and even dolphins!

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