Seeing a humpback whale lunging through a school of bait fish, a grizzly bear chasing salmon in a shallow river, or a pod of killer whale surfacing in unison are often considered once in a lifetime experiences and all three are possible on Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures’ “Whales and Grizzly Bear – Orca Waters Base Camp” tour.
Early on the fourth morning we journey by boat for two hours up Knight Inlet for a day of grizzly bear viewing. When we arrive at our destination in Glendale Cove the group moves to a flat bottom boat to view grizzly bears from the water. Early in the summer the viewing is primarily at the mouth of the estuary and nearby beaches as the grizzly bears feed on sedge and grasses plus intertidal life like crabs and mussels. Late August and September sees the return of pink salmon to the Glendale River and we time the tours to the tides to optimize viewing opportunities in the river. We return to Telegraph Cove late that afternoon where our van is waiting to drive us back to Port McNeill.
On the water we use stable single and double fibreglass kayaks and lightweight carbon/vinyl paddles. Waterproof kayaking jackets, personal floatation devices, and neoprene kayaking mitts are provided to keep you warm and dry while kayaking.
Tours run every Saturday to Tuesday from July through mid-September.
Suggested reading: Our base camp has a library of field guides and local history books, including many listed below. We recommend the below books if you want to learn a bit about the area before visiting. Each title is linked to Amazon.com and will open in a new window. .
Operation Orca: Springer, Luna and the Struggle to Save West Coast Killer Whales
Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us
Full Moon, Flood Tide: Bill Proctor’s Raincoast
Heart of the Raincoast: A Life Story
Other currencies – £ GBP / € EUR / $ USD .
Group Size: Maximum of eight guests and two guides (some tours may have a third trainee guide).
Participants: This tour is adult-oriented but participants as young as 15 may be accepted.
Departs: Port McNeill, Vancouver Island.
* Kingfisher’s multi-day kayak tours are eligible for a 50% point of sale rebate of the GST for visitors to Canada. In essence visitors to Canada pay 2.5% tax on multi-day kayak tours.
Please note: that due to possible windy and bumpy conditions on the boat ride to view grizzly bears in Knight Inlet this tour is not suitable for people with back and neck issues or pregnant women. If this may be an issue please contact us to discuss this in greater detail.
A note on June and early July departures: June and early July is a great time to be kayaking in Johnstone Strait and there is an unbelievable assortment of wildlife. The resident (fish-eating) orcas, however, are not reliably seen until early or mid-July. They may be intermittently seen during June and early July along with the transient (mammal-eating) orcas but are not as consistent as later in the summer. You can be assured that an early season tour provides a great kayaking experience and a wide variety of wildlife is present without all the extra people that visit mid-summer.
Includes: We provide you will all the necessary kayaking and camping equipment, including kayaks, paddling jackets, PFD (life jacket), group shelters, tents, sleeping pads, camp chairs and sleeping bags (you may bring your own). A comprehensive list of required personal items can be read by clicking on the “Preparation” tab above. All meals during the kayak trip are provided and prepared by your guides. We’re proud of our menu that includes abundant fresh fruits and vegetables, a wide variety of international dishes, and freshly baked treats. Most dietary restrictions can be accommodated given sufficient prior notification. Transportation is all-inclusive from Port McNeill by our network of vans and water taxis.
What is not included: We do not provide transport from your home to Port McNeill, nor do we provide airport transfers. Accommodation in Port McNeill is not included. Any meals outside the kayak portion of the tour are your responsibility. Travel insurance for accidents or emergency evacuation is not provided; we recommend you purchase a policy before leaving home. The trip price does not include guide gratuities; should you feel that the service was exemplary, it is always appreciated.
Day 0: Plan to be in Port McNeill the night before the kayak tour departs. There is a pre-trip meeting at 8:00 pm with your guides at our office, located at 1790A Campbell Way, across the street from the Haida Way Inn and next to the Black Bear Resort. Your guides provide you with an overview for your trip, distribute dry bags to pack your clothing, and answer any questions you may have.
Meals Included: None
Day 1: We meet at 8:30am to head down to the marina to load our water taxi. It is just a short walk from the hotels, and all your bags are transported by our van. Vehicles and extra luggage can be left at your hotel while you are on your kayak tour. If you are not staying at a hotel or B&B with parking, we have limited free parking and luggage storage available at our office.
The 45 to 60 minute water taxi ride takes us to our base camp. Upon arrival at the base camp your guides provide a site orientation, plus a kayak and safety briefing. We kayak for a short time before lunch, giving you time to get used to the kayaks, the wilderness setting, and each other. The afternoon is spent kayaking and viewing the areas diverse wildlife.
Meals Included: Lunch – Dinner
Days 2 and 3: Each day brings a new journey; our base camp is ideally situated for exploring the area. The base camp is located on killer whale travel routes and humpback whales often feed within sight of camp. The islands and small islets close to the camp are home to numerous sea birds, bald eagles, and seals. There is always plenty to see.
Both killer whales and humpback whales regularly pass by our camp, and we have enjoyed many dinner shows from the beach. When we encounter killer whales on the water, we often drop a hydrophone into the water so we can listen to their vocalizations.
Your kayak guides plan each day according to weather conditions, wildlife viewing opportunities, and guest interests. Lunches are usually spent on a secluded beach, returning late each afternoon to the comforts of the Orca Waters Base Camp.
Every day is different, but rest assured, our goals are the same as yours– exploring, kayaking, whale watching, wildlife viewing, and enjoying the scenery.
Meals Included: Breakfast – Lunch – Dinner
Day 4: Today is an early start. We are picked up around 7:00am by Tide Rip Tours for a two hour boat ride up Knight Inlet. When we arrive at our destination in Glendale Cove we move to a flat-bottom boat to view grizzly bears from the estuary and river. We arrive back in Telegraph Cove around 4:00 pm where our van is waiting to drive us back to Port McNeill. The timing of the bear tour is flexible to improve viewing opportunities so a later arrival back in Port McNeill is possible.
We strongly suggest that our guests spend the last night in Port McNeill, enjoy a hot shower, and slowly transition out of vacation mode. Most guests choose to do this, and guests and guides often get together for a no-host farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
Meals Included: Breakfast – Lunch
If driving to Port McNeill you need to sail on BC Ferries from the Vancouver area to either Nanaimo or Victoria on Vancouver Island. From Washington State, Coho Ferry sails between Port Angeles and Victoria. Drive time from Victoria to Port McNeill is approximately 5.5 hours and from Nanaimo to Port McNeill is approximately 4 hours.
Driving to Port McNeill is quite straight forward. From Victoria drive north on highway 1 to Nanaimo. From Nanaimo head north on Highway 19 until you see the sign for Port McNeill. Port McNeill is 1 minute off the main highway. The only other option to this route is north of Nanaimo just before you reach Parksville you can take the seaside route on Highway 19A. This route rejoins the main Highway 19 at Campbell River. The seaside route may add an extra hour to your trip.
If you are looking to share a ride to or from Port McNeill (you either have room in your vehicle or are looking for a ride) please visit our RideShare page to add your details to our RideShare calendar.
Island Coach Lines (Greyhound) operates once daily bus service between Victoria and Port McNeill. Connections can be made from Vancouver in Nanaimo. They offer significant savings if booking more than two weeks in advance.
Flights to Port Hardy (YZT), the closest airport to Port McNeill, depart from the south terminal of Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and are approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. These flights are operated by Pacific Coastal Airlines. Port Hardy airport is a 30 minute taxi ride from Port McNeill.
If flying with Air Canada or one of its partners, and you are not planning to visit Vancouver, you may want to check on flying to either Nanaimo (YCD), Victoria (YYJ) or Campbell River (YBL) on Vancouver Island. While you would still need to rent a car or take the bus it saves you the time and cost of the ferry.
Another option is to fly via Calgary (YYC) or Edmonton (YEG) to Comox (YQQ) on Vancouver Island with WestJet Airlines. Comox is about 2 1/2 hour drive south of Port McNeill.
Kenmore Air operates float plane service to Port McNeill from Seattle, Washington.
Recommended Port McNeill Accommodations
The handbook answers commonly asked questions. However, do not hesitate to contact us with any specific questions you may have. The handbook is in PDF format. If you do not have a PDF viewer one can be downloaded free from Adobe.
For quick reference, here is what you should be bringing on your kayak tour. We provide everything else.
While the summer months in British Columbia are mostly warm and sunny, we still have a few cold and wet days. After all, the coast of British Columbia is the world’s largest temperate rainforest. For maximum enjoyment on your trip in all types of weather please bring the items listed below.
It is important that your clothing be made of synthetic materials or wool to retain their warmth when wet. Most synthetics also have the advantage of being quick drying. Avoid cotton clothing because they lack warmth if wet and take a very long time to dry. All of the items listed below need to fit into four dry bags (which we supply). If you have any questions on what you need to bring please feel free to contact us.
Sleeping bag – fits into 40 litre dry bag
We supply sleeping bags, liners, and pillows to all guests but if you prefer to bring your own we recommend:
● A three season synthetic insulated bag
Clothing – fits into 20 litre dry bag
Please bring everything listed. There is duplication and you may not need everything, but in the event of getting wet or cold you will be glad you have it. While many people consider long underwear to be a winter item it can make a world of difference on a cool summer evening and can double as leggings under shorts during the day. The biggest heat loss area is the head and a warm hat can add immensely to your comfort.
● 1 pairs of short
● 2 pair of pants
● 2 long sleeve shirts
● 2 short sleeve shirts
● 1 sweater or sweatshirt
● 3 to 4 pairs of socks
● 2 sets of long underwear
● 3 to 4 pairs of underwear
● 1 swimsuit
● 1 fleece jacket
● 1 baseball cap or sun hat
● 1 wool or fleece cap
Rain gear – fits into 10 litre dry bag
We provide waterproof kayaking jackets but you still need rain gear for around camp. Rain gear does not need to be breathable but it should be be waterproof – not water-repellent.
● 1 waterproof rain jacket with hood or rain hat
● 1 pair of waterproof rain pants
Personal items – fits into 10 litre dry bag
● Sun screen
● Sunglasses with a retainer
● Prescription eyeglasses or contacts
● Spare eyeglasses or contacts
● Wet Wipes
● Synthetic camp towel
● Spare medication
● Insect repellent
● Flashlight and batteries
● Extra digital storage and batteries
Footwear – either worn or packed loose
● sandals or shoes you can get wet
● Walking or running shoes (preferably waterproofed)
● Rubber boots (some guests prefer these instead of wet shoes or sandals for kayaking. But, if you go too deep when entering or exiting your kayak the boots will be wet for the remainder of the trip).
● Wool or fleece gloves or mitts (if your hands easily get cold these are good to have for the evenings)
● Paddling or cycling gloves (we provide kayaking mitts for warmth, but if you are prone to blisters you may find cycling or paddling gloves to be beneficial).
● Farmer Jane/John wet suit to wear kayaking.
Charts: You do not need to bring charts on this kayak tour. Your guides have charts of the area and will review them with guests each day. If you wish to bring your own chart(s) they are listed below. Each chart is linked to the corresponding page on the Canadian Hydrographic Service’s website and you can search where to buy these charts locally (links will open in a new window).
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A $250 CAD per person deposit is required to permanently reserve your spots(s) on a Base Camp tour. A $500 CAD per person deposit is required to permanently reserve your spot(s) on all other tours. The remaining balance is due 30 days before your tour’s departure date. Please note our cancellation policy.After you complete this form you will be given the option to provide your deposit payment details now or to wait until space on your preferred tour is confirmed. We accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Please note that all prices are in Canadian dollars and that 5% Goods and Services Tax (GST) will be added to the price of each tour. Visitors to Canada receive a 50% point of sale rebate on the GST.