Kayak trip report by Suzanne Burns for a Kayak With Whales – Orca Waters Base Camp kayak tour.
There are three things that I love, kayaking, camping and good food. Combine these with spectacular scenery, wow factor wildlife, and some pretty cool people and these were the magical ingredients of my Kingfisher Kayaking Trip.
We met our guide Wendy for our trip orientation and reconvened the next morning to head off from the wee town of Port McNeill to Hanson Island. Our smooth trip over was punctuated with views of frosted mountain ranges, lush forests and Dall’s porpoises with their iced dorsal fins slicing the water surface.
Our band of four female clients and Wendy made up a merry troop for this time out from ‘the real world’. The base camp which was to be our home for the duration was a piece of paradise. Verdant forest cocooned our tents in a womb like embrace. Each waterfront tent was tall enough to allow us to stand at full height, a welcome change to the shapes I usually bend to in usual tents. Our beds actually had frames and therma rests with thick soft blankets bringing our experience to ‘glamping’ mode.
We unpacked our gear and headed out for a short paddle to get a feel for our magnificent surroundings. After a couple of hours of paddling around we headed back for our first camp dinner. Wendy, it transpired was one hell of a cook and kept us very well fed and happy. Our first supper was a gourmet meal of cedar smoked salmon. As a foreigner to this side of the world, I was new to this Canadian delicacy and wolfed down the fish like a bear. We were being spoilt on all sides and having two gorgeous beaches at ready disposal only added to this. We spent this first evening (as well as all the others) soaking in the rays and chatting on our private oasis. As the sun began its trajectory west, we headed to our second beach to bask in the glow of the sunset.
Our bodies automatically adjusted to the natural rhythms, devoid of the devices and chatter of the outside world. As soon as the sun began to set, we brushed our teeth with water lapping at our feet. Sleepy and satisfied, we headed to our tents to sleep our first night in this calm, dream-like place. As I drifted off to sleep I experienced something from my bucket list. A humpback whale cruised past and as it did, deep sonorous sounds emanated from its blowhole as it expelled air into the night. A feeling of ecstasy came over me as I basked in this incredible sound, a primal feeling, a feeling of connection to nature. I marvelled at my luck and the significance of this experience. Humpback whales were barely seen in this area just over a decade ago and these leviathans are making an incredible comeback.
I woke refreshed and excited the next morning to see what our day would bring. A delicious cooked vegetarian breakfast and a big bowl of fruit set us up for our day of adventure. The weather gods were not smiling so we decided to stay at the safety of camp and observe the swirling waters of Johnstone Strait from our rocky promontory. We were blessed with fantastic views of wildlife both near and far from us. Bald eagles wheeled around and dove for fish in the fast moving waters. Harbour seals swam past and popped up now and then to see who the new kids on the block were. A Steller sea lion breathed heavily as it glided through the medusa-like kelp and snorted at us land lubbers. A pod of orcas swam on the other side of the strait and we peered eagerly to see how these sleek sea farers were passing their day.
The next two days afforded us calm conditions and the perfect opportunity to explore our watery domain and improve our kayaking skills. We passed these days paddling in the morning, then breaking for lunch in the sun at remote beaches where Wendy would lay on a spread for us. Watching the wildlife from our kayaks gave us a more intimate view of the creatures and plants in the water and sky above us. Eagles viewed us haughtily from their lofty perches while the seals followed us like shy children, appearing then disappearing as soon as we had them rumbled. Dall’s porpoises sped past us like speed demons, breathing with short punchy breaths before they left us for dust. The whales began to appear more frequently the more we explored. Both days we saw humpbacks in our path, we moved close to shore to give them their space. Being in the water when a creature of such magnitude is in your vicinity is a truly mind bending experience and we lapped up the beauty of these behemoths. A minke whale also stopped along our way on our last day, giving us a fantastic view of a rarely seen cetacean in these parts.
The dramatic scenery changed on each trip with wide expanses of water to navigate when we were in the strait and in Blackfish Sound. More enclosed areas like the Plumper Islands gave us time to putter around in the calm water, observing the massive fronds of bull kelp in the crystal clear water and gave the seals ample opportunity to observe us as we did them. Exciting areas like the ‘Blowhole’ gave us a chance to paddle in fast water and test our burgeoning skills and increase our confidence.
Our last evening was again spent feasting on glorious food and ambling over to our beach to relax in the sun and enjoy its tumble out of the sky. We were nicely surprised with a chocolate fondue to add to this indulgent evening and we gorged ourselves on this and washed it down with a glass of red to salute the sunset.