Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Vancouver Island Adventure: Kayaking the Checleset Bay Ecological Reserve

This is the third and last in the "Bunsby Trilogy" about sea kayaking and camping in the remote Checleset Bay Ecological Reserve just north of Kyuquot Sound on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. You can read the first two posts (1) here and (2) here.

We've been out here kayaking and camping in the Bunsby Islands area for five days now, and it's starting to feel a bit like a small town. 

While we're over 20 miles from the nearest road, there are few enough kayakers out here and it's a small enough area that we all seem to bump in to each other every now and then between days of solitude. Which, if you're a somewhat sociable person like me, adds to the fun of a trip up here.

Today we're heading out from the Bunsbys to the Cuttle Islets off the Acous Peninsula with Bill, a veteran solo kayaker from Calgary who's here for the third summer in a row.  Serina and Lennie, a friendly young couple and guides for West Coast Expeditions we met a few days ago, are taking their group out there too. Of course Serina knows Bill from previous summers here.

With Bill leading us, we cut out to the open ocean past Green Head just off  Checkaklis Island on the outer edge of the Bunsbys.  We're fortunate to have such a sunny mild day, with only mellow ocean swells to navigate during the 1.4-mile crossing to the Cuttles.

"Stay left, there's a boomer!" cries Bill in warning as we approach a standing wave breaking nonstop not too far off Green Head. Besides that teensy bit of excitement, our crossing goes smoothly. It's exhilarating to be kayaking on the open ocean. 

Within 30 minutes or less, we've arrived at our home for tonight, a forest-thatched island with an expansive beach facing a tidal lagoon and views of the truly wild and remote Brooks Peninsula to the northwest. 

We beat the West Coast Expeditions group out here and find a prime spot above high tide line on the beach to pitch our tent, but soon the group arrives and it's party time.  Several of us strip and swim in the chilly but not too cold lagoons fed by the incoming tide. 

Out here close to the open Pacific, the tide pools are spectacular.  I spend the rest of the afternoon blissfully poking around in the tide pools after a dip in the lagoon.

Sea anemone

Tonight after an evening paddle, we witness one of the most breathtaking sunsets and full moonrises I've ever seen.  I can't stop taking pictures. (I should just quit with the words here and post a zillion photos because it's hard whittle them down to just a few.)

Presunset paddle in one of the protected lagoons at Acous Peninsula.

Enjoying evening dusk, peaks of the Brooks Peninsula in the distance.
Rising of the "Thunder Moon."

Lennie and Serina Allison, West Coast Expeditions guides.
Before heading back to the Bunsbys the next morning for our last night off the grid, we stop on the Acous Peninsula to see a decaying-in-place fallen totem pole in thick woods near the beach. (Thanks to Lennie and Serina for the tip.) I tell Matt and Bill that I'm approaching this treasure with quiet respect.

Then we explore the shoreline of historic Battle Bay, once the site of a thriving native village and now tribal reserve land.  While much of the bay is off-limits to camping, we make a quick lunch stop at the outlet of a small river flowing into the bay before heading back across open water to the Bunsby Islands.

One of the things I love about the Bunsbys are the picturesque little coves tucked along the island shorelines at lower tides.  Before exploring the quiet and enchanting inner waterway between Big Bunsby Island and Vancouver Island, we take a short break in a little tidal cove in the shade. 

Far too soon it's our last night in paradise, and we're back at the beach where we were dropped off 6 days ago on Barney's Island. A new kayak group is here, a privately led trip of about a dozen "Bellinghamsters," and it's hard to find a place to squeeze our tent. Perhaps this is a way of getting re-acclimated to life back on the grid tomorrow.

Bill builds a fire on the beach, and as another gorgeous moon rises, we watch the fire hiss and throw off steam like an erupting volcano as it's inundated by the rising tide.

Looks and feels like serenity.

When Leo (Voyager Water Taxi Service) arrives in the morning to haul us and our kayaks the 16+ miles back to Fair Harbour, where we began last week, we're all packed and ready to load.  (BTW, everybody out here knows Leo.) One thing I'm grateful for:  No more mornings struggling to stuff all our gear back into our kayaks in impossibly tight spaces.

As we speed away from the islands, leaving a foamy white trail of wake as we go, it amazes me how quickly we cruise through an area that took us almost 7 hours to kayak. After a week traveling only at the pace of our paddle strokes, the speed is jarring.

I feel nourished by this time off the grid in this special place. That said, I thoroughly appreciated my first hot shower and fresh green salad in a week when we got back to Campbell River. :)

When You Go
The Checleset Bay Ecological Reserve can only be reached by boat or float plane, which makes it an ideal sea kayaking destination. My first two posts about this trip (links at top of this post) describe how we got up here and shows a map of this area. 

While it takes some careful planning and logistics to do a multi-day kayak camping trip in this area, I'm proof that you don't have to be a hard-core "surf ranger" to do it.  West Coast Expeditions, which is the only outfitter based in the Kyuquot area (on Spring Island), leads guided trips up here.  I'd like to go back next year and go farther to explore the Brooks Peninsula.


Anonymous said...

I'm impressed with your many trips into the wilds and enjoy your posts. You make me feel lazy -- but also inspired to make the effort to get out.

AS said...

I just read the third in your Bunsby Islands series. Nice pix, too. That's exciting; it certainly makes me want to go. I'd like to do a bunch of extended trips on the BC Coast and/or in Alaska.

Ron Mitchell said...

I want to do that!!

Barry said...

Great post, with particularly wonderful photographs, Jill. And, of course, behind it all is a great adventure. Wow!

Jill said...

AS and Barry, thanks for the comment. Yes it was a great adventure, one I would like to do again.

Ron, just do it! How about you and Mare think about a sea kayaking expedition up here as your next great adventure.

Anonymous said...


Finally had the time to read all of your posts about this trip. What a fabulous adventure. Lucky you!