Thursday, August 8, 2013

Vancouver Island Adventures: Kayaking the Bunsby Islands

This is the second of three posts about a kayak camping trip on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, B.C. Read the first post here and the third post here.

I've just unzipped the tent and see an azure blue sky above. Call it paradise, heavenly, or just perfect. It all fits. 

Here in the remote Bunsby Islands off the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, we've been blessed with a string of bluebird days and little wind.  Outstanding kayaking weather in a stellar place to sea kayak.

While our kayaking trip began with a long paddle from Fair Harbour to the village of Kyuquot, we cheated the next day and hired a water taxi to haul our kayaks and gear out here to the Bunsbys.  With limited vacation time, we don't want to risk being weathered out on the 8-mile open ocean paddle north to the islands, as some have been.

So on a sunny morning we're dropped off at a gorgeous sandy cove on Barney's Island, on the southern edge of this small archipelago.

Kayak all loaded and ready to launch from Barney's Island in the Bunsby Islands.
We've got four+ days to explore out here and a forecast for high pressure and holding.  It doesn't get much better.

As I wrote in my first blog post about this trip, the Bunsby Islands are way up north on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the Checleset Bay Ecological ReserveThe reserve was established in 1981 to provide high-quality marine habitat for a reintroduced population of sea otters.  I'm happy to say the otters are thriving here now. (I didn't get any decent shots although I saw numerous otters.) The reserve also encompasses tribal lands that are off-limits for camping.

Image from

When a large group of kayakers with West Coast Expeditions arrives at the cove, we set off to find a camping spot described by Bill, whom we met and paddled with from Fair Harbour.  Although we can't find the place that Bill showed us on the map (which we later discover was actually the beach where we started from), I'm enchanted as we paddle past charming little coves, turquoise tidal lagoons, rocky outcrops studded with colorful starfish (sea stars), and the mostly forested shorelines.

White sand beach at low tide. Photo by Matt Brewster.
It's hard to resist kayaking into every inlet and small bay we pass, but ultimately we do have to find a place to pitch our tent tonight.  We make our way north between the outer Checkaklis Island and the middle and second-largest of the Bunsby Islands, passing many little islets along the way.

We quickly discover that this archipelago is not that large and could be easily circumnavigated in a day.  But who wants to rush through here?  Not us.

We edge out toward the northwestern side of Checkaklis Island, which is exposed to the open ocean, and just float in our kayaks above some tangled brown kelp forests.  Looking down into these "forests" is far better than any trip to an aquarium.  They teem with marine life, from crabs scurrying across kelp leaves, to schools of small fish darting around, to otherworldly kinds of jellyfish I've never seen in Puget Sound, my home waters.

Some kind of jellyfish. Photo by Matt Brewster.
Rounding the north side of the middle big island (not named on the map), we see the ragged peaks of Vancouver Island and the Brooks Peninsula across the channel in the distance.  We're heading over that direction in a couple days.

Peaks of the Brooks Peninsula in the distance.
Some beautiful coves and beaches beckon us as we continue searching for a camping spot, but forest thick with underbrush largely grows right down to the high tideline. (Note: I should have checked my recreation map that indicates camping site locations.)  

We're both getting tired and ready to settle for the day when we round a bend in Gay Passage and there it is:  a perfect little spot sticking out like a tiny thumb, a teensy peninsula on a small tidal island next to a lagoon.

View from our digs. At high tide the grassy area fills as a tidal lagoon.
And then for the next 26 hours or so we just chill on our little island (which we named Bilgo), reading, napping, exploring the tide pools, and taking pictures.  We see no other kayakers and only two boats cruising past. This solitude, this quiet in nature, is like a balm after several long days of gearing up and traveling to get up here.

Sunset view of Mt. Paxton across Gay Passage from "Bilgo Island."
With the sun lowering in the sky, we hop in our kayaks and paddle back to Barney's Island to see if Bill arrived (he has).  And the moonrise! Tonight we witness the first of several spectacular moonrises.

"Isn't it cool to be in a place where the main 'road' is the sea and our transportation is a kayak?" I say to Matt as we're paddling back to our campsite 20 minutes up the passage.

Heading back to Barney's Island.
A slice of heaven. Photo by Matt Brewster.

Our highlight of the day is hearing the puppy-like whimpering of sea otters echoing across the twilight water as we're midway up Gay Passage.  Sirena, one of the West Coast Expedition guides we've met, tells us it's the sound mama otters and their kits use to find each other.

I fall asleep happy tonight, as I do just about every night throughout this trip.

Next and last post in this series, about a side trip to the Cuttle Islets and Acous Peninsula, will be up in a few days.

When You Go
Although there are designated camping sights indicated on marine recreation maps in the Bunsby Islands, they are not well marked or easy to find.  We passed several without knowing they were there.  In retrospect, I would have looked harder if I knew sites were there.

And of course, we used the "leave no trace" ethic at our campsite (which includes doing your business well below the high tideline).  For my next trip to this area, I'll leave a little extra space in my kayak and bring a garbage pack to pick up old plastic bottles and such that have washed ashore or been left.



Ed said...

I had no idea heaven was so close to home! Yet I should have known...what an awesome trip. I would have explored slowly too. You are the right person to ask about the back country in this area! Thanks for the post Jill

Gayle said...

Omg! It makes us want to go back to the wilderness again. Just remembering that feeling of luxuriating in the peace and solitude and quiet. I am so thrilled that you got to make this journey. Great post! Can’t wait to see the next installment.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. Can't wait to read the next adventure.

Martha said...

Your very own heaven on Earth.

jill said...

ED, thanks, it was indeed an awesome trip.

Gayle and Robert, thanks, it was wonderful, will get the next one up Sunday or Monday.

Martha, yes, 'twas heavenly.

Ron said...

Kayak magic. Looks wonderful, you must be in great shape!