Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Vancouver Island Adventure: Kayaking the Broken Group Islands

This is the first of a few posts about a week-long kayak trip through the Broken Group archipelago in Barkley Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in far western Canada. Read the second post here. Read the third and final post here.

After a brilliant week kayak touring/camping in the Broken Group Islands, I've been slow to start writing about this fabulous adventure.  Perhaps I'm resisting the switch from wilderness camping by the sea to sitting at a desk in front of my large-screen monitor (heavy sigh).

But here I am, back in Seattle, the trip behind me (life is like that). 

Needless to say, it was pretty much all marvelous. Even the sudden squall one morning that caused such rough seas I barely moved forward an inch for every 10 paddle strokes. Or when it rained hard one night, all night, pelting the tarp above our tent in loud smacks.

Because regardless, it's deeply refreshing and rejuvenating to live and sleep off the grid in a wilderness by the sea, where the evening entertainment is watching the sunset and then gathering around a beach fire until a healthy fatigue (or pesky mosquitoes) drives you to your tent for the night.

I've got so many great photos and info to share about this trip that I'm breaking this up into several blog posts.  So without further reminiscing, we're off!

Day 1,  Seattle to Ucluelet via Horseshoe Bay
Actually the first day doesn't involve any kayaking, but we do have a longish journey. After leaving Seattle around 7 a.m., we arrive early enough to catch the 12:45 ferry to Nanaimo (an earlier ferry than we booked) at the Horsehoe Bay BC Ferry terminal, just north of Vancouver, B.C. Horseshoe Bay is more scenic than the mega ferry terminal at Tsawwassen in the Lower Mainland delta south of Vancouver.

Looking up Howe Sound from Horseshoe Bay
Passage across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island from Horseshoe Bay takes about 90 minutes, and then we drive north from Nanaimo and west-southwest through Port Alberni to the west coast. It's a pretty drive across the island through surprisingly craggy, snow-laced peaks along winding two-lane highway. With a couple short stops along the way, it takes about 3 hours.

Have kayaks, will travel
When we pull into the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve visitor center at the junction to Ucluelet ("Ukee" to locals), we learn that the Secret Beach campground where we planned on pitching our tents on Toquart Bay isn't yet open for the season. So instead we camp at beautiful WYA Point Resort campground just a few kilometers outside Ucluelet.

"You're the only group permitted to be in the Broken Group this week," says the guy at the visitor center. This early in the season we're going to have the whole archipelago to ourselves, yahoo!

We're happy with the WYA campsite location because it's right above a gorgeous ocean beach, where we watch the sunset above breaking waves. And we zip into Ucluelet for a great dinner in the Float Lounge at fancy oceanside Black Rock Resort (a new addition to the area since I was last here).

Day 2, Toquart Bay to Dodd Island
Anxious and excited to get started, we're up and out for an early breakfast in Ucluelet before we launch at Toquart Bay several miles up a dirt/gravel road off the highway. Our goal is to have kayaks all loaded with our gear and launched around noon.

When we reach the launch spot on Toquart Bay, we find this former campground fenced off and closed due to contamination from past resource extraction (mining is what I heard). However, the boat launch is still accessible. We risk contamination and sneak past the fence for loading our kayaks on the beach.

'Tis indeed a beautiful day to paddle.

After the initial struggle making sure everything for a week actually fits into the kayak (my least favorite part of kayak touring) with room enough for me too, we shove off into the calm blue sea.

The Three Guys
Our group on this trip consists of me and three guys. One of the good things about kayaking with men is that they're strong. They can lift heavy things like fully loaded kayaks more easily than lil' me.  

One of the bad things about kayaking with men is that they're strong. I'm challenged to keep up with them all week.

We paddle a couple hours, crossing through the Stopper Islands and on into the Broken Group, until I insist on a break. Muscle cramps. (Confession: I really didn't train sufficiently for this trip.) Chris directs us to a crystal clear, white sand lagoon on Hand Island.

View back to Vancouver Island from Hand Island lagoon.
After a quick snack and a stretch, we continue past more forest-covered small islands to our first camp tonight on Dodd Island, for a total paddle of about 3.5 hours.

A minor disappointment of this trip is that we don't hear the orientation talk by members of the Tseshaht First Nation, the people who inhabited these islands for several thousand years before European interlopers arrived. The presentation about the history of the islands and the former First Nations legends and life ways, which we hear is quite moving, was scheduled for this evening on Dodd Island but no one shows up. Apparently we're too early in the season.

Instead we pitch our tents above the beach in the woods and after dinner explore the incredible tidepools in the waning light.

Sea anemones
We're here!

As the full moon rises over an incredibly calm evening, I sit in silence on the beach for a spell, awed by the beauty and quiet here tonight.

Dodd Island moonrise. Photo by John Green
After I crawl into my sleeping bag, sleep comes quickly and easily.

Read the next/second post here about paddling farther out into the Broken Group and more exploring. For more Pacific Northwest photos and news, check out Pacific Northwest Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram.

When You Go
The Broken Group Islands are in Barkley Sound, which is about a third of the way up the west coast of Vancouver Island, facing the open Pacific Ocean. The inner islands are protected from ocean swells and can be quite calm and warm enough for swimming in the summer.  This year for the first time, overnight campers are required to get their permits in advance rather than the old system of park rangers stopping by campsites each evening for check-in.

For information and regulations on camping in the Broken Group Islands, click here for the Parks Canada Pacific Rim National Park Reserve website.


JoJo said...

I love Vancouver Island and wish I could've spent more time up there. I only ever got as far as Chemainus going north, and the southern part of the island to Point No Point.

Lesley said...

I can almost hear the quiet in some of the photos -- especially the night shot with the moon. Looking forward to seeing and reading more.

Anonymous said...

This trip sounds incredible! I hate admitting that I am too lazy to train for and take on something like this. Kudos to those who actually do these things.

jill said...

JoJo, glad you got to spend some time on Vancouver Island. I love it up there.

Lesley, was really quiet that night especially!

Jill said...

Beautiful! La bella luna in full and the whole of it all to yourselves, marvelous splendor! Wonderful pictures and prose had me right there with you—minus pesky mosquitos, lugging stuffed kayaks, and midnight downpours. Worth every moment, I'm sure. Glad you found an alternate camp sight. Too bad about the Tseshaht experience, perhaps for next time.

Transition back, indeed. But I'll bet your bed felt heavenly-comfy after a week on the ground, eh? Thanks so much for sharing your trip, Jill! Much anticipation for the next leg!

Mab said...

Enjoyed reading about your adventures...

sylvia said...

How beautiful and varied. I've been to big Tofino Beach, and never guessed what little treasures lay beyond. Thanks. Sylvia

Anonymous said...

Are you still friends with the strong guys? Just kidding. I love how you take on challenges that push us beyond ourselves!

jill said...

Thanks for your comments Mab, Sylvia, and Ron! Yea, still friends with the strong guys...:)