Kayaking with orcas? Yes. Is it safe? Completely. Do you need experience? Not at all. Where? Off the coast of Western Canada, one of the wildest and most beautiful coasts in the world.
Alot of people would think it crazy to carry out an activity as exposed as kayaking next to one of the most fearsome and intelligent predators on Earth. Reality tells us otherwise: dozens of people do this every year and nothing has ever happened, nor do I think anything ever will. There are no known cases of an orca attacking a human being. So it is best to forget about these unfounded fears of ours and to simply bask in the presence of one of our planet’s most magnificent creatures.
Orcas are giant animals, reaching up to 20 feet in length and 6 tons in weight. Approximately the size of a bus, they belong to the dolphin family. The kayak is derisory in comparison to their power. Just the dorsal fin of a male orca reaches 6.50 feet in height. Your imagination is sparked when presented with the idea of being able to see one gliding along the ocean’s surface just in front of you. Their power is such that they are able to destroy entire blocks of ice in the Antarctic, yet we are incredibly lucky that they don’t pay us any attention and that they aren’t curious about us. Additionally, we are able to enjoy being in proximity to these magnificent animals at a dreamlike location, making this experience truly unforgettable.
The northern coast of Vancouver Island is practically uninhabited and is unequalled in its beauty. Its dense forests of enormous trees reach right up to the sea, while nature still claims its power through the eyes of bears, pumas, whales and orcas. This wild, rugged landscape, with its relatively warm summer weather, is a paradise for adventurous spirits and for those who simply want to enjoy a few moments of tranquility in a place where mankind has not yet exerted its influence. Here, you define the boundaries of your own adventure.
The coast is a labyrinth of islands, islets and rocky outcrops. It is the dream of any kayaker or lovers of free camping. Why? Moving freely in your own vessel, alone or in company, where silence, beauty and solitude intertwine as you wait for nature to surprise you with some of its most famous creatures. Grey whales, humpbacks, orcas, bears and pumas all find their much-needed paradise on this island. What’s more, camping on a solitary beach, or on a secluded spot on the edge of one of the world’s last rainforests (formed by enormous Douglas firs and meadows of moss) while a cozy campfire helps you welcome the sunset, is a comfort to the spirit. A spirit which is still anchored in almost-forgotten memories of when our way of life formed part of nature.
Vancouver Island is located off the western coast of Canada, separated from the continent by the Strait of Georgia. At 285 miles long and 62 miles wide, it is an island of contrasts that offers the best of both worlds. The southern, more populated part is dominated by the capital, Victoria. A city of tranquility and charm, an English way of life, Victorian architecture and innumerable gardens. But as soon as you head up north, all human traces begin to disappear and you open up the possibility of a myriad of outdoor activities such as hiking, surfing, fishing, kayaking and wildlife watching, without forgetting one of the world’s most famous treks: the West Coast Trail Unit at the Pacific Rim National Park. Only 4% of the population live in the northern part.
To kayak with orcas is to witness one of nature’s greatest spectacles. 50 million salmon arrive at the Johnstone Strait (the name given to the northernmost part of the Georgia Strait that is barely 1.60 miles wide), on their way to their spawning grounds in the Fraser River. Behind them appear 250 orcas, the largest concentration of these whales in the world. To be there in a lightweight kayak in the midst of a stunning landscape is to be truly fortunate.
The journey begins with your arrival in the city of Vancouver. From there, you can catch a ferry and head to Nanaimo, located on Vancouver Island. If your budget allows for it, renting a car is the best option. You will then travel to Port McNeill, where you can take a detour to Telegraph Cove. A hidden treasure, this dreamy little village is home to around 20 people and is a perfect base for any of the options that you have to choose from. You will find yourself 82 feet from the sea and can even rent a little wooden house from the 1930s or 40s for a somewhat elevated price.
The road leading there is a pleasure in itself. Endless conifer forests known as “taiga,” where encounters with black bears are common. The Vancouver Island subspecies is the largest in the world. I was particularly fond of the little bear that was on the side of the road at dusk enjoying some juicy forest berries. Although there are sporadic black bear attacks on humans, they are generally very peaceful. In the end I got closer and closer, while she hardly paid me any attention. There were barely 10 feet between us. She looked at me peacefully every now and then, and continued eating. Around Telegraph Cove, these encounters happen organically.
This little village is the gateway to the natural wonder that is the Johnstone Strait. It leads you to legendary places such as Blackfish Sound and the Broughton Archipelago, which are home to a bounty of nature’s magnificence, including humpback whales, orcas, Steller sea lions, dolphins, porpoises and bald eagles.
Our small group set up camp on a tiny islet, surrounded by silence and pristine nature. The sound of the tide coming up toward our camp, located only a few meters from the ocean, woke us up every morning. After Larry, our friendly expert guide, prepared a good breakfast for us, we were keen to take our kayaks and set off to navigate the channels dotted with islets. That is where the morning fog greets you, where the silence is broken only by the sounds of nature and of your paddles. It is one of the best experiences that you can have. We are lucky; the coast is very sheltered and the ocean currents leave us in peace. I glide along easily, despite my lack of experience. Spectacular landscapes follow one after the other. Only distant fishing boats remind us that we haven’t taken a step back in time. From time to time we stop in small coves that are surrounded by wild forests in order to rest and recuperate, as well as have a snack. We are all waiting expectantly for our giant friends to make an appearance. We know that if they do appear we must maintain a 100-meter distance from them, unless they decide to approach us. These are undoubtedly the best moments: being there, in the middle of the sea as privileged spectators, witnessing these magnificent animals in their own world, is an unforgettable feeling. We don’t wonder if fortune smiles down on us when we see the magnificent, tapered, 2-meter-high fin of a giant male pass by our little vessel. Night approaches, ushering in another magnificent sunset. We return to our islet. We are content.
At nighttime, camping on the rocky beaches, we can hear their blows as they approach the coast, knowing that the next morning they will be there, waiting for us.
Keywords: Adventure escapes. Adventure travel. Guide book
10 ORIGINAL TRIPS TO ENJOY THE EARTH
This summary is part of the book
“10 Original trips to enjoy the earth” where each destination contains a section where I tell you how to organize and plan your trip. In addition you will be able to enjoy many other photographs of each adventure. Would you like to take a glance to the book’s inside?