West Coast Vacation – Part 1: Kayaking the Broken Islands

This summer we took a month off work, packed our car to the brim and headed west for four weeks of visiting family (mine) and discovering BC (John).

First on the list was Ironman Canada in Whistler, BC where I was racing and John was cheering and exploring Whistler. It was a long day and there’s a long story (of course!) but more to come on that later.

Then off to Thormanby Island just off the Sunshine Coast for the week to recover and truly relax (and plan the last few details of our trip). After the Sunshine Coast we headed to Vancouver Island, first destination- the Broken Group Islands for a week of ocean kayaking.  I’ve technically done this trip before (as I had with most of the places we planned to visit on our trip, but it was so long ago it hardly counts – 23 years ago!).

We had a few delays on our way from the Sunshine Coast to the island – our trusty car decided that the Friday of the August long weekend would be the best time to have a flat tire and loose battery connection… So after missing our first ferry from Langdale we were greeted with a 2-3 sailing wait in Horseshoe Bay. It turned out it was going to be 3 for us after we missed the second ferry by a couple of cars. So we spent some time wandering around Horseshoe Bay and enjoying the beautiful weather. Not the worst thing to be doing while waiting!  When we finally arrived on the island it was already getting late and we still needed to get groceries for the week and drive the 3 hours to Toquart Bay where we were going to be camping before launching our kayaks for the week.

Being a bit unfamiliar with the concept of camping for the week (read: no refrigerated food) but not having to be as concerned about weight and space, we tried to plan a mix of typical backpacking meals and things we would normally make at home with fresh food. The only thing we missed was water… We don’t ever buy bottled water so it didn’t even occur to me that we should have purchased water for the week along with all of our groceries even though I knew we had to bring all of our drinking water with us in the kayaks.

We arrived at Secret Beach Campground shortly before 11pm.  We got completely lost trying to find our campsite so finally just stopped at an empty one and pitched the tent eager to go to bed and not worry about the rest of the logistics till the morning (we only had about a litre of water with us left over from the ferry).  I had assumed the campsite would have drinking water along with other standard campsite facilities and we could deal with that in the morning. Apparently I had missed the warning on the website about that…

The next morning when we woke up John headed out to fill up water for breakfast along with the 5 Gallons needed for the trip. Our next door neighbours kindly informed us that there was no water at the campsite nor was there anywhere to get any water until Ucluelet. However they were leaving that morning and we could have the rest of theirs which ended up being almost as much as we needed for the whole week. Such a relief!

We found some more water that was provided as utility water for washing dishes which we boiled while packing and loading our kayaks. Combined with another litre from some kayakers finishing their trip that morning, we managed to fill all of our water containers for a total of 5 Gallons and 3.5 Litres for the next 5 nights and 6 days.

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Packed and ready to go at Secret Beach.
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Turret Island: our first Island stop and lunch spot on Day 1.

Day 1: Secret Beach to Gilbert Island via Turret Island 

We left Secret Beach at noon and paddled for approximately 2.5 hours and 13 km before seeing other kayaks and realizing that we had made it to the Broken Islands. Not having brought an appropriate map for navigating and realizing that once on the water the layout looks very different, we’d taken a completely different route than planned and actually paddled quite far down the outside of the islands before finally making our way in. The kayakers we met happened to have multiple copies of some very detailed maps and were very happy to share. Relieved we were in the right spot, we decided to stop and have a late lunch on Turret Island before continuing on to Gilbert to camp.

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The outhouses!  I thought these were so cute and whimsical in the middle of the rainforest on the islands.

Day 2: Paddling around Effingham Island in search of the Sea Arch

We left our tent set up but packed all our food back into the kayaks for our day trip. On the islands you are given the option of hanging all your food in a tree or packing it into the kayak hatches as a deterrent to animals – we decided that packing it back into the kayaks was the easiest option.  We headed south from Gilbert and then west around Effingham towards the Sea Arch. When we found the Sea Arch we were hesitant at first paddling through but then had so much fun riding the swell through that we stayed to play for a while taking turns going back and forth through the arch.

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John heading into the Arch.
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Cooking dinner over the fire after our stove broke on the first night.

Day 3: Giant Tidal Pool & Sea Lion Rock

Day 3 was our longest day of paddling by far during the trip. Our goal was to head around to Wouwer Island along the outside of the Islands in hopes of seeing more wildlife in the open ocean en route. It was overcast and a bit choppy when we headed out and it only got foggier as we paddled which got us quite disoriented more than once.

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John waiting for me to take a picture (either of him or the seals that followed us around for most of the trip).
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Sea lions on a rock just west of Wouwer.

We had planned to have lunch on Wouwer Island after seeing the sea lions and before heading to the tidal pool, but we were so disoriented with the fog that we thought the sea lions were just off Howell Island which then caused us to keep going past Wouwer Island thinking Benson Island was Wouwer. When we beached on Benson Island we saw the totem pole and realized how far off course we’d gotten. So we stayed for lunch and a nap in the sun before heading back to Wouwer to try to get to the tidal pool before the tide came back in.  After a bit of bushwacking and then beach scrambling, we made it to the tidal pool!

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The tide pool on Wouwer Island (one of the largest in the world apparently).

Day 4: Gilbert Island to Gibraltar Island

We had a lazy day packing up our campsite and heading over to Gibraltar to set up camp for the next 2 nights. After arriving at our new campsite and setting up our tent, we played around with the drift wood – who knew forts and giant teeter-totters could be so fun?!

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Our newly renovated kitchen/living room/dining room/ laundry room on Gibraltar.

Day 5: Whale watching in Imperial Eagle Channel & Fish Traps on Jacques Island

After hearing that there had been whale sightings off the coast of Gibraltar earlier that week we thought we’d try our luck o day 5. Around mid morning we left the campsite and headed south-east out into Imperial Eagle Channel which, we soon found out, was fittingly named.

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A Bald Eagle was the first animal we saw in Imperial Eagle Channel!

After drifting aimlessly a couple hundred meters off shore hoping to spot whales, we finally saw a spout of water off in the middle of the channel. We watched for a while and when we saw more and could tell which way they were heading we started paddling as fast as we could into the channel. Eventually we managed to get pretty close or at least it seemed close since they were so huge!

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After watching the whales for a while and trying to follow them in the kayaks we eventually gave up and paddled back to the outside of Gibraltar where we checked out the sea cave for a bit before realizing that the tide was too high to paddle in. So we continued around Gibraltar and looked for a beach to stop on for lunch. After lunching on the south side of Jacques Island, we decided to paddle around to the north side of Jacques to look at the fish traps and hopefully find a good place to swim since the sun had finally come out and it was turning out to be a pretty hot day. Unfortunately when we got around to the north side of Jacques and paddled in to where we’d been told the fish traps were we realized that the tide was too high to see anything, so after exploring the inlets for a bit we headed back to camp on Gibraltar.

Day 6: Gibraltar to Secret Beach via Hand Island

We woke up the earliest we had all week in order to get an early start and back to our car by noon only to find that we were socked in by the heaviest fog we’d ever seen. You could hardly see beyond the beach let alone any of the other islands or landmarks we’d been planning on for the route home. Time to find out how good John’s compass skills were!

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John less than 50 feet away in the fog.

We managed to get to Hand Island in just over an hour which meant we’d been paddling pretty fast since we’d definitely been zigzagging a fair bit in the fog. As we were pulling up to Hand the fog started clearing up and by the time we finished our snack and were ready to leave it was completely clear and sunny. It made for a beautiful paddle back to Secret Beach, this time through the passage between the Stopper Islands that we’d missed on our way in.  What a beautiful and adventurous six days in the Broken Islands. Now off to Tofino for a week of surfing!

Some more pictures from our week in the Broken Islands:

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