Kayaking in British Columbia’s Nootka Sound Off the West Coast of Vancouver Island
The west coast of Vancouver Island contains many hundreds of kilometres of coastline, ranging from protected inlets to wild and windswept shorelines. Multi-day ocean kayaking trips are an excellent way to explore some of the hidden treasures of the BC coast. When looking for a kayaking location offering a diversity of scenery, Nootka Sound scores highly as it offers both calm and protected waters in and around Bligh Island and the Spanish Pilot Group and the exposed, “next stop Japan,” sort of views that make the west coast famous.
Nootka Sound is accessible from Gold River, a thousand-or-so resident town just over an hour west of Campbell River. What it lacks in cell phone service, Gold River certainly makes up for in beauty. With towering mountains and lush forests (well, those parts that don’t bear the scars of decades of clear cutting), Gold River is the gateway to a wilderness paradise. Nootka Sound can be accessed directly from Gold River via private boat, an extremely long paddle, or the unique experience of the MV Uchuck III which will wet-launch potential paddlers anywhere along its route through Nootka Sound and Kyuquot Sound. For our trip, we chose none of the above, opting instead to drive another hour along logging roads in order to launch ourselves further up the inlet at the Cougar Creek Rec Site.
Launching complete, we paddled out of Cougar Creek and headed for Bligh Island Marine Provincial Park. The park is a popular recreational destination, known for its good fishing and protected waters. Our original destination for the night, a user- maintained campsite at Charlie’s Beach on Bligh Island, turned out to be extremely busy, so we sought an overnight home instead on nearby Vernaci Island. While the marine park encompasses the southern part of Bligh Island, the Villaverde Islands, the Pantoja Islands, Verdia Island, Vernaci Island, and Spouter Island, good campsites are few and far between. Anyone who has paddled on the BC coast knows the struggle of the often nearly vertical water-rock-trees configuration; so when a good campsite is available, make yourself at home!
On day two, it was time to leave the protected part of Nootka Sound, take advantage of the perfect weather, and head to the exposed outer coast beyond Burdwood Point. As we set out, the sun was shining, the winds were calm, and the ocean had just enough gentle swell to be a reminder that nothing but thousands of kilometres of ocean lay directly ahead. Our crossing was uneventful, and before long we were paddling into a large crescent shaped bay rimmed by a smooth pebble beach. Rocky islets just off-shore provided picture-perfect views, and we made sure to set our tents up to maximize the panorama before us. All was perfect, and we spent the afternoon lounging in the sun and fishing off the rocks.
The west coast is an undeniably wild place, and by evening the weather had shifted and a storm was blowing in. The now relentless wind had whipped the ocean into a frenzy, turning the previously calm bay into a scene from Oahu’s famous North Shore. The picture-perfect rocky islets broke up the waves and made the view to the right akin to looking into a washing machine.
The winds raged on all night, and when we woke in the morning we knew that despite the glorious sunshine, there was a zero percent chance that we were getting off the beach that day. Sometimes, when it comes to Mother Nature, all you can do is watch, snack on dehydrated cheese, and wait her out! Fortunately for us, our enormous beach provided plenty of walking opportunities and there was even a creek, complete with shallow pools sheltered from the wind, which made a perfect place to break out our air mattresses and enjoy a float. The day passed with many rounds of wilderness bocce and naps, and by the time we were huddled around the marine radio listening to the forecast while cooking dinner, we had our plan: wake up very early and make a break for it while the wind and swells were forecast to be more manageable.
As the sun rose the next morning, we loaded up our gear, investigated the fresh bear tracks on the beach, and set out into the surf. The first hour or so of our paddle was, in the words of my father, “entertaining.” While we were paddling through the type of waves that make your companions disappear, we were far from the only ones on the water. If you paddle early in Nootka Sound, you are guaranteed to see recreational fisherman hauling their catch out of the water all around you.
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Before we knew it, we were back inside the protected waters of the Spanish Pilot Group and the relentless wind and waves had completely disappeared. The power of Mother Nature is incredible, and it is so important to always be prepared for an extended and unexpected stay.
The remainder of our trip was all calm seas and sunshine and before long our trip was at an end. Nootka Sound is a wonderful place to explore for kayakers of all levels. The protected inner islands provide peaceful paddling, while the exposed outside is great for those comfortable with big seas and surf landings. With so much still to explore in the area, I am sure we will be back to see more of what Nootka Sound has to offer.
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Published: August 4, 2022
Last Updated: August 4, 2022
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