700,000 tons of rock explode
Visit Quadra Island, Cortes Island and a world of smaller islands that make up the Discovery group.
The Discovery Islands group, located near Campbell River, B.C., is fast becoming a mecca for sea kayakers. Boasting both sheltered waters and exciting tidal rapids, the Discovery Islands offer gorgeous scenery and excellent paddling opportunities for the beginner to advanced kayaker.
There are more than 12,000 acres of park in the Discovery Islands area and many first-rate places to disembark, such as Heriot Bay on Quadra Island and Whaletown on Cortes Island. Kayakers can choose to go on a day's paddle or an extended camping trip. Close by the Discovery Islands, the stunning beauty of Desolation Sound and inlets of the Mainland coast awaits.
The wildlife of the Discovery Islands area never fails to amaze visitors. Kayakers may spot bald eagles, whales, sea lions, seals, and dolphins from their boats, and some fortunate paddlers report catching salmon or cod for dinner.
Sea kayaking is playing a significant role in B.C.'s adventure tourism market, with some segments of the kayak industry growing at about 15% per year. To fulfill the growing interest, several businesses have opened on the Discovery Islands over the past decade, some of them just this year.
Coast Mountain Expeditions, based on Read Island, has been operating since 1987. Ralph and Lannie Keller moved to Read in 1979, where they built their island homestead and small waterfront lodge. With a background in wilderness guiding and an eagerness to share the beauty of the area, the Kellers opened their business. Now in their 12th season, they offer scheduled and custom sea kayaking experiences for all ages and abilities.
"We've tried to give people a real environmental appreciation for this area. Another thing that's happened is we've realized how profound an effect a wilderness experience can have on people. The experience of being in the wilderness at its elemental level has been very rewarding for our guests and it has been wonderful for us to share this place. And kayaking is such a great way to get around on the water," said Lannie.
The Kellers provide transportation to and from Heriot Bay in their 32-foot passenger vessel, Chico Mendes. Some of their offerings include a sauna by the creek, homestyle cooking featuring fresh seafoods and garden produce, and a focus on the development of skills and self-confidence.
Christine Portman and John Waibel opened their Quadra based kayaking business, Spirit of the West Adventures, this past May.
"I grew up in Campbell River and John is from Victoria. We both do a lot of outdoor stuff and we saw the demand for daily kayaking trips on Quadra," said Christine, adding she loves kayaking because it's peaceful and there is so much marine life to look at.
Spirit of the West offers half-day and full-day tours, as well as sunset paddles. They have a roof rack and trailer to transport kayaks using their passenger van, and can accommodate up to 11 people at a time. In addition to local tours, they also do weekend trips to see the whales in Johnstone Strait and they rent kayaks.
"We just love sharing this area and this a great way to do it," Christine said.
Spirit of the West's clientele are split about evenly between locals and tourists, and, so far, the sunset tours are the most popular. Christine, John, River Howe and Danny Robertson guide the tours. Spirit of the West is a member of the Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of B.C., an organization with 130 members. The guides are trained in wilderness first aid.
Coastal Spirits Wilderness Expeditions, another Quadra based kayaking business, opened this year. Marion and Bernard Eberlein moved to Quadra in October 1997 and began building their bed and breakfast. Originally from Germany, the couple plans to bring Germans and other European tourists to B.C.
"We have a 27-foot power boat with a kayak rack, so we can take people to the inlets. Our business idea is to offer vacation packages with accommodations, boating, and kayaking. We've already had a lot of German visitors who are very excited about what we have here. We offer kayaking day trips, half-day trips, three-and five-day packages, sunset trips, and weekend whale watching trips to Johnstone Strait," said Marion. Coast Spirit trips are led by local kayak guides Brody Wilson and Harris Turner, who are familiar with the area's waters and trained in wilderness first aid.
"I love being out on the water - it's a peaceful encounter with nature. It's like a meditation almost. We have a lot of fun doing this," Marion said.
Brent Henry is an avid kayaker who had a kayaking business on Quadra for a couple of years before deciding to get out of the business commercially and just enjoy it recreationally. He has written kayaking articles and recently solo-kayaked for nine days from Calvert Island (off the northwest mainland coast) to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island.
"Sea kayaking in the Discovery Islands areas is in its infancy and it will continued to interest more people," he said. "We have the beautiful, calm waters on the east side of Quadra and the more challenging tidal rapids and coastal fiords. There's so much here for people to develop kayaking skills with."
Brent said it is very important that kayakers who plan to leave the shoreline have a clear and practiced rescue plan.
"Ocean kayaks are very safe with the appropriate knowledge. It's important to seek out somebody, whether a friend or instructor, and learn a basic rescue routine. Beginners don't have to learn something as fancy as a roll, but they can use a float on the end of their paddle or another rescue plan. People need to know what to do if they flip over - how to get back in their boat and get themselves dry. One of the biggest problems out here is hypothermia."
He added that kayakers should carry charts and learn which areas are susceptible to winds. Early mornings and evenings are the best times for beginners to learn, he said, as the sea is generally calmest at those time.
A number of other Quadra and Cortes island businesses offer kayaking trips and lessons. They include Heriot Bay Inn, April Point Lodge, T'ai Li Lodge, and Quadra Island Canoe and Kayak Rentals. Geophilia Adventures, based out of Granite Bay on Quadra, offers kayak leadership courses. One of Geophilia's owners, Liam Edwards, is president of the Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of B.C.
There is no double that the Discovery Islands group is quickly becoming a very popular kayaking destination on the B.C. coast. More and more people are getting their paddles wet exploring the coves and passages of this beautiful archipelago.
Text by Tanya Storr, a freelance writer living on Quadra Island who has a great love for the outdoors, particularly being out on the water.
Photos by Philip Stone, a Quadra Island-based photographer and publisher specializing in outdoor and adventure photography.
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