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Kayaking Johnstone Strait, British Columbia


One of my most enjoyable adventures was a kayaking trip I did with my oldest son, Bryan, when he was 13 years old.  It was our first big trip together, without his mom and younger brother.  I was hoping to spend some quality time together and inspire him to grow in his appreciation of the natural world (which it did).

Our journey began with a flight from Los Angeles to Vancouver.  We checked into a hotel near the airport, waiting to be picked up the next day by our tour coordinator.  This tour was run by a Canadian company I've traveled with many times which provides solid (but not fancy) well-priced experiences -- Sea to Sky Expeditions.  The company was founded by a retired teacher and a rather charismatic guy, Len.

01 Johnstone Strait(Our ride to Vancouver Island approaches)

Our destination was Johnstone Strait, and our approach would be from Vancouver Island.  So we caught the ferry to the Island -- always a beautiful and interesting journey -- and from there headed north with our group van and kayak trailer to our launch site in the northeastern corner of the island where we camped one night.

02 Johnstone Strait(View of Johnstone Strait from our launch site)

The purpose of our trip was to spot Orcas.  Johnstone Strait is home to several resident pods of Orcas who move through these waters in search of fish (their main source of food).  Of interest, non-resident pods of orcas are more aggressive hunters and prefer to catch seals, dolphins, baby whales or other larger prey.

Johnstone Strait is part of the Inside Passage, so it's waters are relatively sheltered from the Pacific westerlies by Vancouver Island.  Still the water can get rough at times, never more so than when catching the wake of a cruise ship going by -- usually a nice 6-7 foot tall wave which you surf (don't want it to broadside your kayak or you'll be capsized).

05 Johnstone Strait

The kayaks were two-person affairs, so my son and I got to paddle together, he in the front and I at the stern.  We'd just launched when our best Orca experience of the week occurred -- so quickly that I didn't have time to get my camera out until it was almost over.  A pod of Orcas swam through the middle of our group moving at a pretty good clip.  What I most remember is how the fish jumped out of the water ahead of the Orca -- fear motivating them to get out of the way.   If the orcas were submerged, you could tell where they were by the spray of fish fleeing ahead of them.

03 Johnstone Strait

04 Johnstone Strait
(Scenes from the final moments of our first encounter with Orcas)

The kayaking was hard work and our group would take breaks by "rafting", wherein we'd gather together and hang onto each other's kayaks, letting the current carry us while we rested, chatted and rehydrated.

07 Johnstone Strait

07a Johnstone Strait

06 Johnstone Strait

We stopped at small beaches for refreshments, lunch, and to use natures "rest rooms".

08 Johnstone Strait

15 Johnstone Strait

The week of kayaking included many whale sightings, but none as close as we had the first day.  Besides seeing a number of Orcas, I recall waking up at night in a beach side campsite and hearing the pods move by, blowing and splashing.  It was quite a cool experience.

09 Johnstone Strait

11 Johnstone Strait(A few of many Orca spottings)

10 Johnstone Strait(A playful baby Orca breeching)

12 Johnstone Strait

Besides whales, we also saw lots of birds, especially bald eagles, and at low tide a number of creatures like the purple sea stars shown above.

13 Johnstone Strait

Some of our camp sites were dramatic, like in the above forest.  Nights were spent usually as a group, chatting and sharing meals prepared by our guides and getting to bed early (because we'd get up early).

14 Johnstone Strait

The scenery of the Strait was beautiful, with lots to take in....

16 Johnstone Strait

17 Johnstone Strait

20 Johnstone Strait

18 Johnstone Strait
(Lots of driftwood in BC waters -- making a nice bench for us)

19 Johnstone Strait(My son Bryan - right side of photo -- and a buddy he made on the trip)

The salmon fishing season opened for a few days while we were on this trip and there were lots of commercial fishing boats catching salmon.  The best part of this was that we had fresh fish for dinner, which was superb.

21 Johnstone Strait

22 Johnstone Strait(Fresh salmon for dinner)

We enjoyed some remarkable sunsets....

23 Johnstone Strait

24 Johnstone Strait

And on our last afternoon -- when we'd returned to camp at our original launching point, we did a small hike and spotted deer and a lovely waterfall...

25 Johnstone Strait

26 Johnstone Strait

We got home safely and both of us had had fun.  I'd recommend the experience for anyone wanting to experience the wilds of the BC coast, with a chance to see these magnificent killer whales.


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Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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