Kayaking the Mid-Coast: Tips and Precautions

June-July 1996

This is an article from WaveLength Magazine, available in print in North America and globally on the web.


The mid-coast is a kayakers' paradise with numerous protected inlets, fjords, lagoons, isolated expanses of beach and hot springs.

One of the best known paddling areas is the Hakai Recreational Area on Calvert Island, accessed by crossing Fitz Hugh Sound from Namu. Fitz Hugh Sound is a long channel with heavy marine traffic day and night, although the route is also known to be frequented by Pacific white-sided dolphin.

To the north of the Hakai Recreational Area, paddlers can enjoy the many small straits, exposed coastline and islands accessible from Bella Bella/Shearwater, such as the Goose Group.

A good way to get to the Goose Group is to paddle north of Campbell Island, down Raymond Passage and through the McMullin Group. The north end of Goose Island is used for a native Rediscovery program and should be avoided, but the south end has some beautiful spots, like nearby Gull Islet (NE of Gosling Island). There is also a myriad of rocky islets south of Gosling. Heading east again, there is a long crossing to Hunter Island via the McNaughton Group and Cultus Sound. South of Hunter is another prime paddling site, the Spider Group. Traveling back up Hunter Channel leads to the south end of Campbell Island and more good camping.

A number of beautiful tidal lagoons exist in the area, but access to them requires careful attention to tides. At the entrances is an abundance of rich sea life and fresh water sources can often be found at the end of the lagoons. No water is available in the Goose Group, by the way.

On the mainland just north of Hakai Pass is the Koeye Valley, one of the last unlogged watersheds on the coast. The view to the mountains is superb, and grizzly bears are known to come down to the water as in few other places on the coast (campers be careful!). But Hakai Pass itself suffers from a population of floating fishing lodges and small powerboaters.

There is reportedly good paddling around Klemtu on Swindle Island. Swindle and Princess Royal Island (further north) are one of the few remaining refuges of the Kermode or Spirit Bear and of great interest to environmentalists. The gaping fjords and inlets around Swindle Island and Fjordland Recreational Area to the northeast are also stunning. In contrast, the scenery around Ocean Falls, a former pulp mill, shows damage of clearcut logging.

A few cautions about the mid-coast do apply. The area is remote so self-sufficiency is important. Sea fog is common in the late summer, currents can be strong (Nakwakto Rapids is one of the world's fastest), and crossings or exposed coasts can be dicey (with surf landings). The southern end, around Cape Caution, has heavy swell and surf as it is the only part of the 'Inside Passage' that is not protected to the west.

Campsites are infrequent and generally small -- not suitable for large groups. High tides may make camping difficult, so go between the moons for modest tides. In the steep-sided fjords, there are periodically strong outflow and inflow winds. There, and on exposed coasts, weather conditions can delay trips, so give yourself plenty of time.

As a general note, winds during the summer are westerly or southwesterly during the summer. On clear sunny days, winds are usually light or nil in the early morning, they pick up midday to late afternoon, then die off in the evening. They can be extremely strong in the coastal inlets (e.g. Burke Channel) and kayakers should take note and plan travel accordingly. Weather information can be picked up on VHF Channel 21B (161.65MHZ).

On the plus side, paddlers can be sure to find more untouched wilderness, rugged beauty and wildlife, and fewer other human beings than in more southerly waters. It will be an experience you won't soon forget. A week is a minimum, two is adequate, and three weeks would be ideal.

For further information you can consult Fishing With John, a book written by Edith Iglauer. Another good source is Docks and Destinations, available at map and chart shops, with good information on what is available at coastal communities and good photos of the area. Or call BC Ferries at 604/753-2723.

See page 7 of the June/July '96 issue of WaveLength Magazine for a BC Ferry Coupon entitling the bearer to FREE PASSAGE of a canoe or kayak on any Discovery Passage ferry trip!

Thanks to Chris Ladner of Ecomarine, BC Ferries, and Carol Ranger for advice.