Kayaking in Canada’s Broughton Archipelago

We slipped behind a craggy limb of Hanson Island in our kayaks. Fog clung to the horizon in the distance, blending into both sea and sky. As a lethargic current swept us around a corner, the silence broke with a puff, followed in rapid succession, by several others. Unintentionally, we found ourselves on a multilane highway of orcas.

Encountring orcas in the Broughton Archipelago Image credit: Kush Patel

Like a deer in headlights, I froze. Eight claw-shaped fins, one of which looked six-foot long, cut through the water as they headed directly to us.

‘We’re too close. Everyone bunch up!’ ordered Fin, our wind-battered kayaking guide.

Like a trained battalion, my group of seven amateurs and two guides closed ranks, reined in the paddles and linked up – giving the orcas space. Our kayaks held us only five centimetres from the water’s surface, as the family of giants, weighing between three and six tonnes each, did the butterfly close enough for us to feel the spray of their breath.

‘Eight claw-shaped fins, one of which looked six-foot long, cut through the water as they headed directly to us.’ Image credit: Kush Patel

Needless to say, I had trouble containing myself. Gradually they melted into the fog, leaving behind an ecstatic group of kayakers.

My girlfriend and I wanted a thrilling wildlife holiday, off the beaten track, albeit in comfort and involving some hard work but without breaking too much of a sweat. Kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago, off Canada’s Vancouver Island, fitted the bill perfectly.

Kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago Image credit: Kush Patel

Legend has it that a raven flying over the water, that couldn’t find a place to land, dropped pebbles into the ocean created the Archipelago. This splatter of islands, some barely big enough to pitch a tent on, is situated on the calmer side of the Pacific and also reaps many of its rewards.

In summer, phytoplankton blooms – fuelled by prolonged periods of life-injecting sunshine and currents that harness nutrients from the depths – catapulting life into overdrive. The photosynthesizing micro-greenery feeds a network of creatures before eventually zeroing in on some of our planets ultimate predators- orcas, humpback whales, black bears, sea lions.

Legend has it that a raven flying over the water, that couldn’t find a place to land, dropped pebbles into the ocean created the Archipelago. Image credit: Kush Patel

Why the Broughton Archipelago?

Much like South Africa’s nutrient rich waters, this cluster of islands has evolved into a biodiversity hotspot – where you can find everything from colourful starfish to pods of humpback whales and orcas. The land is choked with dense temperate rainforest with a thriving black bear population.

Kayaking here offers a meditative, eco-friendly way to explore the archipelago, mixed in with thrilling wildlife encounters. Glamping provides a comfortable yet raw immersion into the wilderness. The relative isolation, picturesque landscape and simple perks thrown in by my hosts, created a truly romantic air.

This area is also home to indigenous people – the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation. Their history and customs are embedded in the land adding a rich cultural experience. The archipelago is torn between human exploitation of its resources and conservation, providing an insightful platform to learn about sustainability, development and its effects on the natural world.

Why now?

Pollution, overfishing, deforestation and shiping traffic threaten this ecosystem. Recently the World watched a mother orca, named Tahlequah, grieved as she carriedher stillborn calf on a 17-day sojourn. Orcas have seen their population plummet and extinction is quickly becoming a reality. Some populations of salmon have dropped by 90% with Northern sea lions having suffered a similar fate. However, conservation efforts, eco-tourism and sustainable development can provide a solution by generating revenue, educating people and preserving this ecosystem.

How I undertook the trip

Direct flight to and from London to Vancouver with Air Transat
Direct flight to and from Vancouver to Vancouver Island (Port Hardy) with Pacific Coastal Airlines
Camping and Kayaking organised by Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures kingfisher.ca

 

Text and images: Kush Patel

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