I may have lived on Vancouver Island for almost two years now, but I am still discovering all of the adventures that can be experienced here, some of which I never thought I would have the opportunity to have. I recently spent four days at Wildcoast Adventures’ Orca Camp, which is located next to the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve (North-East Vancouver Island), a place with a high chance of not only seeing orcas, but also getting the opportunity to kayak with them. Imagine, kayaking with killer whales…pretty awesome right?
The camp itself felt like a world away from my Comox Valley home, despite being just a 40 minute drive and 2 hour water taxi ride away. I say ‘just,’ when really the boat trip was an adventure in itself; through the whirlpools and strong currents of Seymour Narrows and past the little middle-of-nowhere fishing communities of the Johnstone Strait, all with a beautiful mountain backdrop. Oh, and we (6 other guests and I) spotted dolphins riding the current behind passing boats – marine wildlife already!
Life at Orca Camp
The theme continues on arrival at Orca Camp itself; surrounded by mountains and islands and with no road access, the camp is wonderfully remote and completely private from the water. Remote it may be, camp life is anything but basic, with the main part of camp taken up by spacious safari-style tents (with proper camp beds!) set into the coniferous forest.
I set up home in the ‘Bear Cave,’ at the edge of camp closer to the well set up main communal area/kitchen tent. Hot drinks and snacks were always available, along with the fantastic view of the Strait (and West Coast sunsets) from the covered deck; this is where, without fail, you’d find me in the evening, reading and enjoying hot cider after a paddle and hot shower on the beach!
Hot meals were prepared in the camp kitchen twice a day by our guides, Fia and Justin, and my vegetarian diet was well catered for (Eggs Benedict for breakfast and paella for dinner? Yes please!)…..along with my sweet tooth!
Orca Camp isn’t all about the accommodation however (as comfortable as it was!); we were also here to kayak, hopefully with killer whales and other marine wildlife. We went out on the water at least once a day, with long paddles on the two full days of the trip. Sunset paddles were also available, a great way to end the day. Most people in our group had never kayaked before, but everyone learned quickly and on the second day we all took a 12km return trip south to Naka Point. That’s quite a learning curve! Credit to our guides for their excellent instruction, and also for their helpful tips to improve my own kayaking skills.
Our second long paddle took us across the Johnstone Strait, to a beach lunch spot. Our crossing from remarkedly calm and stunningly picturesque, so much so that our guides said it was the best one they’d ever had! It was from the beach that we got our first (and sadly, only) Orca viewing – they were all the way on the other side of the Strait, passing right by our camp! We were 4km away at the time and yet we could still see the dorsal fins, confirming the magnificent size and presence of these creatures.
Rushing back into our kayaks and across the Strait again, the Orcas were still too fast for us to see again, but we enjoyed an easy paddle back to our camp, this time with the breathtaking Vancouver Island mountains framing the view.
Waters vibrant with life
Our enthusiastic guides didn’t only help us improve our paddling skills, they also took every opportunity they could to show and tell us about the local marine wildlife, including sea stars, sun stars, crabs and jellyfish. Although unlucky with Orcas, we saw plenty of other creatures to satisfy us, including lots of jumping salmon and Dall’s porpoises. You couldn’t sit for a few minutes on the camp’s beach without at least one salmon flying out of the water! We spotted Dall’s porpoises from the beach, as well as on kayak trips.
My favourite paddle was at 8am on our last day; we were surrounded by seven porpoises (including some young ones!) hunting for salmon in the dawn fog. It was a magical experience and one I will definitely not forget!
So much to see
Wildlife was not the only thing to watch and look for at camp. We enjoyed gorgeous sunsets every night, as well as morning fog that slowly unveiled the beautiful landscape. Morning was my favourite time at Orca Camp; it was a unique experience to see the camp’s surroundings become clearer minute by minute.
As a testament to the stunning local landscape, we were visited by a few cruise ships every day. When you see these monoliths go past with hundreds of people out on deck appreciating the sun and the views, you know you’re in a good place.
Away from the ocean, there are other aspects of camp to explore; a few short trails lead you up and around for views of camp, huge trees and the neighbouring stream that signifies the border of the Robson Bight Reserve.
An experience like no other
My four days at OrcaCamp with Wildcoast Adventures were filled with exciting ocean kayaking, wildife encounters, good food, relaxation and lots of fun! We may not have seen many Orcas, but nature is unpredictable and sightings can never be guaranteed. Everyone in my group had a great time at camp without seeing any killer whales, and I think that says a lot!
I think Orca Camp is an awesome option for visitors to Vancouver Island who want to get off the beaten track and have a wilderness experience without the hassle. Add to this the comfortable camp setting and I’m sold! All you need to bring to camp are your own personal items, and everything else is provided for you. This is kayak camping and wildlife watching made easy, with a few luxuries thrown in too!
The trip can be as relaxing or as active as you want; with Orca Camp as a base, it means that you don’t have to go kayaking at any point if you don’t feel like it, and can instead relax on the beach or by the stream and enjoy the camp comforts. This works well for families and/or groups, who may not all have the same passions all of the time! Our guides went out of their way to make sure guests had a great time, whether that meant finding more ocean wildlife to look at or making sure everyone always had enough food, hot drinks, hot showers and even appropriate footwear for kayaking.
Vancouver Island is a special part of the world, and Wildcoast Adventures enable more people to go beyond the beaten track to experience a wilderness adventure of their own. Seeing Orcas and other marine mammals at close range is simply the icing on the cake.
I was invited as a guest of WildCoast; however, all views and opinions of the trip are my own and based on the experience I had at OrcaCamp in August 2013.