Kayaking with Orcas in Johnstone Strait in British Columbia is a dream come true. Use this travel guide and packing list to help plan your trip!
As I boarded the tiny plane headed for Port Hardy, British Columbia, I had to tell myself to breathe. I was on a solo journey to kayak with Orcas in Telegraph Cove — just an hour north of Port Hardy — and yet all I could think about was how claustrophobic I felt in this miniature box with wings.
During the months of July through September, the Johnstone Strait has the largest population of Orcas (Killer Whales) in North America. My previous kayaking trip off the coast of North Vancouver Island was cancelled last minute due to high winds and my obsession with getting up close to Orcas led me back here, three years later.
As soon as our plane began to take off over the water towards the remote wilderness of Telegraph Cove, I couldn’t help but wonder why I’m so drawn to these distant places that force me to spend so much time in transit. Wales, Mauritius, The Hebrides, and Newfoundland — to name a few — are not on most people’s typical travel agendas, yet these have been some of my most treasured trips.
To be completely honest, I felt slightly nervous about the next three days. Time alone with my thoughts and relying only on myself in a remote destination can be a bit intimidating. Thankfully — unlike my previous visit — the sun still illuminated the sky, which provided plenty of time to make the one hour drive to Telegraph Cove before dark. I was thankful for the late summer nights during this warm evening in late July.
Afraid that I would miss my 8am call time, my internal clock didn’t allow me to sleep past dawn. As my floating studio rocked back and forth with the gentle waves on Telegraph Cove’s harbor, I packed my dry bag with the essentials for a kayaking trip in the Johnstone Strait and drove the several hundred feet to meet my new travel buddies for the next two days.
The ocean conditions that morning were not favorable, but luckily, we paddled with the wind for about two hours towards our enchanting campsite. After we docked our kayaks, I noticed several huge blue tents had been set up along the ocean, each stocked with the most luxurious sleeping mats. Lush ferns dotted the pathway to each tent and towering old-growth trees provided shade and protection from the wind.
The best part of my home for the night was the location: right on the beach, yet no camping neighbors for at least a mile. I knew a couple of days here is all I needed to recharge my batteries and revive my love for travel.
A small ocean-front camp kitchen sat within a few yards from the tents and it was completely stocked with all of the camping necessities. Our guide was not only a great storyteller, but an amazing cook as well. We didn’t have to lift a finger, not even to help with the dishes. I kept myself busy by napping on the hammocks overlooking the Johnstone Strait, breezing through No Touch Monkey, and taking solo hikes through the dense forest surrounding our camp.
We had an amazing second day out on the water, with glassy conditions as we paddled along for four hours, enveloped in a blanket of thick fog. With limited visibility, there was less of a chance for whale sightings, but it was the calmest conditions possible for an easy paddle back to Telegraph Cove. The water was like transparent satin, perfect for viewing octopus, urchins, and sea stars along the shallow water.
I came back to Telegraph Cove — after my first visit three years ago — specifically because I was hoping to get up close to a pod of Orcas while kayaking. Even though we didn’t see any whales on this particular trip, I got exactly what I needed: time alone with my thoughts and the perfect location to reconnect with nature.
My only complaint was that I didn’t have enough courage to book the three or four day kayaking trip. As we paddled back into Telegraph Cove on our second day, I wasn’t ready to leave. My reluctance to book a longer trip was due to thinking that my arms couldn’t handle more than two days of paddling in a row. But, learning how to paddle correctly makes all of the difference in the world and I wasn’t even sore after two days!
If you have the time, I recommend booking a longer trip because it will give you more opportunities to see whales.
Essential Guide to Kayaking with Whales in Johnstone Strait
Kayaking in Johnstone Strait
North Island Kayak offers sea kayaking tours from May through September. You will have a better chance of seeing whales if you visit between late July and early September. Check their website for a full list of dates and prices.
North Island Kayak allows their guests to leave a car in their lot, so if you are considering a multi-day kayaking trip in this area, you don’t need to worry about finding a place for the rest of your luggage. I left everything in the trunk of my rental car except my travel photography gear and a few items that fit into my 20L dry bag.
Tip: If you don’t see any orcas during your kayaking trip, save some time to do a whale watching tour from a boat. It’s practically guaranteed that you will see whales from July to September. Here’s a photo I took from the whale watching tour three years ago.
How to Get to North Vancouver Island
I flew into Port Hardy and rented a car from the airport. If you already have a car, you can take the ferry from Vancouver to Nanaimo and make the four hour drive to Telegraph Cove.
Where to Stay in North Vancouver Island
Telegraph Cove Resort is your best option in Telegraph Cove. They offer camping, single rooms, studios, and houses for rent.
Packing List for an Overnight Kayaking Trip
Here is the packing list and gear I use for overnight kayaking trips.
— 20L Dry Bag for Clothing (North Island Kayak provides dry bags if you don’t want to bring your own.)
— 10L Dry Bag with Adjustable Strap for Camera Gear
— Canon 5D Mark II Camera Body
— Quick Dry Hoodie – It is highly recommended to bring clothing that dries quickly while kayaking (nylon or other synthetic material). No cotton! This hoodie kept me warm and provided sun protection. It’s my new go-to shirt for water sports.
— Long-Sleeved Fleece – for warmth at night.
— Rain Jacket
— Waterproof Pants
— Board Shorts – to wear while kayaking. (Wear leggings underneath if you get cold.)
— Pillow Case – to stuff with clothes for a pillow.
— Moisture Wicking Underwear & Bra
— Portable Charger – to charge equipment
— Water Shoes – you will absolutely need water shoes that cover your toes! Flip flops are not recommended.
— Water Bottle
— Baby Wipes
— Small Bug Spray
— Hiking Shoes
— Warm Pajamas (I wore my t-shirt & leggings)
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