Essential Guide to Kayaking with Whales in Johnstone Strait

Kayaking with Whales in the Johnstone Strait - North Vancouver Island

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.

Kayaking with Whales in Johnstone Strait, North Vancouver Island

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.

Telegraph Cove Kayak Camping North Vancouver Island

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.

Multi-Day Kayaking North Vancouver Island British Columbia


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.

Orca Breach Telegraph Cove British Columbia


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 Overnight Kayaking Trips


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

— GoPro Hero7 Black with LCD and Waterproof Selfie Stick

— Canon 5D Mark II Camera Body

— Tamron 28-75mm Lens – I brought this instead of my 300mm telephoto lens because it weighs less, it’s smaller, and it’s better in low light with a 2.8 aperture.

— 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

— Fleece Lined Leggings

— Board Shorts – to wear while kayaking. (Wear leggings underneath if you get cold.)

— Pillow Case – to stuff with clothes for a pillow.

— Snacks

— Moisture Wicking Underwear & Bra

— Portable Charger – to charge equipment

— Lifeproof Case for iPhone

— Book

— Hat

— Water Shoes – you will absolutely need water shoes that cover your toes! Flip flops are not recommended.

— T-Shirt

— Water Bottle

— Sunscreen


— Sunglasses

— Toiletries

— Baby Wipes

— Small Bug Spray

— Hiking Shoes

— Socks

— Warm Pajamas (I wore my t-shirt & leggings)


Plan Your Trip to Vancouver Island

After traveling consistently for over 10 years, we’ve come to trust and rely on a few websites to help us find the best deals on flights and accommodation.


  • Going is the first place we check when searching for cheap flights. If you sign up for their email alerts, you’ll receive flight deals at up to 90% off. I have traveled all over the world using their flight deals.


  • offers savings on hotels, apartments, and villas in 80,000 destinations worldwide. You can browse hotel reviews and find the guaranteed best price on hotels for all budgets.


Love to Travel?

Want to know how to travel the world? I’ve put together a page full of useful travel resources with tips and tricks I’ve learned after consistently traveling for over ten years. Learn how I make a living while traveling, how to find the best prices on flights and accommodation, how to save money for travel, how to start a travel blog, and more.



As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I’m also a member of other affiliate programs. For more info please read my Privacy Policy

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Colin Seitz says:


    Thanks for sharing this great info – my wife and I are planning a kayaking trip with North Island Kayak and this has been very helpful. I also had a camera question – you mentioned you brought your tamaron lens because it was lighter and better for low light with the 2.8 aperture. If you were doing this again, would you bring that same random or something with more focal length and good low light like an 80-200 2.8?

    Thanks for any advice!


  2. Nunavut resident says:


    We are planning on kayaking independently. Any tips of where to look? We will be bringing our own rental kayaks, and not renting from north island kayaks (very pricey!!!) We’re looking for itineraries and maps, as well as any other tips for people going truly independent.


  3. Varun Shenoy says:

    Hi Christy and Scott,
    Kayaking with whales sounds so thrilling and dangerous that the blog grabbed my attention and I had to read through it and I have no complaints. I love every bit and I am now yearning to experience it too. You guys are so lucky to have each other as travel mates!

  4. The Dutch countryside says:

    Too bad you didn’t see them this time, but ah well, at least the scenery was absolutely stunning! I would love to see whales in the wild sometime, they’re just incredible creatures.

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      No complaints here. 🙂 Anytime I’m out in nature is time well spent!

  5. Passport Couture says:

    I’m definitely going to keep this in mind for a future adventure! I went kayaking in Los Angeles, and I’d love to take the opportunity to do this journey too. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      I’m glad you found it helpful! I can’t get enough of this area in BC.

  6. My Five Acres says:

    We live in Nanaimo, and recently did a kayaking trip to the Broken Group Island. No whales though. I have never seen whales in BC, and would LOVE to on one of my kayaking trips. Will look into Telegraph Cove. Thanks Christy. -Stephen.

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      You live so close! I’m already planning my next trip back to Telegraph Cove — hopefully for a longer stay. 🙂

  7. Sand in my Suitcase says:

    That’s so disappointing that you didn’t see any whales on this kayaking trip. Bad luck, twice now. But with whale watching, we have to remember that whales are wild creatures – and they show up when they want to, not when we want them to :-). Every time I (Janice) have gone out on a whale watching trip in Cabo San Lucas, the whales don’t show. Then my sister-in-law goes out – and wouldn’t you know it, the whales are breaching and putting on a huge show. Anyway, at least you got some great “nature” time in the wilderness…

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      I wouldn’t say it was bad luck. I’ve had so many opportunities to see whales (even Orcas) in the wild. I did see them from the whale watching trip on Vancouver Island on my last trip too! It’s not SeaWorld, so I think it’s good to remember that we can’t expect to see them on every trip. It also made me realize how long it takes to paddle anywhere in a kayak, so even if they are just across the strait, it will take 45 minutes to get there! lol You really have to be in the right place at the right time when it comes to kayaking. On a boat, you have a MUCH higher chance of seeing them.