Kayaking the Nuchatlitz Island Group
Story and Photos: Elaine Hanson
Our adventure began the night before... Our intrepid crew of six kayakers showed up at Gold River the evening before we were to embark on a nine day sea kayaking journey to the Nuchatlitz Group on the outer coast of west Vancouver Island. As we were arriving from different locations in western Canada the logistics of planning this trip was a digital marathon a few months prior. Unloading and sorting gear for five kayaks at the MV Uchuck III marina was akin to stuffing, layering and cramming each dry bag and item into every nook and cranny with barely enough room to batten down the hatches. Whew!
All aboard the MV Uchuck III en-route to Rosa Island...
Once settled into the comforts of the MV Uchuck III you are quickly immersed in the warmth and hospitality of the crew. It feels like ‘family’ on board this vessel. You are welcomed to visit the captain in the pilot house, chat with the crew, read charts and indulge in the ‘scentual’ delicacies wafting from the galley. I cannot imagine a better way to start a trip. Viewing the landscape, channels and inlets from the carrier vessel offers a much larger perspective and appreciation of the distance and time it would take to reach the outside waters had we decided to paddle these waterways. Instead we could relax, stay well fed and warm while taking in the maritime culture as the restored mine sweeper, a working boat, delivered supplies to fish farms, logging camps and roadless communities en route. This aspect of the trip was both intriguing and part of the adventure. One thing is for sure, as a kayaker about to depart the vessel via wet launch is to befriend the deck hands - especially the person controlling the winches for your launch. You want this guy on your side! And quite honestly, it is an amazing experience. I felt like a child in a dream with a flying kayak. I felt like I was in good hands.
The offerings of the Nuchatlitz group are as varied as your skill level or sense of adventure. Among the islands you will find protected waters, large rafts of sea otters, the accompaniment of murrelets and loons, the curious visitation of seals and watching bears forage for food along the beach intertidal zone. The beaches and tide pools provide a microcosm of smaller creatures and fascinating art forms made by nature. We would sit in our boats or on the shoreline and witness the playful antics of sea otters as they tumbled and dove, groomed themselves or broke open the shells of their catch of the day with a rock. They provided endless entertainment for us. The combination of on land and on water activity make this area a well balanced choice for a destination. Walking the beaches, hiking up hills, and discovering old trails are as welcome as paddling through arches, exploring sea caves and the intertidal zones.
Great campsites and good food are key components to any successful kayak trip and the weight of our boats was incentive enough to partake in the 3 - 4 course meals we prepared each evening. By the fourth day our boats weighed less and the hatches closed more easily. Getting out to explore inlets and basins; to beachcomb and do yoga were also an incentive to burn off our calorie intake. The mood of the landscape, even the same landscape could change significantly in any given day. Rainy days can acquaint the paddler with treasures closer up, like limpets and seaweed; bat stars and urchins; sea anemones and starfish. The Nootka fog rolling in creates a mysterious effect, adding to the beauty of the landscape rather than detracting from it. The glow of the sun on rock formations and small islands could make them appear like a Group of Seven painting before your very eyes. The spectacular sunsets simply bathe you in their warmth and awe. Features stand out strikingly when silhouetted against the brilliant colours of the setting sun.
As our days on the water were nearing the end we happily anticipated our return trip to Gold River on board the MV Uchuck III. On the rainy morning of our last day as we paddled about the waters around Rosa Island awaiting our pick up we were already wondering what Elaine, the galley chef, would be cooking up for lunch. Then, as the vessel came into view, we had big smiles on our faces - it felt like we were going home to the familiar cozy comfort of the old mine sweeper boat in all her glory.