Killer Whales All Around
You’re sitting in camp with a cup of coffee watching the fog burn off the water, your mind in a peaceful state of repose. Someone yells, “Orcas!” It is amazing how fast a dozen people can shift to high gear, stop what they are doing, get into their sea kayaks, and start paddling. Their single-minded goal is to be in the vicinity of the Orcas as they breach, spyhop, blow, or cruise by. What a rush to be inches from the surface and see half a dozen black fins cutting through the water and listen to their conversation over the hydrophone that’s been lowered into the water by a guide. You will not be able to go to sleep without turning the pages of your mental scrapbook filled with Orca photographs.
The killer whales (actually members of the dolphin family) are also called blackfish or sea wolves. They stay together in a matrilineal group of varying size. They probably got their nickname because many of them eat seals, minke whales, sea lions, and walruses, and they hunt in packs like wolves. The Orcas in this area are here to feed, mostly on the salmon.
The Inside Passage runs between the eastern side of Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia. The protected waters of such sections as Johnstone Strait are ideal for sea kayaking and with a little instruction beginners are soon moving easily through the water.
The kayak vacations are camping trips that generally last between 4 and 7 days. You’ll pack your gear in waterproof bags and carry it with you. Depending upon the outfitter, you’ll either paddle to your initial campsite or be ferried by a motorboat. Your guides will assist you and provide your meals, but they are not your Sherpas and you’ll be expected to pitch in as if you were camping with a group of friends. Much of your time will be spent on the water, and in addition to the Orcas you’ll have chances to see a large variety of wildlife including bears, sea lions, dolphins, bald eagles, otters, and salmon. With luck, you’ll even see a humpback whale. You’ll also do some hiking and be able to totally chill until you are incredibly relaxed.
For a change of scenery after chasing Orcas for a few days, be sure to visit Vancouver Island. It’s almost 483km (300 miles) long and 81km (50 miles) wide, so it takes several days to explore. The west coast is more rugged than the east coast, with its Golden Hinde Mountain (named after Sir Frances Drake’s ship) that tops out above 2,100m (7,000 ft.). The waves crashing on the shore at Tofino are enough in themselves to attract visitors. Most of the towns are small and fun to visit.
Tourism British Columbia ( 800/435-5622; www.hellobc.com).
Tours: Northern Lights Expeditions ( 800/754-7402 or 360/734-6334; www.seakayaking.com). Out For Adventure Tours, 685 Heriot Bay Rd. ( 866-344-5292 or 250/285-3600; www.outforadventure.com).
When to Go: June to mid-Sept.
Port Hardy Airport (general aviation) or Victoria International Airport.
$ Haida-Way Inn, 1817 Campbell Way, Port McNeill. ( 800/956-3373 or 250/956-3373; www.pmhotels.com). $$ Hidden Cove Lodge, Port McNeill/Telegraph Cove ( 250/956-3916; www.bcbbonly.com/1263.php).