Explore Blackfish Sound and the stunning Johnstone Strait on British Columbia Unbound's Orca & Humpback Expedition. Our 6-day kayaking trip begins with a stay at an exclusive base camp nestled right in the heart of the "orca loop" off Robson Bight. The following day, paddle to our Humpback Basecamp located right in Blackfish Sound's whale-rich waters. Humpback and orcas hunt for salmon in these glacier-carved waterways, and orcas even stop by to rub their bellies on the rough beaches of one of our basecamps. Acrobatic humpback whales breach and play, and plenty of other wildlife and marine life make an appearance. All camping sites are waiting for you so that you can fully enjoy your stress-free vacation. Our spacious canvas tents, set on cedar bark, are fully furnished with sleeping cots, bags and thermarests and can accommodate two people. We also practice Leave No Trace camping techniques to ensure that British Columbia's wild to remain wild.
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Enjoy breakfast on your own, commite to Telegraph Cove, our launch site. After a brief kayaking safety orientation, we launch into the cove and begin our paddle down the Johnstone Strait. The heart of orca territory, the Johnstone Strait also offers plenty of forested coastline, eagles, seals and other marine life. Your paddle concludes at our first base camp, nestled right in the core of the "orca loop." Settle in and relax from the day's paddle with hors d'oeuvres and local wines as our guides make dinner: a fresh salmon bake. After dinner, huddle around the campfire and indulge in a freshly baked dessert. As you fall to sleep, listen to the distant sound of orcas blowing offshore.
Throughout the tour, we paddle to the First Nations pictograph sites as well as the Robson Bight Orca Preserve. There should be plenty of orcas passing by, so keep an eye out!
Wake with the sun as it rises over dense rainforest and enjoy a freshly prepared warm breakfast and coffee or tea. You have a leisurely morning spent beachcombing, reading or keeping an eye our for passing orcas. We kayak about four hours a day, with time for rests and lunch breaks. Our morning kayak takes us to our lunch site where you can stretch your legs with some hiking. Our evening paddle takes us to our next campsite where happy hour and dinner await you. Settle up around the campfire and learn more about the region's natural history and local legends.
Enjoy your last camp breakfast before beginning our return paddle to Telegraph Cove. We stop for lunch, some float-breaks and a tour of the Telegraph Cove whale museum before take-out.
A taxi transports you to Port McNeill this afternoon, where you may choose to stay overnight and join the group for a final farewell dinner. You can also depart this evening by car or fly out tomorrow.
Please Note: The 4-day base camp option follows the same general schedule shown above, but you stay at one base camp and and return on day 4. Our guides will do their best to offer you the highest possibility of orca sightings, the quality, type and frequency depend on the orcas. All itineraries are subject to change and may be impacted by circumstances beyond our control such as inclement weather.
Dates & Rates
• All meals as indicated on the itinerary
• Transportation to and from the launch site
• All kayaking instruction
• All kayaking and camping equipment
• Full service of our certified professional Guides and Adventure Consultants
• Transportation to and from Port McNeill
• Hotel before and after the tour
• Meals before or after the tour
• Gratuity for guides
• Items of a personal nature.
ALL PRICES IN US DOLLARS. We will do our best to adhere to the itineraries and trip descriptions listed on our website. However, tour itineraries or sub-contractors (such as taxi, cruise boats or hotels) may change slightly due to reasons beyond our control including but not limited to Acts of God, wind, waves, inclement weather or other. We always welcome you to call us to clarify any item - often this is the best way to fully clarify expectations - call us collect or on our toll-free number. You will be sent pre-trip email with latest details within a month of your tour - it is your responsibility to check in with us prior to your trip to see if you have all the information you need. We will always do our best to provide you with the best possible tour and to fully meet your expectations to the best of our ability.
FAQ & More
Our four-day trip utilizes one campsite for all four days and our six-day trip has three potential campsites. The four-day often allows you more time to relax and enjoy the beautiful wildlife and scenery. Families with teens, novice kayakers, or those who prefer a slower pace would be ideal for this tour. This site, located on Vancouver Island, is close to Robson Bight. The shoreline is composed of sea-polished stones that lure an orca to rub its six-ton body along the beach, or herd salmon into the curve of the shore. Orcas regularly pass by directly in front of camp. Paddlers can scramble down the rock outcropping and stand at water's edge to watch orcas cruise by just below their feet. The camp offers great orca viewing right off shore. We never just "wait around for orcas" on the base camp. We take daily day trips, paddling to different beaches for lunch, hike, observing wildlife. Each trip includes about 4 hours per day of kayaking: two hours paddling in morning, and another two hours paddling in the afternoon after lunch. Often there is a hike at the lunch stop, and the evenings are filled with campfires, games, or fishing. The six-day tour option involves up to three different campsites, weather and current depending. All are located along the travel routes used by the orcas. Because of the trip route, you are much more likely to see wilderness areas and a more diverse selection of marine life, including humpback whales that are often feeding on fish in Blackfish Sound. First Nations pictograph areas are also explored on this tour, and the base of the Broughton Archipelago, while remaining firmly in whale waters.
Our tour dates are chosen specifically to place all of our guests right in the middle of orca season. The northern resident pods are found in the Strait between mid-July and mid-September when salmon, their primary prey, come from the ocean to spawn in the rivers of mainland British Columbia. With more than 220 individually-identified whales in 17 separate pods within the region and guides carrying radios throughout the tour, our guests have an excellent chance of seeing orcas in the area. However, we often recommend August for the best British Columbia weather.
Here at ROW Adventures, we follow the "Be Whale Wise" regulations for the protection of the whales. Within these regulations it states that no one is allowed within 200 yards/meters of an orca. We're privileged to have the opportunity for viewing these beautiful creatures from close vantage points. The very survival of the species, let alone the wonder of seeing them in their natural habitat, depends on everyone's cooperation in the "Be Whale Wise" regulations. Orca can travel much faster than kayakers, however, so occasionally they approach us much closer than the above guidelines. From land, you may have your closest encounters, as the whales often come within meters of the shoreline! Understanding the behavior and range of the orcas helps to better-set your expectations for your orca kayak tour. More details on their regulations can be found at their website, www.BeWhaleWise.org.
To our knowledge, the orcas of Johnstone Strait have never bumped a kayak or attacked a swimmer. While many believe orcas to be seal-eaters, some don't even eat mammals. The "killer whales" of the Johnstone Straight, in particular, come to eat the salmon in this narrow channel. Whales are acutely aware of their surroundings and we feel safe being in their presence. A wild orca has never killed or severely injured a human in recorded history.
We have two recommended trip extensions available through local experienced operators that can take you where the orca sightings are reported. These extensions are both by boat, which allow for a better opportunity to keep up with the whales. Our friends at Mackay Whale Watching tours or Stubbs Island Whale Watching can help you with this.
We recommend making arrangements at the Haida Way Motor Inn in Port McNeill, BC, particularly if you do not have a car, as this is the site of the orientation meeting, as well as the pickup point for your transport to the launch site on the first day of the tour. The hotel is very basic, but clean and well-kept. Their in-house Northern Lights Restaurant has the best seafood in town. Indicate you are traveling with ROW Sea Kayak Adventures. We also recommend the Black Bear Resort, which is directly across the street from the Haida Way, and also features basic but comfortable accommodations. All hotels on northern Vancouver Island fill well in advance for summer, so wherever you choose to stay, we recommend making reservations early. Please note, hotel nights before and after the tour are not included in your tour cost.
The easiest way to get to Port McNeill by air, is to fly through Vancouver International Airport (airport code YVR) to Port Hardy, BC (airport code YZT). From Vancouver International's South Terminal you can catch a flight on Pacific Coastal Airlines direct to Port Hardy. Once in Port Hardy, it's a 35-40 minute taxi ride to Port McNeill. If arriving from outside of Canada, be sure to give yourself 1.5-2 hours between your arriving flight at Vancouver International and your departing flight from the South Terminal to Port Hardy, as you will have to clear customs and take a 15 minute shuttle from the International Terminal to the South Terminal (there are signs to guide you). Port McNeill is also accessible by car, via a beautiful drive following BC Route 19 from Nanaimo to Port McNeill. Vancouver Island can be reached from the Canadian or U.S. mainlands by utilizing one of multiple ferry crossings from the Vancouver metro or greater Seattle areas. The BC Ferries and Washington State DOT Ferry websites are very helpful resources if you are planning to drive to Northern Vancouver Island.
If you fly into Port Hardy, you will need to arrange a taxi for the 35-minute drive South to Port McNeill. You can expect to pay about $45-60 CAD for the one-way fare, however rates do vary. We recommend sharing the ride with other members of the tour if you meet one another on the plane (or are on the same flight when departing). It's best to bring cash to pay the driver.
While we have a 98% success rate for seeing orcas, they are wild animals that roam at will and thus, we are unable to guarantee a sighting. To increase your opportunities for seeing the orcas, or simply to enjoy even more whale watching, you might want to add an extra day to your vacation to go on a Stubb's Island Whale Watching trip that is operated by motor skiff. Their motorized boat allows them to cover more ground in search of orcas and humpbacks throughout the Johnstone Strait area.