Solo travel in a congested, overpopulated country is one thing; going it alone in a kayak in the vast aquatic wilderness of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, off the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia is quite another, and highly recommended.
If you’re a water-lover, this “Broken Group” of 100 craggy, windswept islands is the place to get your feet wet as a solo traveller.
The “Broken Group” is a place where you can feel lost one moment in the rugged sea caves of the outer islets and found the next, in a sandy lagoon on an inner shore where you will explore inter-tidal pools teaming with over-sized anemones and star-fish.
It’s a place of tranquillity, easy anchorage and is sheltered from the open, feral waters of the Pacific Ocean. Even an inexperienced kayaker like me can find their sea-legs in this protected archipelago in Barkley Sound.
Today this national reserve park is protected. Wild-campsites without amenities, except solar powered composting toilets, are designated by Parks Canada on Hand Island, Turret, Gibraltar, Willis, Dodd, Clarke and Gilbert.
A decade ago this area was an unprotected free-for-all; that’s when I prepared to leave an unnamed beach in Ucluelet, BC with nothing more than my kayak and a knife.
Standing with paddle in hand, my mind focused on the frisky little waves of the Pacific Ocean as they licked the bow of my kayak and teased me out of my insecurity. My reluctant bare-feet explored the depths of the sand like ghost crabs in nervous anticipation.
Effortlessly I sliced through the water and bounced across small waves. In no time I mastered the hip action needed to stay afloat. My thoughts drifted away and I soon found myself conversing with a California sea lion whose bellows echoed off a semi-submerged, barnacle encrusted rock that was speckled with gnarly, twisted trees.
I was aware I’d invaded the realm of the whale. Orca, Pacific Gray and … “THUMP!” My heart was in my chest and I almost lost my balance! Something bumped the bottom of my boat and I froze, paddle mid-air, water trickling off the blade. I held my breath and scanned the depths through the ripples when I saw movement.
It was a Humpback Whale and it was curious! She swam away and then turned; her massive, somewhat drooping dorsal fin parted the sea as she made her way back to me and slowly brought her head alongside my dwarfed boat.
Have you ever peered into the hypnotic eye of a whale; been lost to the fathoms of wisdom, wonder and intelligence? Like the ripples below my dripping paddle my thoughts swirled. I was afraid, humbled, mesmerized and alive!
Held breath escaped me as, rather than swim away like a fast moving fish; she respectfully sank into the abyss and disappeared, the displaced water rocking my boat ever so slightly.
In the distance she breached again, her eye still on mine, spewing water from her blow hole. To my dismay, I never saw her again.
For five days I explored hidden coves. I marvelled at naturally formed arches made by years of the sea massaging hard mountain stone. I collected oysters, pried sea beef and mussels from rocks with my knife to indulge myself on their raw, freshness. The oysters were sweet; large enough to make a sandwich with only one had I brought bread. Pacific waters team with such an abundance of aquatic life it would be impossible to starve.
Seals frolick in kelp beds, sea lions lay claim to abandoned rocky crags and the odd whale are your neighbours; quickly becoming your friends.
On what I now know to be Benson Island, which is presently off limits only to overnight campers due to cultural significance, I discovered archaeological middens and stone fish traps from the Tseshaht First Nation’s.
It was September and I never saw another soul. I was isolated and alone, though never lonely. Water shooting from blow holes in the rocks washed away the residue a mind suffers from the confines of concrete and asphalt.
At night I slept like Eve on rocky shorelines under twinkling stars while the surf lulled me into a relaxed state; allowing natural BC to rejuvenate my soul, like it has for so many others before me.
It is said a journey begins and ends differently in the mind if you allow life to teach you how to live. What started out as a nerve wracking idea in my head soon became one of the best solo experiences of my life.