We moved from Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada to Montpellier in March 2011. Montpellier is not so bad, but there are a lot of things I miss about Canada. Our friends, for one thing. But also the wide open spaces. One of the last sea kayaking trips I took in Canada was a solo outing to a small (very small!) island in the Gulf Islands National Park.
Whaleboat Island is a marine provincial park, but it’s unmanaged, which means you are completely on your own: no campsites, no hookups, no wardens, no helpful information boards, and yes, no toilets. There’s also the minor matter that the beach only exists at low tide and you have to climb up some cliffs to find a flat spot to pitch a tent. Apart from that, it’s a perfect destination. Perfect for me anyway. I’d landed on Whaleboat once before, as a possible lunch spot, but that time no-one else seemed interested in clambering over rocks to eat their sandwiches and we ended up on an admittedly very pretty beach on Pylades Island.
This time though, I was on a mission. I’d bought myself a kayak a couple of days before, and was out to try it out, as well as checking out the camping possibilities on Whaleboat.
I put in at Cedar-by-the-Sea, a small settlement just south of the town of Nanaimo, where there’s a boat ramp, a few houses and not much else but beautiful views of the islands. And yes, it’s islands. There are a lot of them (I have no idea exactly how many). On this trip, I paddled by Round Island, Mudge Island, Link Island, De Courcy Island, Ruxton Island, Whaleboat Island and Pylades Island plus countless nameless little rocks that support a couple of seals or a few birds.
Speaking of birds, there were a lot to see this weekend: gulls, cormorants, crows, eagles, some cute little black and white ducks, geese, plus a bunch of others. I never quite got used to seeing big bald eagles in the trees above me. They’re really surprisingly common. The other thing I never quite got used to was seeing all the marine mammals around. They’re quite skittish, and you need to make sure you keep a good distance from them, but families of seals are a regular sight (and it’s hard to avoid disturbing them sometimes as you paddle round a rock and all the seals who were happily basking in the sun decide that you’re Public Enemy #1 and they need to get in the water and look at you with accusing puppy-dog eyes until you go away). I also saw a family of otters I’d seen before, with the adults fishing and the pups “helping”. And a first for me, on the way back into Cedar, there was a big family of sea lions fishing for herring. Quite intimidating when you’re in a fragile little boat, since they’re not small animals and they get quite excitable when they’re fishing, with lots of angry-sounding honking from the big males as they herd the herring towards the other sea lions.
There’s always a lot of more exotic weird sea stuff to see as well. This time out, I saw lots of starfish, including the biggest one I’ve ever seen, which must have been over 50 cm across, as big as some “world record” ones... There were also millions and millions of jellyfish (they must have been spawning or whatever it is they do, but there were more of them than I have ever seen before), and there were some really weird dangly blobby things that looked like condoms, but which I think might be brown tunicates that got exposed at low tide.
Camping on Whaleboat Island proved possible, if slightly more amusing than most people might put up with. I though it was nice. You do need to be careful about where you put your boat overnight, since the beach disappears at high tide and you may find yourself with a tricky clamber along the cliffs to get back onto the water. Also, the “path” up the cliffs is pretty rough, and is more of a scramble than a real path. Once up on top, there are plenty of flat places to pitch a (small) tent, but you need to watch out for potentially ankle-breaking holes in among the moss-covered rocks. I didn’t explore too much of the upper part of the island because of those. I was on my own and didn’t much fancy the prospect of waiting out the night for someone to come and rescue me if I broke something.
But still, there was solitude and quiet, with just the sound of the wind whispering in the trees and the waves lapping on the beach to send me to sleep. What a great place. I miss it!