Saturday, July 27, 2019

Girls Trip 2019: Kayaking in Johnstone Strait, British Columbia

Girls Trip 2019 took me to Johnstone Strait in British Columbia for four days of kayaking in the wilderness.
Last fall, I was already thinking of where I wanted to go for my yearly "girls trip" with friends.  Past trips had included Iceland, Italy, New Zealand, Colorado, Newfoundland, Maine, Michigan, and so much more. My parents had agreed to watch my young children in Portland, Oregon for the week so I started tossing around ideas for the Pacific Northwest.  My parents are experienced travelers and adventurers.  They suggested taking a kayak trip with Spirit of the West Adventures in Johnstone Strait, British Columbia with the promise of seeing orca whales in the wild.  SOLD!  Over the next few months, I assembled a group to join.  My sister, Kelly, reached out to her friends as well which made this year the largest group in a decade of doing these trips- we had ten!  We booked the Johnstone Strait Ultimate Tour for July 12-15, 2019.

The only problem with taking a trip with Spirit of the West is getting there!  Our group was coming from all over the country - Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, California, and Washington.  Even though the kayak was only four days, the actual trip took seven because of the travel.

Here's how to recreate this adventure:

Day 1 - Travel to Vancouver, British Columbia

View from Vancouver waterfront
I needed to leave from Portland, Oregon because that's where my kids were staying.  Matt and Leanne flew to Portland to keep me company on the first (and longest) section of driving.  We rented a car in Portland and drove to the city of Vancouver.  The drive took about 10 hours including a border crossing.

I found that Vancouver's West End lodging is very expensive, even with a favorable exchange rate, so we opted to stay at a hostel.  We were able to get into town in time to enjoy some sightseeing including sunset over the waterfront. I enjoyed dinner and cocktails at Mary's on Davie which was having their "Drag Queen Bingo Night".  Fun!

Day 2 - Travel to Quadra Island, British Columbia

Another day in the car.  We caught a 10 am ferry from West Vancouver to Vancouver Island's city of
Lovely loft room at Tsa Kwa Luten Lodge
Nanaimo.  Be sure you are getting to the correct ferry entrance! We made the mistake of pulling up to the pedestrian entrance only to have to get back on the highway four exits until we found the right place.  This could have been catastrophic if we weren't already early. From Nanaimo, we drove up the island to the town of Campbell River.  We got in line for the ferry to Quadra island (no reservations offered) and since the current one was full, we had to wait an hour for the next.  No worries - we saw seals in the harbor and grabbed snacks at a local pharmacy.

Once on the island, we drove a short distance to Heriot Bay Inn where we met our guides and owner of Spirit of the West Adventures owner, Rick, for our Pre-Trip meeting.  It was the first time our entire group got to meet each other!

After the meeting, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Inn before driving down island to our lodging at Tsa Kwa Luten Lodge. This place was BEAUTIFUL!  I highly recommend the location and venue.  The lodge was gorgeous and super affordable compared to Vancouver.  They even had a loft room with three queen beds.  Before bed, we drove down the road to Cape Mudge Lighthouse where we watched the sunset.  I was sad we couldn't explore this area longer.
Sunset from Cape Mudge lighthouse on Quadra Island
Day 3 - First Day of Kayak Tour - Water Taxi to Camp and Short Kayak
2.5 hour taxi boat took us from Quadra to camp

We were finally ready for our kayak tour!  This place is remote.  To get there, we took a water taxi 2.5 hours into Johnstone Strait to Spirit of the West's remote camp.  The taxi pilot pointed out notable scenes, told about the history, and was a friendly introduction to the area.  What an enjoyable boat ride!

Once at camp, we all helped unload the gear from the taxi boats and got to explore camp. It is GORGEOUS!  Tent platforms are sprinkled on the cliff side with views of mountains and water.  The open air dining area, kitchen, toilets, and shower were all clean and welcoming and perhaps most surprising of all is the wood-fired hot tub on the cliff side.  I was so excited to be there!
Short paddle on Day 1 - got to see abundant intertidal life
After choosing tents and setting up our sleeping area, we met with the guides and got to get out on the water.  In about an hour kayak, we explored the intertidal life and local scenes.  I saw sea stars, sea cucumbers, urchins, and more.  As marine biology majors, Leanne and I were really geeking out over the organisms.

We wrapped up the day with appetizers, free time, salmon dinner, and a soak in the hot tub.  I fell asleep to the sound of water lapping on the rock beach below.  I was in paradise!

Glamping!  Wood fired hot tub
This is lunch - Spirit of the West Style!
Day 4 - Kayak and Hike to Eagle Eye

After a delicious hot breakfast and coffee, we took off for a day of kayaking and hiking.  We enjoyed kayaking north in search of beautiful views and wildlife.  We stopped for snacks and potty breaks at rocky beaches.  Later we enjoyed a long lunch break with a wide spread of sandwich fixings, fruit, and veggies.

Another great stop was to hike up to Eagle Eye - a orca monitoring station.  At Eagle Eye, there was an informational talk by the volunteer scientists about resident killer whale behavior.  After the hike, we returned to camp hitting mostly calm, smooth waters for our return.
Again, we were greeted by appetizers, amazing meal of chicken and rice, and hot tub time!  I took up the challenge to jump off the cliff into the frigid sea before hopping in the hot tub.

Camp time was a great time to relax, socialize, and undwind
Day 5 - Kayak and Camp
Chose a double kayak with
my sister, Kelly, on Day 3

We headed the opposite way on this day.  Kayaking south, we had flat water for the first part of the day.  We pulled out at snack spots and enjoyed another lunch on a pristine rocky and driftwood covered beach.  Returning to camp after lunch, we hit some wind and slightly rougher seas.  I got my workout for the weekend on this day!

Nachos, tacos, and fondue were the perfect end to the day.  We realized our adventure with Spirit of the West was almost over.

Day 6 - Leaving Camp and Travel to Nanaimo

Our guides: Mac, Bob, and Nicole
The final morning, most of us opted to do an optional early morning kayak.  The tide was in our favor - a low low.  We saw amazing intertidal life and by guide Nicole's suggestion, paddled the 1.5 hours in silence.  The seas were the calmest we'd ever seen with the bluest skies of the trip as well.  It was magical!

Back at camp, it was bittersweet as we packed up our gear and cleaned out our tents for the next group.  Around noon, our water taxi arrived to take us back to Quadra Island.


As we boated down the strait, we reminisced about how (almost) perfect our trip had been - except for the one disappointment of not seeing any whales.  Then to our delight and absolute glee - our pilot spotted a humpback!  We got closer and watched as the whale essentially put on a show - tail flips, fluke slaps and more!  After about 20 minutes we left our whale friend and continued on.  Again, in a magical conclusion to our trip a pod of fifty or more dolphins bow rode our wake for another 10-20 minutes.  It was truly amazing.  All including our pilot expressed joy from the experience.

Completely elated, we pulled into Quadra, grabbed our rental car and got in line for the ferry to take us back to Campbell River.  From Campbell River, we drove to Nanaimo where we spent the night at the Coast Bastion Hotel.  We also had a fantastic Italian dinner in Nanaimo at La Stella Trattoria.

Ali and the dolphins

Day 7 - Travel back to Portland, Oregon

Nanaimo, BC

We took an early 6 am ferry from Nanaimo to get Ali back to the Vancouver airport for her midday flight.  We dropped her off at the Yaletown train station which would take her directly into the airport.  From there, Matt, Leanne, and I drove to Stanley Park.  We wanted to see the aquarium!

Now...Leanne and I have this observation, that on every girls trip, there's some sort of mishap - this is when the mishap finally struck.  Our tire popped right in Stanley Park!  After much frustration on the phone with tire stores and our rental company (thank goodness Matt had international calling), we were able to get the spare tire on.  Since we couldn't drive all the way back to Oregon on a spare tire, we arranged to exchange it for a new rental vehicle in Vancouver.  Matt was determined not to let this influence our plans to see the aquarium however, so we went there first.

After the aquarium, and with a new rental car, we booked it back to Portland just in time to get Matt to the PDX airport.  Leanne and I returned the rental car and went back to my parent's house.
Vancouver Aquarium

Girls Trip 2019 Wrap Up
Me and my companions about to part and get on the Quadra ferry

Girls Trips have brought on a whole new meaning for me.  Now, with young children, it's almost impossible to have five minutes to myself - let alone a week.  This trip is something I desperately looked forward to all year - time when I don't have to care for children, pets, house, and carry the mental load of the family.  I can feel free to socialize, exercise, and relax.

I couldn't do this trip without the amazing support of my parents - who cared for my children while I was away and wholeheartedly support travel and adventure.  I also am grateful to my best friend Leanne who has been my reliable and faithful companion every year.  As I discovered on this trip, her love language is the quality time she spends with me - and she shows it well.  Love you friend!  I'm also thankful for the other companions: Ali, Matt, Kelly, Trux, Lil P, Serb, Dana, Kama, and honorary Brad, Lyndsey, and Kelly.  Everyone was a blast!  Thank you also to our guides Nicole, Bob, and Mac - you guys were great.

Until next year...

If you'd like to learn more about my trips or see more photos, follow me on instagram @FreelanceAdventurer and Facebook at The Freelance Adventurer.  Thanks!