By: Celeste Moure
It’s hard not to fall for British Columbia, with its beaches, evergreen forests and mountains that plunge right into the azure waters of the Pacific Ocean. Tucked into the southwest corner of the mainland province is the Sunshine Coast, a 110-mile stretch of paradise that’s accessible by air or ferry service.
It’s not a corner of the province that my husband and I venture to often from our home in Vancouver. Mostly because getting there takes time: a drive to the ferry terminal at Horseshoe Bay in North Vancouver, followed by a ferry crossing to Gibsons followed by more driving and another ferry cross to Saltery Bay. It’s an all-day affair but you’re rewarded with dramatic scenery as you navigate sheer-sided waterways along the central coast, framed by snow-capped peaks of the Coast Mountains that soar more than 7,000 feet above the tideline. Or you can fly directly from Vancouver airport’s south terminal into Powell River airport on Pacific Coastal airlines, as I did. The views are just as stunning from above.
In 2017 I got an Oru Bay ST and mostly used it to paddle around the city, venturing out to beaches for picnics with the kids and paddling with my pup on adventures close to home. Last year, we signed our seven- and 10-year old kids for kayak weeklong kayak camps and were ready for our first multi-day paddling adventure. We decided to explore Desolation Sound, notorious for warm and pristine waters in shades of turquoise you’d typically find in the Caribbean or Hawaii.
We arrived at Okeover Arm, a long neck of water on the northern Sunshine Coast and a popular launching spot for kayakers planning to paddle out to the beautiful bays, inlets and offshore islands of Desolation Sound, the largest marine park in the province. While my husband, his cousin and our kids sorted out their rented kayaks, I unfolded my Oru and packed it tight with sleeping bags and provisions. Tent, water and more food for the whole fam got stashed away in the two double kayaks.
Desolation Sound Marine Park is considered by many boaters to be one of the top cruising grounds in the world. Some beautiful sailboats and a handful of multi-million-dollar yachts cruised past us as we paddled the fjord-like waterways during an awesome August weekend. By noon on our first day, with the sun beating down our backs, the kids were tired, hungry and hot. Luckily, the occasional sighting of a curious sea otter or playful seal swimming below our kayaks were enough to distract the kids from the sweltering heat and their grumbling tummies. It wasn’t long before we found a suitable spot (read, somewhere with shade) to stop for lunch: a simple spread of sliced bread, cheese and salami. Paddling north for another two hours, we finally reached our first camping spot at Feather Cove. A word of caution, time your crossings to ride the tides into and out of Malaspina Inlet.
BC Parks offers backcountry permits that grant access to some 32 parks across the province; most of the campsites in Desolation Sound Marine Park are first-come, first-served and in our case on that first day, we were the only come, only served. We had our choice of a raised wooden platform on which to set up our tents surrounded by majestic old growth Douglas Fir trees and giant western red cedars. After a short hike into the forest to stretch our legs, we jumped into the crystal-clear waters for a well-deserved swim and finished with a sunset dinner. Cocooned in my sleeping bag that night, I thought I heard the sound of whales blowing just outside my tent.
The next day we paddled southeast towards Hare Point, featuring a flat beach covered with Pacific oysters with razor-sharp shells and vibrant turquoise waters the likes I’ve never seen before. Desolation Sound is a breeding ground for oysters thanks to a phenomenon created by a limited tidal pull, which means the warm waters stay in the sound, near the surface. An even prettier campsite with nine platforms awaits at the top of a steep, narrow trail from the beach. We pulled our kayaks high up on the beach, almost to the edge of the forest, and thankfully had the presence of mind to tie them to the trees.
We spent the day paddling within the sheltered waters to other little coves where we caught sight of foraging bears. We practiced the art of forest bathing, breathing in the earthy aroma of moss- and lichen-covered trees. And we sunbathed like sea lions on smooth rocks. With no cell phone reception, no electronic devices and no distractions to speak of, we were truly connected to nature and to the rhythm of the tides. Three days in Desolation Sound were not nearly enough.
Early European explorers were not very impressed with what they found in Desolation Sound. In fact, Captain George Vancouver, a British Royal Navy officer who explored the Sound in the summer of 1792, said “there was not a single prospect that was pleasing to the eye.” Seems to me they just didn’t know how to see.