This summer, I had the opportunity to kayak the Broken Group Islands (a part of Pacific Rim Park National Park Reserve) on Vancouver’s west, with a newly acquired friend from Germany.
After spending a few months working for a non-profit organization in B.C.’s Gulf Islands, he as an international intern and I as a Canadian summer student, we were able to get the time off we needed in August to embark on our adventure. I said I would take him to see some of our country’s most beautiful and wild scenery if he was able to re-schedule his flight back to Germany and stay in Canada a bit longer. He took me up on the offer.
Our adventure began in Port Alberni, a town on western Vancouver Island, located at the end of Alberni inlet. From here we went by boat down Alberni Inlet and out into Barkley Sound, also known as the graveyard of the Pacific.
Barkley Sound is dotted with small islands and rocks, sculpted by the merciless open Pacific. Barkley Sound’s morning fog and afternoon winds carry the palpable presence of rich aboriginal history, thriving wildlife and haunting shipwrecks.
The boat left us at Sechart Lodge, where our kayaks awaited us. We efficiently packed the kayaks hatches, finding room for wine marshmallows and our extra tarp. Always bring as many tarps as possible with you into the rainforest! Unlike a hiking trip, paddling the Broken Islands allows you to carry luxurious quantities of food, but requires you to bring along every drop of freshwater water you will need.
On a sunny summer day the Broken Islands can be a calm paradise where one can paddle by sea caves and over forests of kelp, explore the tidal zone of giant anemones, leather stars and oysters, go for a daring dip into the crystal clear ocean and watch the sunset on a white shell beach by the fire.
In an instant the winds can change, bringing upon this paradise a wild, raging storm, that howls through the trees leaving only the strong ones standing, where the rain dumps through the dense canopy into the spongy forest floor and the fierce white capped waves eat away at the small islands.
On our trip we ventured out to an exposed rock where we observed proudly perched Stellar sea lions roaring over the crashing of the waves.
On a different day we stopped on the shores of Turret Island and hiked into the rainforest where some of the coast’s most majestic old growth cedars still stand.
Another day we took in the ancient fish traps of the native people, carefully built stone enclosures in which fish remained trapped as the tide went out.
Every night we camped on a different island and one day we made a special daytrip to the sacred site on Benson Island, where according to Tseshaht First Nations, their first ancestors were created. Recent archaeology revealed that the site was occupied over 5000 years ago!
Our last night was spent on the sandy beaches of Hand Island, where we had the incredible luck of witnessing a greeting ceremony by Tseshaht First Nations employees of Parks Canada. The ceremony was complete with singing and First Nation legends, which told about the creation of the first Tseshaht people and a great shaking of the earth, which created the Broken Group Islands where there had previously been land and a river.
The west coast of Vancouver Island is known for its “fogust”, foggy August. On our last morning we were engulfed by hauntingly beautiful fog and were incredibly grateful for our compass, which allowed us to navigate through about an hour of dense fog with NOTHING in sight, and end up just where we wanted to be, back at Sechart Lodge to return our kayaks!
Unfortunately, the shore beside Sechart Lodge, which is also the East facing view from the Broken Group Islands, is being logged. It breaks my heart to see this industrial impact on such a breathtakingly beautiful and wild place.
Having grown up in Vancouver, coastal B.C. and especially the Broken Group Islands hold a special place in my heart. Nowhere in the world do I feel as happy, free and empowered as in the Broken Group. I hope that this amazing part of Pacific Rim National park will stay pristine for future generations, that logging will encroach no further on the wildlife and scenery and that the Tseshaht First Nations will continue to welcome us and share with us their rich history.