By Christina Chowaniec
Dam Good Logistics, Inc. Adventure Logistics & Trip Planning http://damgoodlogistics.com
When you think about paddling on Vancouver Island, it is probably the Broken Island Group in Barkley Sound near Uclulet that comes to mind. It is the most popular and definitely the busiest route on the island. The truth is that Vancouver Island is big, 31,000 square kilometers, or roughly one quarter the size of England, and it has a coastline of about 3,400 kms, so the paddling opportunities are massive as well. One trip that presents a great combination of stunning scenery, fantastic wildlife viewing and manageable west coast Vancouver Island paddling, is the Nuchatlitz Provincial Park and surrounding area. There is plenty of great paddling in the more protected sound and if the weather and sea conditions allow, you can venture out along the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island.
Nuchatlitz Park is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island just north of Nootka Island. It comprises most of the small islands off the northwest coast of Nootka Island as well as a portion of the northwest tip of Nootka itself. It is a great place to paddle as the area is relatively protected and the paddling is an intricate a maze of small islands and reefs. These remote islands offer both exposed coast and protected waters for paddling, quiet coves and a multitude of beaches. You can also leave the park proper and paddle west out into Nuchatlitz Inlet. There are sea caves, sea stacks, reefs and huge beaches all along the north shore of the inlet.
The whole area is steeped in history. Nootka Island, just to the south of the park is where Captain James Cook first set foot on Vancouver Island in 1778. He came ashore at Yuquot (Friendly Cove). Later Captain George Vancouver would use Nootka Sound as his winter harbour when charting the coast in 1792-93. As with many stories of how place names came to be, it was a misunderstanding that gave Nootka its name. As Captain Cook approached to land at Yuquot the local people, the Mowachahts, called out “itchme nutka” or “go around” (to the sheltered cove). Cook mistook this as their name for the island and it has been known as ‘Nootka’ ever since. The rights to ownership of Nootka, and its accompanying, and very lucrative, sea otter trade led the Britain and Spain to the brink of war in the early 1790s.
Sea otters are one of the main reasons to visit the area. It is one of the best places in the world to see otters in their natural habitat. They are ridiculously adorable and are so much fun to sit and watch. There are hundreds of them living in the waters in and around the park, you can’t help but see them. They are a constant, in big waves and small, good weather and bad, floating around on their backs or bobbing upright in the kelp beds.
In late spring and early summer the young ones are around as well, often resting on their mother’s backs and really, the only thing cuter than a sea otter is a baby sea otter. Otters are a keystone species. They are essential for keeping the sea urchin population in check and ensuring the health of the giant kelp forests. They were hunted to extinction between the 1790s and the early 1900s, their thick pelts were worth incredible sums in the Chinese markets. They were reintroduced in the 1970s and have since reclaimed two thirds of their original territory and have restored the ecosystems of the western kelp forests.
Sea otters aren’t the only creatures inhabiting the area. There is a chance you will see Grey whales. You will no doubt come across both seals and sea lions. The bird life is rich and varied and the intertidal life is a given.
I would suggest having 5-6 days to explore the area, especially if you want to spend a day paddling on the ‘outside’ of Vancouver Island. Overleaf is one approach to exploring the area. It will give you a sense of the paddling and of the things to see and do. Between the caves, the intricate shorelines, wrecks, trails, wildlife and fantastic beaches you will not be for want of interesting corners or great campsites. I think you will find that the only thing you are short on is time.
Do keep in mind that despite the protection of the islands that you are still very close to the exposed west coast. Wind can be a problem. Strong inflow winds into the long access inlets can make for difficult paddling. Make sure that you get early starts, monitor weather and put in distance before the wind comes up.
Leave from Zeballos, drive out and put in at Little Espinosa Inlet (see below for exact driving instructions). Little Espinosa becomes Espinosa, which leads out into the park. Wind your way through the intricate maze of islands in the park and choose a campsite on one of the sandy beaches of Rosa Island or the unnamed islands 37, 40, 44. They are all inviting. The paddling here is the most intricate as you paddle through the islands off the coast of Nootka proper.
Leave the park and paddle east towards Nuchatlitz Inlet. Paddle along a really interesting shoreline of sea caves, reefs, sea stacks between Belmont and Benson Points in the Nuchatlitz Inlet. There is one spot where two caves are side by side and one cave has a waterfall coming down over its entrance. You can paddle into the cave on the right side, beach your boat and then walk behind the falls to the cave beside it. There are more stunning white sand beaches up at Benson Point for camping.
Explore Louie Bay. Between Florence Point and Tongue Point there are coves and beaches and great protected paddling.
There is a really interesting wreck of a Greek freighter in Louie Bay (just inside Tongue Point). It was towed into the bay and blown-up to be sold for scrap. That never happened and the pieces form a strange art gallery to paddle though (high tide) or walk around (low tide). The pieces form sculptures that are almost pretty in post-apocalyptic kind of way.
At Tongue Point there is a Native youth camp and at the back of it is a trail to a WWII radar station. A great way to stretch paddling legs and see some big trees and west coast forest.
There is also a lagoon in Louie Bay (be sure to time it with the tides to avoid dragging your boat) paddle to the end of the lagoon, beach your boats and tie them up and them walk to the outer coast. The trailhead for the Nootka Trail (35km walking trail along the west coast of Nootka between Louie Bay and Friendly Cove) is at the end of the lagoon.
Here you can make the decision to head ‘outside’ and paddle down the coast a bit. If you decide to do that, there is a beach at Calvin Creek Falls where water cascades into pools on the beach. It is about a 10 km paddle one way to the beach so you might want to consider camping there and returning the next day. Keep in mind that there are few beaches and landing points between the point and Calvin Creek so you may not be able to get out of your boat until Calvin Creek Falls beach.
Day 4 (or 5)
Retrace your steps back towards the park. Camp at one of the sandy beaches of Rosa Island and the unnamed islands 37, 40, 44 that you missed on the way out. Or continue to Garden Point on the west side of Esperenza Inlet (just behind Centre Island). Very pretty little islands, reefs and sandy beaches. One of the nicest camping spots on the whole route.
Day 5 (or 6)
Make an early start and head back through Espinosa Inlet to the take out.