Paddle Away From It All

A kayaker’s retreat in Blackfish Sound




For 24 years, Spirit of the West Adventures has been offering multi-day kayaking tours in the Johnstone Strait and Blackfish Sound area, northeast of Vancouver Island. Over the years, there have been small challenges to overcome for this Quadra Island based business, but none like those faced this past summer.

“COVID-19 changed the face of travel and tourism overnight,” says company owner Breanne Quesnel. The Spirit of the West team met the challenge head on, adding private toilets, handwashing sinks, and a full-time hygiene manager to their camp. The team also adapted their tour offerings, to help people safely get outside, with a new option to book their camp as a private group so that friends and family could share a safe bubble and get into the wilderness that we were all craving after many long months at home.

Kayaking proved to be an ideal activity for adventuring ‘together but apart’, easily allowing for appropriate physical distancing while sharing an experience with friends and family. Caroline joined a private group tour this summer and said, “I feel incredibly fortunate that this trip went ahead and that I was able to participate during this stressful and uncertain time. During our time on the water and immersed in nature, I felt calm and happy…a million miles away from day-to-day and future worries and obligations. It also gave me a renewed sense of the spectacular beauty of my home province.”

The uncertainty associated with COVID-19 has made it challenging to maintain connections with loved-ones. Spending four days on a remote island, right on the water’s edge, with friends and family, allowed Caroline –and all guests of Spirit of the West—to experience a connection with the unique interactions between the land and sea ecosystems. “From the tiniest intertidal life to the giants of the water world, we are in awe of this area’s variety of wildlife,” says company co-owner, Rick Snowdon. Connection to the natural environment is essential for wellbeing, especially after months of being at home during lockdown. The guides at Spirit of the West share this view and are excellent interpreters and passionately share their knowledge of the cultural and natural history of the BC coast.

Beverley Marshall, long-time guide with Spirit of the West shares, “[Blackfish Sound] is the absolute prime location for a wilderness camp. We often witness whales breaching, feeding and playing from the beach, the tents, and the dining area. You can hear vocalizations and tail slaps through the night and we often wake up to their majestic blows. This is unique at Swanson Island.”

Each day, the guides lead paddling excursions to explore the intricate network of islets, islands, and beaches, keeping an eye out for orca and humpback whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals, eagles, bears, and the rich bird life. “One of my highlights was the pod of dolphins in the early morning paddle [and] of course, the orcas and the close encounter with the humpback, but really I just loved being in nature, with wonderful friends, with wonderful guides and amazing food,” shares Jane, about her private group excursion in Blackfish Sound.

“More than ever, we saw the need for people to be outdoors in the trees, the fresh sea breeze, connected to family, close friends, and nature. It was an honour and incredibly rewarding to be able to provide that reprieve for our guests” says Quesnel.

Contact Spirit of the West Adventures or 1-800-307-3982 for more information.