Kayaking into calm waters 

A trip to B.C.'s Discovery Islands reveals orcas, porpoises and ancient indigenous art

click to flip through (3) PHOTO BY CATHRYN ATKINSON - Happy paddlers Two kayakers paddle towards the Stetson-shaped mountain, Mount Doogie Dowler, named after the first postmaster at Campbell River. The mountain is on the mainland, but seems part of the ocean archipelago.
  • Photo by Cathryn Atkinson
  • Happy paddlers Two kayakers paddle towards the Stetson-shaped mountain, Mount Doogie Dowler, named after the first postmaster at Campbell River. The mountain is on the mainland, but seems part of the ocean archipelago.

I don't throw enough punches, apparently.

At least that's what my kayaking guide Rob Shackell said as he critiqued my paddling technique.

"Your wrists are bending too much, it's supposed to be like trying to hold a pizza box as you punch somebody," he said.

"Large or medium pizza?" I wondered fretfully, as I worked on perfecting my fisticuffs — and the kayak glided on through pristine Pacific waters. It was a perfect day.

Shackell was leading a group of five — including myself and my teenage son — on a day trip from Quadra Island, the largest of the Discovery Islands chain.

We were in search of pre-contact First Nations pictograms — drawings at least 400 years old that were painted by an indigenous artist on a rock face overlooking the water.

At this geographical point, the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and the upper Sunshine Coast on the B.C. mainland is choked with islands. You'd be forgiven for thinking you were on a chain of lakes in the Canadian Shield, apart from the salt water spray, the West Coast fauna and the distant mountains.

The tour was a short one, about seven kilometres, and was run by our hosts at the Discovery Islands Lodge.

The lodge is a B&B that looks like a cabin version of a three-storey, 17th-century galleried inn — but on stilts overlooking the ocean. It is a 30-kilometre drive from the ferry to Campbell River, and off the grid in terms of the Internet (yay!). Most of its electricity comes from solar panels.

The lodge offers ample facilities for cooking meals, with cold boxes to keep food, while our host Beth Haysom prepares breakfasts.

Bedrooms are basic but very clean; there are singles, double and bunk beds. The bathrooms are shared, and the showers are private, though out-of-doors. Set on the deck, the waves hit the rocks below as you take your ablutions.

Now that accommodation is out of the way with, let's talk about the views.

Looking across the strait towards Reade Island, nature's moods are written across the arc of the sky and we've timed it well. Pastel pinks and yellows jostle with the baby blues. The mystery is below in the teal waters and the dark green forests. The Stetson-shaped mountain, Mount Doogie Dowler, dominates and connects the heights and the deep.

Sitting in a chair on the top gallery, I knocked back a dark ale as dolphins and seals swam buy. One morning, the world's luckiest commuter rode his Sea-Doo past our windows on his way to work in Campbell River.

A day later, a family of orcas swam past, calf in tow, three times.

"That's the most times I've seen them so far this year," Beth said.

The region is also famous for Surge Narrow, a provincial park with high tidal changes and many reefs.

Back to the pictograms.

Our watery superhighway revealed harbour porpoises, jellyfish, sea urchins and leaping salmon. We were trailed the whole way by a curious seal. After stopping for lunch on Maurelle Island, we made the last push to the rock paintings.

Three rust-coloured faces with almond-shaped eyes looked down on us benignly. I went closer in the kayak and realized after a moment that I was tapping my heart with my hand. I choked up, there are too many reasons why for this space to allow. Let's just say I get the same feeling when I look at an ancient cathedral. I consider these faces Canadian monuments with similar importance — they're priceless.

If you need a break from the ocean, a difficult thing to imagine, there are many manageable hikes and several lakes on the island where canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding are possible.

Along with our kayaks, Discovery Islands Lodge rent these watercraft, too. Multi-day kayak trips are also available.

To reach Discovery Lodge, drive to Campbell River and cross by 12-minute ferry to Quathiaski Cove. For more information visit www.discovery-islands-lodge.com or www.quadraisland.ca



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