Brooks, Bunsbys, and Back: Sea Kayaking Vancouver Island’s Northwest Coast

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By Jack Christie

Care for a touch of adventure, B.C.-style? Then come stand in a place that time forgot. Or at least overlooked. Welcome to the Brooks Peninsula. Mention that name to most Vancouver Islanders, let alone Lower Mainland residents, and be prepared to draw a blank. Where?

Pinpoint a familiar place, like Tofino, midway up the west side of Vancouver Island. Head north from there past reefs, shoals, and clusters of islands large and small in Clayoquot, Nootka, and Kyuquot Sounds. Just before reaching Vancouver Island’s northern tip, out pops the Brooks, a roughly 15-by-10 kilometre, brick-shaped peninsula renown as one of the wildest, wettest, and stormiest place on the West Coast. Small wonder this region is overlooked by all but a few hundred explorers each year, most of who journey around Kyuquot Sound in sea kayaks during summer months. That suits the astoundingly-plentiful wildlife just fine, particularly the 400 or more sea otters which European sailors hunted to extinction in the 1700s and which scientists have successfully recolonized here since 1969.

During the most recent ice age, which ended roughly 10,000 years ago, glaciers locked most of Vancouver Island in a cryogenic vault. Brooks Peninsula somehow sidestepped the ice pan. Its steep-sided slopes remained as green then as now. As a result, rare plant species found refuge there among its unique geologic formations. And that’s what makes landing on one of Brooks’ surf-thumped beaches feel like you’ve entered a lost world. For starters, there’s no one else in sight along the sandy expanses spread between rocky headlands and dotted with sea stacks. For another, just try to penetrate the rainforest perimeter that walls the strands. Good luck hacking your way through an impenetrable morass of mosses, ferns, and deadfall cloaked with thickets of waist-high salal bushes. One look will convince you of the utter impossibility of the challenge.

Hidden beneath a jumble of driftwood logs flung inland by winter storms, fresh water gathers on the forest floor and flows out to the ocean in small creeks. In places, cold springs seep out of the rock face and pool near the tideline. When warmed by the sun, bathing in the soft spring water provides welcome relief from the briny Pacific whose swells may have doused you when nosing your kayak ashore.

Centuries-old Sitka spruce vainly struggle to reach heights that match their enormous girths. Brooks’ forests routinely absorb pummellings from winds on a scale that makes the micro-bursts that struck Stanley Park in 2006 look like nibbles on earlobes by comparison. Despite this fierce reputation, pick a week when wind, waves, and weather harmonize, and you’ll find the welcome mat spread out not just along the south side of the peninsula but around almost all of Kyuquot Sound which includes the Checleset Bay Ecological Reserve where sea otters thrive among sheltering kelp beds.

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