Paddling in the time of COVID-19: Discovery Islands, British Columbia

Dinnertime in the Discovery Islands

It’s the end of another glorious day on the water in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands. I’m first in line for dinner. “Did you wash your hands?” There’s a smile in his eyes but his voice is serious. Our mask-covered, rubber-gloved kayaking guide has caught me dirty-handed. I slink back to the wilderness hand-washing station feeling like a naughty kid, but grateful for the precautions. Back in January, my friend Trish and I had booked a summer 2020 kayaking trip with Spirit of the West Adventures, before COVID-19 was on our radar. Miraculously, the trip went ahead, albeit a very different one from what we had signed up for.

In March, when the pandemic abruptly shut down “normal” life here in Canada, I didn’t expect it to jeopardize our trip. “It’s still five months away; surely this will blow over by then.” It wasn’t long before I was jolted out of my naivety, but I held on to a sliver of hope for the trip. Not surprisingly, Spirit of the West Adventures was forced to cancel their regularly scheduled tours. They did however leave open a small window of possibility for their clients from British Columbia. By mid-June, when non-essential travel restrictions within the province were eased, the company announced they would be offering a limited selection of private bubble group tours. Trish and I were over the moon. We recruited our hubbies and another couple from our neighbourhood, and voilà…our private bubble group of six was created.

Our private bubble group in the Discovery Islands (minus me taking photo)

Kayaking and wilderness camping in the Discovery Islands, located in the Inside Passage between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, is pure bliss. We launched from Quadra Island—Spirit of the West’s home base—and spent five peaceful August days circumnavigating Read Island and exploring the rugged coastline.

We fell into a rhythm of paddling on mostly mirror-like water, camping at idyllic islands with sun-warmed pebble beaches, and feasting on amazing meals created by our guides Beverley and Brandon. Most of our bubble group enjoyed daily ocean swims, plunging into the cold, clear water with the enthusiasm of resident seals and otters. I was happy to bask on a warm rock. One afternoon, we paddled across to Cortes Island where we hiked to Robertson Lake, a lovely water-accessible only spot that we had all to ourselves. The water temperature there was perfect, even for a chicken like me.

It was a nice change to simply soak up nature and leave the logistics of tide tables, currents, weather forecasts and search for the perfect west-facing campsites to our guides. As we paddled, Beverley and Brandon pointed out eagles, porpoises, all kinds of sea birds and local landmarks. Lively conversation and quiet contemplation were easy in our bubble group. Sometimes, we played trivia games. Here’s a question that got lots of laughs: What animal has the largest penis to body ratio? You’ll find the answer at the end.

The gorgeous Penn Islands
Our campsite at Frederick Point on Read Island
Sun, warmth, views—loved our campsites!
Calm water paddling near the Rendezvous Islands
Another sweet camping spot—South Rendezvous Island
Sun loving Arbutus tree sheds its bark
Ready to launch for another day of Discovery Islands paddling
Robertson Lake on Cortes Island
Clear, warm water at Robertson Lake—almost tropical looking!

Prior to this trip, I had been on two other kayaking tours with Spirit of the West Adventures. Our Discovery Islands tour completely lived up to my high expectations from previous trips despite the COVID-19 curve ball. The staff did an outstanding job seamlessly integrating safety protocols in a way that never felt onerous or took away from the easy enjoyment of the trip.

Somehow, our guides managed to set up the hand washing station before I could even haul myself out of the kayak. We all used individual drinking cups and were given our own supply of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Our meals were served plated, rather than buffet style. Attention to detail was impressive: Our sleeping pads came with an antiseptic wipe carefully attached to the inflator valve.

After my hand washing faux pas, I diligently pulled my orca-patterned buff over my mouth and nose as Brandon filled my plate with grilled salmon, potatoes and salad—what a treat having yummy meals made for us. The stretchy neck buffs, which we were asked to wear if we could not maintain 2-metre distance from our guides, are a brilliant idea. Not only did they serve as masks, they did extended duty as sun protection, nighttime eye shield, head warmer and fashion accessory.

The foot pump-activated hand washing station (at left)
Beverley serves up fajitas with all the fixings
Modeling our COVID-19 mask buffs. Photo credit: Sarah McKee
Dinner on the beach at our Breton Islands camp
Our happy paddling group (minus Sarah the photographer). Photo credit: Sarah McKee
Map of Discovery Islands, British Columbia.
Detailed route map. Courtesy: Spirit of thew West Adventures

Pandemic worries and generalized stress melted away during our five days kayaking in the Discovery Islands. Good friends, immersion in nature, physical activity and delicious food all wrapped in the competent hands of Spirit of the West Adventures—it was the recipe for another perfect stay-close-to-home get away in beautiful British Columbia.

Interested in a guided kayaking trip?

Spirit of the West Adventures offers kayaking tours in coastal British Columbia (and internationally) for novice to experienced paddlers. Tours of varying length are either expedition style (camping at wilderness sites) or “glamping” using a basecamp. Kayaks and all camping equipment are provided. Hopefully, by next season they’ll be back in business with their regular tours for domestic and international visitors. Check out my post from a previous trip to the Broughton Archipelago with Spirit of the West Adventures (the whales were incredible).

Previous trip kayaking with the whales in the Broughton Archipelago

Answer to the trivia question: Barnacles, tiny crustaceans, have the longest penis relative to body size of any animal—up to eight times their body length. (Thank you for the laugh Brandon)

Categories: British Columbia, Canada, Kayaking | Tags: , , , | 38 Comments

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38 thoughts on “Paddling in the time of COVID-19: Discovery Islands, British Columbia

  1. Good post so when are you including me in your…oops I meant in our next paddle

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I am glad to hear that your kayaking trip went ahead! There’s nothing better than being surrounded by nature and forgetting for a moment about the ongoing pandemic crisis. Despite living so close to many kayaking hot spots here in Sligo, I still haven’t had a chance to experience it. I bet the world looks completely different when you are in the kayak! Thanks for sharing your adventures. I look forward to reading more. Aiva xxx 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I hope you get the opportunity to try kayaking, Aiva. I find it tremendously peaceful. I love gliding through the water (sitting just at its surface) and the rhythmic sound of the paddle. Your comment about the world looking different from a kayak is so true. We have walked along the same shores that we kayak past and it is a completely different experience (and it looks different too). Hope you are enjoying the holidays!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Incredibly gorgeous; I especially love the photo near Rendezvous Island. I’m so happy you all got to get away in the midst of the pandemic.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for reading/commenting on my posts Meghan. I have got way behind on my writing and reading over the last month due to some unexpected work (a good thing). Hopefully I’ll get caught up over the holidays.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve been behind for at least a year! 🙂 I always look forward to catching up with your posts whenever they might get written. Hope you and Mike have a relaxing holiday!

        Liked by 2 people

  4. How fortunate that you were able to have this fabulous getaway! We have done a kayaking trip in the Baja and it ranks up at the top of our most favourite.
    This company sounds excellent and especially in light of COVID. I’m sure we have all had a faux pas or two since the pandemic began. All of us adjusting to a new normal.
    Thank you for the recommendation. I’ll definitely be keeping this
    company in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sue! If you ever need more info about this company or the options they offer please let me know (I don’t represent them in any way, just a happy client). We also had a wonderful kayaking trip in Baja at Isla Espiritu Santo with ROW Sea Kayaking. That beautiful warm water and gorgeous desert scenery is such a nice contrast to here (it was great to be able to swim without freezing our butts off).


  5. Caroline thank you so much for your super kind words and for sharing your experience with your blog community. We were so thrilled to be able to offer some tours this summer and it is the fantastic groups such as yours that make it all worth it and possible. Thanks for being a part of the fun and comradery! We hope to do it all again before long!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Breanne! I’m already fondly reminiscing about our great kayaking trip with you guys (while stuck inside). As mentioned, you did an amazing job adapting to this crazy situation. I hope that things will get back to some sort of normal as I’d love to do the Nuchatlitz trip next year. All the best to you and the crew! Caroline


  6. I will be looking up their trips ASAP! The scenery is gorgeous, the daily activities are awesome, and I am impressed with the company’s attention to safety details beyond the usual. How great that you could get a small group together for this outing, especially these days!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Lovely post thnx to share this lovely post

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Uncool Cycling Club

    Sounds like a wonderful holiday. Especially great that you were able to organise something despite COVID 😎

    Liked by 2 people

  9. What a nice and beautiful place for kayaking! I love how blue the skies are, how green the trees are, and that warm hue from the afternoon sun. Together they’re a reminder of despite these troubling times we’re living through, beauty is in abundance if we look for it at the right place. Looking at the map of the Discovery Islands makes my mind wander, if I were there in my own kayak I would probably have explored its many nooks and crannies, just enjoying the solitude.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The nooks and crannies possibilities are immense around the Discovery Islands. I’m with you…I always wanted to see what was down those little inlets. It’s super fun kayaking in an area like this with such a jagged coastline and so many little islands.
      My favourite time of the day out on the water was late afternoon. Everything glowed with warmth. It was made for an incredibly beautiful and peaceful scene.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Splendid, Caroline. Prior to the world going nuts we were considering the opportunity of moving to Canada. My other half is mad about kayakings, if she sees this she’ll want to move no matter what Trudeau says!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Glad you were still able to go on your kayaking trip and could recruit more members to form your own private bubble. Sounds like such a fun adventure. I’ve never been kayaking before (only canoeing), but seems like this would be something I would like. Btw, I would have never guessed that the answer is Barnacles. Haha. Thanks for the good laugh.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Anonymous

      We only did canoeing when we lived in Ontario, which we really enjoyed. The transition to kayaking here in B.C. has been fun and easy. I’m sure you’d love it. The trivia question stumped me too.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. That looks wonderful. My husband and I had planned to do a canoe trip earlier this year that was canceled due to covid related things and I was very disappointed… but I am glad you got to enjoy your trip!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sorry about your canoe trip. It seems to be the norm that most of these types of trips got cancelled. We were very unfortunate that the company offered a few revised versions this summer. Thanks for your comments and hope you’ll get to go next season!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. This sounds absolutely idyllic! I am so jealous. Everything about it sounds perfect, highlighted by your wonderful photos.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Alison. I must say, I’m hooked on these trips (my third with this company). It’s a really spectacular way of exploring our incredible coastline. I’m so grateful that we were able to do this during this strange summer.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow such incredible views and the blue water backdropped by the mountains look perfect. Great that you were able to do a kayaking trip after all. We’ve only done half day kayaking or overnight canoeing but this trip sounds perfect. Maybe next year we’ll look into something like this. Love the barnacle trivia – who knew?! Did you keep getting Spirit of the West songs stuck in your head?😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • I really enjoy kayaking (a nice change from hiking/backpacking). Although Mike and I used to do lots of independent multi-day canoeing in Ontario, we are less comfortable dealing with tides, currents etc. on the ocean so guided trips have worked well for us …plus it’s really nice being pampered sometimes with others making meals and figuring out logistics. I can highly recommend this outfitter. Their Johnstone Strait/Broughton Archipelago expedition is amazing for whale sightings. Email me if you have any questions. Oh ya, their name definitely makes me want to break out in song!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. jawatson852

    Excellent piece. Thanks you. It brought back nice memories.
    My wife and I love boating in that area. One of our favorite spots is Von Donop Inlet on Cortes Island.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you John. I wish we’d had more time to explore along Cortes Island (of course we’re a lot slower on kayak than on a boat). The Von Donop Inlet looks really cool with its long, narrow passage. I think Robertson Lake where we went swimming is just a bit north of the inlet. There are endless opportunities for exploration in that region. Cheers, Caroline


  16. A really enjoyable post! I adore the depths of the blue hues throughout!!

    Liked by 2 people

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