Late spring is imbued with the expectancy of summer’s imminent appearance. Nowhere can you experience that more keenly than in a sea kayak on the Sunshine Coast. Mountains and sunlight reflect off the ocean in flashes of chrome as you drift along. Beneath the surface, clarity reigns. An orange sea urchin looks close enough to touch. In truth, the globe of spines sits a paddle length below. Reach down and your kayak will roll just enough to momentarily seem about to tip. Pull back as you snap out of a spell cast by the scene’s overpowering magic.
Although the Sunshine Coast is visible from Vancouver’s western beaches, the Sechelt and Malaspina peninsulas, which dominate this semi-isolated stretch of the Lower Mainland, seem a world apart. No need to pack a passport. All that’s required to experience the tangible essence of this rarefied cosmos is the will to travel an hour or so beyond your back yard. How hard is that, especially when the rewards are guaranteed to send you home with a whole new peace of mind?
Before you begin to think that you’ll somehow have to rough it to achieve this sense of release, consider this: life is challenging enough when you’re coping with the pressures of urban living. As soon as you disembark on the Sunshine Coast, you’ll sense a soothing difference. There’s more room to breathe—not just between you and others with whom you share the road but in the whole realm of nature that spreads before you. Take your time. With the Coast Mountains rising sharply from the shoreline, the inclination here is not so much to explore vertically but to put out to sea in a small watercraft and explore the sheltered bays and inlets.
No boat? No experience? With plenty of local outfitters and guides, sourcing equipment and directions is hardly an issue, particularly between mid-May and the soon to be heightened demands of summer vacationers. In fact, there are numerous natural incentives to undertake a paddle excursion right now while spring is still in full swing. When contacted by the Georgia Straight, both Paul Hansen of West Coast Wilderness Lodge in Egmont and Adam Vallance of Powell River Sea Kayak pointed out that the spring bird migration appears to be happening later this year than usual. As well, California sea lions and whelping harbour seals are everywhere in evidence.
When reached by phone at his company’s sea-kayak base on Okeover Arm near Powell River, Vallance was still buzzing about a recent appearance by several orcas. “Even though historically orcas used to feed here on salmon before local rivers were dammed for hydroelectric generation, this is the first time in the 16 years I’ve been here that I recall them visiting. That stirs up optimism in me.” In that same vein, Hansen reported that paddlers around Egmont have been sharing space with hundreds of surf scoters—large, black sea ducks given to ululating while struggling to get airborne—as well as inquisitive minke whales that enjoy people-watching just as much as the seafarers are bent on nature observation.
A distinguishing feature of the inland waters around Egmont and Okeover Arm is the abiding sense of tranquillity. At this time of year, few sailboats or yachts appear. Come summer, all that changes, particularly around Okeover Arm, which opens onto Desolation Sound. As Vallance pointed out, the sound is one of the Sunshine Coast’s more popular destinations for fair-weather sailors. “For starters, Desolation’s got a great name and warm water, which is rather special. Plus, it’s got the best intertidal marine life on the coast. Based on their experiences from around the world, our guides tell us there are some unique things going on here, which is why they’ve dubbed our day trips the ”˜famous aquarium tour’. Desolation is sheltered by towering Coast Mountains,” he continued, “and dotted with islands and islets. There are no strong currents. This creates what people are seeking in a kayak tour.”
Extreme currents are one of the chief attractions for visitors to Egmont. Except at slack tide, the mighty Skookumchuck Narrows at the entrance to Sechelt Inlet south of the small village offers a playground for experienced kayak paddlers who pull stunts in their stubby play boats on the roiling white water within sight of those who journey to viewing spots on foot. Currents of a decidedly less threatening nature characterize the waters around Hansen’s lodge. “Compared to the Strait of Georgia that can be choppy, the waters offshore from us are always flat calm. You never feel like you’re in big, open water with winds pushing you around.” As well, Hansen pointed out that in a kayak you’re not sitting as high above the water as in a canoe. “When it comes to paddling, canoeing is an art, kayaking a joy.” Whether you’ve sea kayaked before or not, now is the time to spring to it.
Access: Egmont lies 75 kilometres north of the Langdale ferry terminal on Highway 101 via Sechelt. For information on kayaking at West Coast Wilderness Lodge, call 1-877-988-3838 or visit www.wcwl.com/. Okeover Arm lies 48 kilometres north of Egmont near Lund on Highway 101 via a 50-minute ferry ride between Earls Cove and Saltery Bay. To contact Powell River Sea Kayak, call 1-604-483-2160 or visit www.bcseakayak.com/. Detailed information on transportation, accommodation, and recreation on the Sunshine Coast is posted at www.hellobc.com/.