Lodge Offers Kayakers a Voyage of Discovery

From the third-floor lounge of Discovery Islands Lodge, we look east across Hoskyn Channel to Read and Maurelle islands. To the north is Surge Narrows provincial marine park, a playground for paddlers unfazed by active tidal waters. A range of snow-capped mainland peaks, lorded over by Hat Mountain and Dudley Cone, backdrops the scene. In the entire panorama we can see two boats and exactly four distant buildings. The rest is forest, sea, and sky.

We're here on the east coast of Quadra Island--185 kilometres northwest of Vancouver and a short ferry ride from Vancouver Island's Campbell River--to try out an unfamiliar style of accommodation. On this afternoon in late May, our belongings are spread throughout the common-room lounge--the heart of the resort with its well-equipped kitchen, comfortable sofas, and enormous, polished-wood dining table.

Discovery Islands Lodge is the brainchild of Ralph and Lannie Keller. It's a recent example of a new and heartening trend in B.C. tourism: stylish yet affordable resorts with private rooms and shared facilities that are geared to the self-propelled crowd. The vision, says Ralph, is to provide an alternative to fully catered touring. Here, travellers can use the lodge as a base while visiting the Discovery Islands, which have much of interest for kayakers.

Ralph and Lannie, proprietors of Coast Mountain Expeditions, are a story in themselves. From Coast Mountain Lodge, their main facility on Read Island, they have been leading kayaking tours and getaways for 17 years. They moved to Read more than two decades ago as young, naive homesteaders, and raised Emily and Albert, their two children. Gradually, they became "politicized", as Ralph--research and policy chair for the Green party of B.C.--puts it, when resource industries began closing in on their island paradise.

One day we decide to paddle from the hostel to the west side of Read Island and the tiny village of Surge Narrows, a cluster of homes and floats with a general store, a post office, and a delightful 12-student elementary school. Then we hike five kilometres over peaceful back roads to Coast Mountain's headquarters, beside Evans Bay, where staff are sprucing up the cabins, creek-side sauna, huge garden, and dock for the coming season. In the rustic cedar lodge, a 19th-century Steinway heirloom piano from Lannie's side of the family dominates the common area. The Kellers' whole operation, with its composting outhouses, solar panels, and microhydroelectric system, has a modern-day touch of Swiss Family Robinson about it.

After hiking and paddling back to Discovery Islands Lodge, we shift next day from saltwater to freshwater and sample Quadra's Main Lake Provincial Park. Only minutes by car from the hostel, the park encompasses three large, interconnected lakes--Main, Mine, and Village Bay--where boaters and paddlers can stop at seven wilderness campsites. Lake kayaking is an option to the ocean, and the campsites, most with small sand beaches, are idyllic. From the northeast corner of Main Lake, I hike a 1.6-kilometre trail to Yeatman Bay on Okisollo Channel and back, disturbing a barred owl en route.

Back at the hostel, we explore our temporary home. The red-brown structure and its wharf were once part of an aquaculture operation, an unsuccessful early-'80s joint venture between the B.C. government and a Norwegian company. The Douglas-fir floors are refinished, the inner walls resurfaced with native pine. Seven simple rooms are equipped with bunks and a few double beds so that singles, couples, and families--up to 18 people, if necessary--can stay. The kitchen, where guests cook for themselves, has a heavy-duty propane range and just about everything one could possibly need for preparing meals and storing food.

In July and August, when the lodge is at its busiest, the Kellers will add breakfast, kayak rentals, and day tours to the hostel experience. The tours will lead beginners and experienced paddlers into Surge Narrows park, with its exciting back eddies and swirling waters, and take them to intimate vantage points where participants can get out and absorb the full impact of the tidal rapids as they build to nine-knot velocities. "At first," Ralph says, "we thought the rapids might be a liability for the lodge, but now we see that they can become a real attraction."

For us, Discovery Islands Lodge's attractions are numerous, both for day trips and as a source of creature comforts at the beginning and end of multiday excursions to kayaking havens like Octopus and Rendezvous islands, only a day's paddle away. With similar hostel-style kayak retreats springing up in Barkley Sound and the Johnstone Strait area directly north of here, the resort could become a starting point for lodge-to-lodge paddling along much of B.C.'s fabulous coastline.

For more information, reservations, and prices, phone 250-287-0635 or visit www.discovery-islands-lodge.com/.