Paddle the heart of the orca waters
Everyone, focus on orcas and comfort
Also Available for private bubble group Reservations
Click below to find out more about how to make your tour private for the ultimate peace of mind. See all available dates and pricing for private bubble tours. Please feel free to get in touch with our office and we will help find the perfect trip for you!
Your kayak retreat in BC’s Whale territory
Johnstone Strait Ultimate is our ever popular and longest-running tour for good reason. Spending four days at our comfortable, ideally situated kayaking and killer whales basecamp may change your idea of being cozy and relaxed in the wilderness forever. Located directly across Johnstone Strait from the Robson Bight Michael Bigg Ecological Reserve, our Boat Bay camp could not be better positioned to give you a great chance possible of encountering the majestic and elusive orca and humpack whale. Nearly all of British Columbia’s 300 resident orcas return to the Johnstone Strait area for the summer season to play, eat, sleep and rub their bodies underwater on the area’s unique, small pebble beaches. It’s our privilege to spend a few days in their realm.
all the other WILDLIFE
In addition to orcas, we are lucky to share the ecosystem with humpback whales, black bears (it is not uncommon to see black bears foraging along the shores for seafood during low tide), deer, cougars, shore and sea birds, minks, river otters, dolphins, and porpoise – to say nothing of the abundant, vibrant and colourful intertidal life one can see below the surface. From the water taxi ride on day one to your last soak in our wood-fired hot tub on your final evening, this is the ultimate wilderness kayak experience. This tour offers some of the best opportunities for viewing and paddling in the realm of killer whales in the wild. Traveling to and from our remote campsite by boat and base camping in comfort and style – all in one of the prime wildlife observation areas of Johnstone Strait.
kayaking and Killer Whales
Maybe it’s because we take you right to the heart of the world of the orcas. Watching the majestic orca from the water level while traveling in a silent kayak really makes for a special experience. See the water part with the spray from a whale’s breath turn into mist against the sky and hear the telltale sound of a whale coming to the surface and it’s sure to make your heart race and bring a smile to your face.
Getting There is Half the Fun
Your Johnstone Strait Ultimate adventure begins when you climb aboard our high-speed water taxi, head north through famous Seymour Narrows, and into the wilderness beyond. Having a supply boat take our group into a base camp means we can take in extra gear, plentiful fresh food, and supplies, and get to our remote destination extra fast through some of the most striking scenery on the planet. The water taxi trip is often a highlight for our guests as it gives you a wonderful sampling of coastal scenery and provides excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. When you arrive at our camp, you’re relaxed, rested, and ready for adventure.
Our Base Camp across from robson bight ecological reserve
For those who haven’t tried it, base camping has some big advantages over a typical expedition-style kayak trip. Coming back to the same comfortable, established camp each night means there is less time spent making and breaking camp each day. This leaves more time to be on the lookout for orcas and exploring. Comfortable amenities include big tents on platforms, complete with thick sleeping mats & pillows, a wood-fired hot tub overlooking the ocean, an on-demand hot water shower with a view over the strait, and a permanent gourmet wilderness kitchen to ensure happy campers with full bellies takes camping and kayaking to a whole new level.
Listening to the Whales Sing
Our base camp is equipped with an underwater hydrophone so we can listen to the beautiful songs of the orca as they pass by our camp. We also carry portable hydrophones with us for while we are in the kayaks.
We just have to mention it. One of the perks that come with the base camp is a well-established kitchen for our fantastic guides to prepare your food. We use mostly organic fresh fruits and vegetables to prepare gourmet meals, topped off with home baking. We also provide 24-hour snacks just in case you get a hankering for something late at night. It is a Spirit of the West Adventures guarantee you will never go hungry, even after a day’s paddle in the fresh air. On the first evening, we feature a traditional wild salmon barbecue and from here the creative, tasty, and hearty meals keep coming. This is not your typical camping food!
- Professional guiding service
- All kayaking equipment (including kayaks, PFDs, paddles, pumps, ropes, and sponges)
- Meals (lunch day 1 to lunch day 4)
- Cooking equipment
- Camping equipment including large dome-style tents on wooden platforms, thick Therm-a-rest sleeping pads, full-size pillows & hot water bottles
- Water taxi service
- Park and land use permits
If you are planning on bringing any of your own equipment please double-check the packing list to ensure you have the appropriate gear and please let our office know in advance of the tour to avoid us bringing duplicates.
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?
Not included in the tour cost are accommodation before or after the kayaking portion of your trip;
- Flights, airport transfers, ferries, taxis
- Travel/medical insurance
- Alcoholic or carbonated beverages
- Rain gear
- Sleeping bags
- Personal items (toiletries, clothing, etc.)
Sleeping bags and rain gear may be rented if you prefer not to travel with them (please reserve in advance)
Spirit of the West acknowledges and operates in the unceded traditional territory of the Mamalilikulla-Qwe'Qwa'Sot'Em, 'Namgis, Tlowitsis, Kwikwasut’inuxw, Nuu-chah-nulth, We Wai Kai, Homalco, Klahoose and Heiltsuk First Nations.
Our adventure begins the moment we step off the docks onto our high speed water taxi. Relax in comfort as we whisk you through the scenic waterways to the heart of the Johnstone Strait where our remote wilderness camp is located. Situated directly across from Robson Bight, which is considered one of the best killer whale observation areas. In fact, the whale researchers in this area live at the other end of our bay. From our base camp we will spend our days exploring the area and return back to our established campsite for the evenings...
VIRTUAL PRE-Tour MEETING
WHERE & WHEN: VIA YOUR COMPUTER BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME
Our team will be in contact with you to set up a Zoom (virtual video) pre-tour meeting. This meeting gives us a chance to answer any questions you may have, for you to meet our team, go over the logistics of the tour, and to discuss what to expect. We plan this for 7 pm, 3 days before your trip starts, but alternate times may be arranged to suit your schedule.
Tour MEETING LOCATION
WHERE & WHEN: TELEGRAPH COVE MARINA FUEL DOCK AT 1 PM
On day 1 of your trip you will meet the water taxi in Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island. (An approx. 5.5-hour drive by car north of Victoria or 4 hours north of Nanaimo.) There is a parking and unloading area conveniently located near the general store and dock entrance. You’ll find our water taxi at the bottom of the boardwalk area. (We will send you the specific details a few days before your tour starts). Please arrive 20 minutes early to allow time to unload, carry your luggage down to the dock, and arrange parking (if necessary).
WHERE & WHEN: TELEGRAPH COVE, by approx. 1 PM (day 4)
Return time can depend on weather and travel conditions. We try our best to get you back on time for your onward travels or to explore more of what Vancouver Island has to offer.
Below you will find our recommended or typical trip itinerary. Please remember that paddling times and distances may vary based on group desire and abilities. Your guides have extensive training and will let you know what is possible in terms of safety, weather, and sea conditions.
Rise and shine ready for fun and adventure. After meeting our water taxi, loading our gear, and a safety briefing, our captain takes us down and across the waters of Johnstone Strait. En route, sightings of marine life such as porpoises, dolphins, sea lions and whales are common. After the 40-50 minute journey we arrive at our remote wilderness base camp, situated across from the pristine Tsitika River Valley and the Robson Bight Michael Bigg Ecological Reserve. After settling into our new surroundings and lunch we will have a kayak orientation and discuss safety procedures before setting off on an afternoon paddle. We will return in time for a fresh wild fish dinner (alternatives of course for those who do not eat fish). Enjoy the sunset from the hot tub before retiring to rest for more fun in the morning.
DAY 2 & 3
After a hearty camp breakfast, we will meet to discuss our plans for each day. Our route and schedule for these days will depend on weather conditions, wildlife viewing opportunities and group preferences. Generally, we set out in our kayaks after breakfast and paddle to one of the area’s many pocket beaches for a picnic lunch before paddling ‘home’ again in time for some relaxation time before dinner. On our way, we take breaks for stretching and snacks, and we always take lots of time to explore the intricate shoreline. Our days may also include skill instruction, hiking and a visit to a marine wildlife research outpost located nearby. For the very brave there is always the option of a dip into the chilly waters of Johnstone Strait before a restorative soak in the hot tub!
This is our last day of exploration. After a final morning paddle, we will enjoy another delicious breakfast/lunch, take another deep breath to take home the fresh air of Johnstone Strait. We will then pack up our things and soak up the last bit of tranquillity before the water taxi arrives to transport us back to Telegraph Cove and the real world once again.
FIND OUT WHAT YOU NEED TO PACK FOR FOR THIS TRIP:
Where can I find updates to COVID-19 from Spirit of the West?
Please click here to read through our current updates on coronavirus, travel disruptions, practices while on trip and more flexible terms & conditions due to the COVID-19.
To read our general Terms and Conditions, please click here.
We also published a Travel Insurance 101 which will help you answer basic travel insurance questions, such as ‘What is travel insurance?’ and ‘Why do I need it?’
Please don’t hesitate to contact our office if you have any further questions. We are here to assist you every day from 9am onwards.
Breanne, Rick and the whole Spirit of the West crew
What is the minimum age required to join our tours?
We cater to all ages of adventurers. Kids age 5 to 12 are encouraged to join the Family Orca Tours which have been designed with the needs of younger kayakers. For most of our other regularly scheduled tours we prefer a minimum age of 12, except for the Great Bear Rainforest trip, which has a minimum age of 14. If your child is almost 12 or your family has a good deal of experience kayaking and camping we do occasionally make exceptions. We like to assess each case individually. We can also organize private, custom style adventures. Feel free to call us and we would be happy to discuss the options.
What is the average age of our guests?
We have guests from age 5 and up on our family tours and ages 12 to 85 joining our regularly scheduled tours. The average age ranges between age 30 to 65. Each tour and tour date is different, but we usually get a good mix of ages. For those concerned with being in ‘their older years’ or anyone unsure of which tour fits them best, we welcome you to contact us and we will be happy to help you find the perfect trip.
Are there any single supplement fees if I am travelling on my own?
There are NO single supplements or any extra fee. We encourage solo travelers to join us and often have several solo travelers on each tour. It should be no problem to have your own tent and you will have access to both single and double kayaks.
Can you accommodate food allergies/special diets?
Our food preparation crew are masters at accommodating dietary restrictions. We are able to offer gluten-free, vegetarian, pescatarian, dairy light and vegan menus with prior notice. Other dietary requests may involve additional charges and need to be discussed in advance with our food crew. We are NOT a nut-free facility.
Will I comfortably fit in the kayaks?
If you are over 6ft (182cms) tall, if you are on the more petite side of things, have larger hips or weigh over 250lbs (115 kg) we have certain kayaks that may work best for you. Please give us a call and we can ensure we have the appropriate kayak available for you.
What is included in the tour costs?
We supply everything that you will need for kayaking and camping except for a few personal items such as your clothing, toiletries, sleeping bag and rain gear (sleeping bags and rain gear can be rented if needed). Please note that bedding is provided on the Whales and Wilderness Glamping tour.
We provide all meals from morning snack on day one to lunch on the last day. Non-alcoholic beverages including a wide variety of teas, coffee, juices, hot chocolate are provided. Meals on the Whales and Wilderness Glamping tour are paired with wine. Alcohol is not provided on any other tours and you are welcome to bring your favourite wine, beer or pop to enjoy responsibly. There are no additional costs once on our tour unless you wish to purchase souvenirs.
What do I need to bring?
Please find a list of items Spirit of the West Adventures will provide for you and our comprehensive packing list of all the things we suggest you bring along here:
Once you book your tour you will receive a detailed guest handbook which also includes the packing list.
How much kayaking experience is required?
Our adventures are designed to cater to all levels of experience and abilities from first-timer to expert paddler. We have several different styles and lengths of tours so that everyone can find the perfect trip.
If you are looking for more rustic camping and more paddling check out our expedition style tours; the Johnstone Strait Expedition, Orca Lite, Nuchatlitz, Desolation Sound or Great Bear Rainforest Tours.
Do I need to be in great shape for this trip?
The majority of our adventures are not considered to be overly strenuous or physically demanding and therefore do not require a high level of fitness. Each tour is slightly different in its demands so if you are concerned, please do contact us. As a general rule, you need to be capable of a few hours of moderate exercise each day and be comfortable with the uneven ground of a wilderness environment. The Whales and Wilderness Glamping tour can be suited to folks with mildly limited mobility or those who wish to be in the wilderness, but not do any kayaking (you can always choose to stay at camp on our base-camping style tours). Please keep in mind that good general health will go a long way towards the enjoyment of your tour. Most important though is an adventurous spirit.
How much paddling do we do each day?
Paddling time will vary depending on the trip, our destination, weather conditions and the group’s abilities and desires. Generally, we travel between 3-5 hours a day on our base-camping style tours (the Johnstone Strait Ultimate and Whales and Wilderness Tours) and slightly longer (4-6 hours a day) on all of our other tours, not including breaks and lunch. We set a pace which is manageable and enjoyable for all.
Is there cell (mobile) service at the camp?
The Johnstone Strait Ultimate camp sits just outside normal cell service areas, so you can enjoy your time with us free from digital distractions. If you need to find a signal to check in, you will find service as you paddle, or discuss with your guides the options at camp.
Is there electricity at the camp?
We have a limited supply of electricity supplied by solar panels and a battery bank. When the weather is nice, we have more power; when it’s not, we have less. Everyone should be able to charge a camera battery at least once while on the trip and possibly more, but it’s wise to be conservative with your batteries to ensure the power is there when you need it (eg. avoid using the display unless you need it, don’t review photos in your tent at night, keep your camera off when not using it, etc.).
How stable are the kayaks? What is the likelihood of flipping over?
The kayaks we use are stable and designed for comfort. Your guides will give you through instruction on how to safely use and enjoy the kayaks and what to do in case of a capsize. For those concerned about capsizing, the double kayaks are slightly more stable than the singles and we have a variety of both singles and doubles on every trip. The likelihood of a capsize is minimal and if it does happen your well-trained guides will be there before you know it to help.
What happens if my kayak flips over?
In the rare event of a capsize, all of our guides are trained in rescue procedures in order to quickly and efficiently get you back in your boat. At this point, we will take you to the nearest shoreline to change into some warm clothing and carry on with our journey when you are ready. While we are out on the water, it is of the utmost importance that the group stays together for safety.
If the weather turns bad? Will I be comfy and warm?
Our weather in the Pacific Northwest is generally pleasant from May through until September. In the Johnstone Strait area, the weather will generally be cooler than what you may see on the forecast for Campbell River – sometimes by as much as 10 degrees. Fog is very common on summer mornings, however, this nearly always clears at midday. Although it is uncommon, it can rain in the summer. Be prepared for any type of weather and you will stay comfortable. Layering is the key. It allows you to put on or take off layers while on the water if you need to. If you are very concerned about the weather then we recommend our base-camping style tours as these campsites have covered eating and lounge areas as well as dry tents to come home to at the end of every day. On our expedition style tours, we carry tarps but we are a little more at the mercy of mother nature in these more rustic style campsites.
What sort of wildlife might we see?
The diversity and abundance of wildlife in the Pacific Northwest are one of our great privileges. From the rich marine life of colourful plants and invertebrates, seabirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, mink, otter, seals, sea lions, dolphins, and whales, to the land animals of deer, raccoons, cougars, wolves, and bears, we are bound to see something.
For those with an eye for eagles take note that they are most prominent in the earlier months before the salmon migration in the late summer/early fall.
For those keen to see humpback whales- you are in luck. The population of humpbacks in our area is doing well and we are fortunate to often see these whales any time of the year.
If Orcas are your main priority then we recommend traveling between mid-July and mid-September. While it is possible to see orcas outside of these times, we see them with the greatest abundance and frequency during this peak period.
Please just remember that wildlife is just that wild and we cannot control sightings. That said the whales are the icing on the cake in this stunning, rich and diverse area.
Where is the best place to see orcas/killer whales?
On our tours to Johnstone Strait and Blackfish Sound, which includes the Whales and Wilderness Glamping Tour, the Johnstone Strait Ultimate, Family Orca Tours and Orca Lite tours, we stand a high chance of seeing whales, especially between mid-July and mid-September.
Understandably we cannot guarantee what nature will dictate, but we can tell you that this area has one of the highest concentrations of Killer Whales on earth and this is where they spend their summer holiday. Some trips view the whales from the kayaks, some while traveling on our water taxi or from our campsites on the shore and some see all of the above.
How close to we paddle to whales & other wildlife?
We do our very best to provide awesome sightings of whales but all the while ensuring that we do not disrupt the natural behaviour of all the wildlife we encounter. We abide by the Canadian whale watching regulations which means we do not approach killer whales (orcas) any closer than 200 meters (656 ft) and all other cetaceans no closer than 100 meters (328 ft).
To learn more about how we do our best to minimize our impacts on whales check out nimmsa.org the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association. Your trip fees help to fund whale research and conservation efforts through the NIMMSA fund which Spirit of the West Contributes too.
What is the camp setup like?
The Johnstone Strait Ultimate tour, while in a wilderness setting, offers some amenities to make your stay quite comfortable. Amenities include a covered dining area, large dome-style tents on wooden tent platforms, thick Thermarest-style sleeping pads, pillows, a wood-fired hot tub and a hot water shower with a view of the ocean. If you are looking for the most comfortable camping experience than the Whales and Wilderness Glamping tour is for you. This trip provides large walk-in canvas wall style tents, real beds with organic soy foam mattresses, pillows of various levels of firmness, warm bedding, a hot shower, wood-fired hot tub, a professional chef and a million little touches to enhance your wilderness experience.
Where do we wash and are there toilets?
Johnstone Strait Ultimate and the Whales and Wilderness Glamping tour have hot freshwater showers and established pit style outhouses.
On all other tours (expeditions), there is very little fresh water to be found. Therefore, seawater is your best bet for washing up. Please use biodegradable, environmentally friendly soap brands.
Toilet facilities are not common in most wilderness settings, although some areas may have pit toilets. We also carry a portable toilet system. Your guide will generally designate an area that works for ensuring your privacy. We are very accustomed to making sure all of our guests feel comfortable and informed – please feel free to ask us any questions you might have, before or during your tour.
Where can I leave my vehicle while on tour?
Our tour meeting location on day 1 is Telegraph Cove on Northern Vancouver Island.
There is a parking and unloading area conveniently located near the general store and dock entrance. The parking is not far from where you will meet your guides. Further information will be provided in the Guest Handbook that you receive after reserving your tour.
What is the industry standard for tipping my guides?
If you would like to express your appreciation through a gratuity, such recognition would be enthusiastically received. The industry standard for tipping is approx. 10% per person of the trip cost. All tips received will be collected and disbursed amongst your guides & base crew by the trip leader.
We're proud of our great reviews - but don't just take our word for it, see what people are saying over on Trip Advisor. View Reviews
“Found the experience extraordinary. This is my second trip and I’m looking forward to my third!”
"Beyond our expectations. This was our first family adventure vacation and it was great! We were fortunate to see lots of wildlife and each guide was very knowledgable. "
The Petrick Family
"Unforgettable! Great people, great location and amazing natural environment."
"Change nothing, its perfect!"
Jean Luc Bohn
"Great experience! 4 day trip was a perfect time for my 11 year old son."
"Awesome! I love you guys! Want to bring my daughter. Thank you so much for a trip I will never forget! Thank you all!"
"The experience exceeded all my expectations. This was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I’ve made new friends from all over the globe."
"Best honeymoon ever"
“Exhilarating, relaxing and well guided.”
Molly & Gayle
"Met our expectations, liked the flexibility of the guides. Very competent and professional group. Each guide brought something special to our experience.”
The Wool family
"Everyone very helpful and patient. Food, kayaking, accommodations all great. People before trip on phone very helpful. A trip we will always remember. Thank you!"
"We both really enjoyed the trip. The guides, area and wildlife were amazing. Great balance between organized time and "own time" Guides were very accommodating, relaxed, made all feel welcome!"
Heather and Mark Elliott
"Experience of a life time. I will be back with my family. Your dedication to your company "shined" through your staff."
"The trip was all around awesome.
This guides and organization was phenomenal."
"So impressed with the guides depth of knowledge and how the trip is run so smoothly. Base camp is a wonderful place. Would be happy to wake up every morning there."
Helen Mc Donnoll
THE CAMP & FOOD
"Friendly guides, fun, great food, and group was super too! Hot tub and shower unreal! "
"With my dietary limitations, everyone at Spirit of the West went out of their way to make delicious food. I have never gotten service like that before. "
“Great trip, great camp, never seen a beautiful hot tub in such a beautiful scenery.”
“Awesome! Most luxurious camping trip ever with fun and knowledgeable staff!”
The food…ahhh yum. The hot tub and tent amenities were luxurious! Overall I feel very satisfied and unwilling to leave! Thank you to the great staff for a wonderful experience!”
“Fantastic overall. Wonderful food and accommodations top notch (hot tub!) Amazing guides, great pace. Essentially a perfect trip. Bascamp, food, guides are all amazing. Keep it up! Thank you for being awesome!”
"Beyond expectations - deluxe guiding, food and hot tub! The kayaking was amazing, The wildlife just incredible!"
"A truly wonderful and inspiring trip. I slept under the stars last night to hear the orcas and was lucky enough to see an incredible asteroid shower. A once in a lifetime experience. (Although I hope to repeat it soon!)"
(John) Brian Weir
"OMG !! Saw everything, whales, humpback, bear, eagle, seals. The guides were amazing, knowledgeable, funny and friendly! The guests were great everyone got along. Felt like we were all old friends."
Our online booking system allows you easy access to booking your tour with Spirit of the West Adventures, any time of day. If you think that you would like to book a trip, but need time to look into other travel arrangements, please contact our office and we will place a temporary hold on your spaces.
We also offer real humans to speak with if that’s your preference, so feel free to call our office at 1-800-307-3982 (from within Canada and the U.S) or 1-250-285-2121 (from overseas). We can be reached by email at [email protected] If, for any reason, you are having trouble booking your trip, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are always happy to help!
Cancel For Any Reason insurance is essential to protect your investment in your experience. Policies must be purchased within a limited timeframe after paying for any portion of your trip: within 72 hours for Canadians and within 1-2 weeks for Americans. Please learn more here.
If you are booking from outside of Canada, do not use this booking form. Please contact us by phone or email to place your tentative reservation. Click here for more details.