Paddle the heart of the orca waters
4 Days / 3 Nights
Everyone, focus on orcas and comfort
* Kayaking trips & tours are priced and charged in Canadian dollars; prices in other currencies can be estimated by clicking here. Prices are subject to 5% GST and optional $20 sustainability fee. Please see our terms and conditions for full payment and fees information.
Why is this our most popular tour?
Johnstone Strait Ultimate is our most popular and longest-running tour for good reason. Spending four days at our luxurious, ideally situated kayaking and killer whales basecamp may change your idea of being comfortable 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 the best chance possible of encountering the majestic and elusive orca. 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.
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. With a better than 95% sighting success rate during the season, this trip is a wildlife enthusiast’s dream come to life.
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 in to 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 tents on beautiful wooden platforms, thick Therm-a-rest mattresses, sheets, wool blankets, full size pillows with covers & 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; may be booked online with your trip reservation).
Our adventure begins the moment we step off the docks of Campbell River and Quadra Island onto our high speed water taxi. Relax in comfort as we whisk you up the scenic waterways of the Inside Passage to our remote wilderness camp on the edge of Johnstone Strait. Our camp, located 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...
WHEN: DAY PRIOR AT 6PM, WHERE: HERIOT BAY INN ON QUADRA ISLAND
This meeting gives us a chance to answer any questions you may have and for you to meet your guides and fellow kayakers. Your guides will go over the logistics of the tour and answer any concerns you may have. If you cannot make it to the meeting just be sure to call the day before departure to confirm your arrival. This allows us to confirm the exact departure time and location, or to alert you if there are have been any last minute changes.
WHEN: DAY 1, WHERE: QUADRA ISLAND AT 8.15AM, or CAMPBELL RIVER Way West Coastal Ventures AT 8.30AM
You can meet either on Quadra Island or at Way West Coastal Ventures & Water taxi in Campbell River. If meeting in Campbell River, please call our office to let us know. Spirit of the West Adventures is based on Quadra Island (a 10 minute ferry ride from Campbell River) and this is where our tour starts. We highly recommend making Quadra Island a part of your vacation plans. Our beautiful island has a whole different and laid back feel to it, complete with endless opportunities for outdoor activities, beaches to relax on, amazing accommodations and great local artisans.
Rise and shine ready for fun and adventure. After meeting our water taxi and a safety briefing, our captain takes us up Discovery Passage and safely through the infamous ‘Seymour Narrows’, renowned for its treacherous tidal flows and whirlpools. En route, sightings of marine life such as porpoises, dolphins, sea lions and whales are common. After the 2 1/2 hour 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 salmon 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 pack up our things and soak up the last bit of tranquility before the water taxi arrives to transport us back to Quadra Island and the real world once again.
Our approximate return time to Quadra Island is between 3-5pm, however, due to the number of variables in wilderness travel we recommend that you plan to stay in the area for this night to avoid unnecessarily stressful complications should our return be delayed by something out of our control. Please feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss your travel plans in more detail.
What is included? What do I need to bring?
There are no additional costs once on our tour. On our guided tours we supply everything that you will need for kayaking and camping except for a few personal items such as a sleeping bag and rain gear (these can be rented if needed), your clothes and toiletries. We are happy to pick you up free of charge from your accommodation on Quadra Island on the morning the trip starts and we will drop you off there when the tour is finished. All other transportation, food, gear, etc, while on trip is included in the cost of the tour. Once the tour begins we provide all meals and non-alcoholic beverages (wide selection of teas, coffee, juices, hot chocolate) from morning snack on day one to lunch on the last day. You are welcome to bring your favourite wine, beer or pop, but this is not included in the tour price. There is a grocery and liquor store very close to the location of the pre-trip meeting if you would like to pick up extra beverages on the evening before the tour.
How much kayaking experience is required to join this trip?
No experience is required for this kayak tour! Our adventure is for everyone. Our trips are designed to cater to all levels of experience and abilities. The majority of people who join our tours are first time kayakers. All that we ask is that you welcome adventure with an open mind and are able to laugh and have fun when encountering the unexpected.
Do I need to be in great shape for this trip?
No. Our adventures are not considered to be strenuous or physically demanding, and we do not require a high level of fitness. We just ask that you are capable of a few hours of moderate exercise each day. Keep in mind that good general health will go a long way if we happen to encounter some strong winds or time restrictions. Most important is an adventurous spirit.
Are there any age requirements?
Spirit of the West caters to all ages of adventurers. Although we do prefer a minimum of 12 years for our multi-day tours, we like to assess each case individually. Those concerned with being in ‘their older years’ are welcomed to contact us to discuss their physical abilities.
How much paddling is generally done in a day?
Paddling time will vary depending on our destination and the group’s abilities and desires. Generally we travel between 3-5 hours a day.
How stable are the kayaks? What is the likelihood of flipping over?
The kayaks we use on our tours are stable and designed for comfort. For those a little concerned, the double kayaks are slightly more stable than the singles. The likelihood of a capsize is minimal, and generally only occurs in an uncommon situation.
What happens if my kayak flips over?
If for some reason your kayak flips over, all of our guides have ample practice time on the water with rescue procedures, in order to quickly and efficiently get you back in your boat. At this point we will take you to the nearest shore to change into some warm cozy clothing and carry on with our journey. While we are out on the water, it is of the utmost importance that the group sticks together in the event of capsize or change of route plan.
What if the weather turns bad? Will I be comfortable and warm?
Our weather in the Pacific Northwest is generally pleasant from May through until the end of September. The temperature will vary slightly depending on which area you visit. 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 to make way for clear skies and sun. Although it is uncommon, it can rain in the summer. A good rule of thumb is to be prepared for any type of weather and you will stay comfortable. Layering is the key, and it allows you to put on or take off layers while on the water if you need to.
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 signal to check in, you will find service as you paddle, or discuss with your guides the options at camp.
What sort of wildlife might we see on the tour?
The diversity and abundance of wildlife in the Pacific Northwest is one of our privileges. With river run-off from the mountains, ocean currents, tiderips, eddies and upwelling these waters are among the most productive on earth. 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.
What is the camp set up like? Where do we wash and are there toilets?
Our permanent camp in Johnstone Strait, while in a wilderness setting, offers some amenities to make your stay as comfortable as possible. Our driftwood-style kitchen and sitting area are the hub of our camp and are sheltered from rain and sun. Large, dome-style tents are set up on wooden tent platforms and are equipped with thick thermarest-style mattresses and pillows. Spare blankets are also available. Our wood-fired hot tub is perfect for soaking tired muscles after a day of paddling and the on-demand hot water shower has one of the best views in the world. Our toilet system is clean and private and easy to use. While we are on our day trips our guides will explain alternative methods and will carry all supplies to make sure we are comfortable and that we have as little impact on our environment as possible. Please be sure to contact us with any questions at all – before or during your trip.
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.).
Where can I leave luggage that I won’t need on trip?
If you are staying on Quadra Island, many of the B&Bs offer free luggage storage – simply check with your host. Alternatively, guests staying on either Quadra Island or in Campbell River have the option of storing excess luggage at our office. Please ensure that your luggage is clearly labelled with your name, tour and trip date, and leave it with us on the first day of your tour for return to our office.
Where can I leave my vehicle while on tour?
Free parking will be available for your vehicle while on tour with us. Many of the accommodations on Quadra Island also have free parking included with your stay. Parking is also available at Telegraph Cove for a daily fee. Parking details will be discussed further at the pre-trip meeting.
What are the chances of seeing Killer Whales? How close do we paddle to the Orcas?
On our tours to Johnstone Strait we stand a high chance of seeing the whales. 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. It is very likely that you will see them, whether from your kayak, while traveling on our water taxi or from a beach camp on the shore. Hearing the blow of a whale even from a mile across the Strait will create a sensation of excitement. Note that in accordance with industry whale watching regulations we do not approach whales within 100 meters. This is out of respect for the whales’ space and to ensure that we do not interfere with their natural behaviour.
If I would like to tip the guides, what is the industry standard?
If you would like to express your appreciation to the guides 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 & basecrew 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
TEH 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."
On our Johnstone Strait Ultimate tour we are transported to our wilderness base camp by boat which is equipped to carry all of our passengers, plenty of gear and is specially designed for safety and comfort. With this style of tour we are NOT restricted in the amount of luggage and gear we can bring as our gear does not have to fit in the kayaks, so you'll easily be able to bring enough to stay warm and dry. The following is a list of suggested items that should keep you a happy camper.
Sea kayaks are basically watertight, although small amounts of water may get in through the rudder lines and hatches. In the event of rain or dropping gear in the water we try to keep things as waterproof as possible. We provide you with waterproof storage bags, also known as ‘dry bags’. We will provide several bags for you to pack into. The 5 litre bag is good for storing small items such as cameras, sunscreen, glasses, etc., while a larger one will be used for a spare change of clothes (just in case).
Please note that our summer temperatures from July until September are generally quite comfortable with temperatures from 18-30 degrees Celsius / 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s not uncommon to find mid day summers hot enough to want to cool off in the ocean! June and later September will have cooler temperatures, and at ANY TIME OF YEAR we can have rain & wind, with temperatures occasionally as low as 13 C / 55 F. So, we say it is best to come prepared for any type of weather.
PLEASE NOTE WHAT WE PROVIDE:
– ALL KAYAKS & SAFETY GEAR
– TENT & SLEEPING PADS
– DRY BAGS
– SMALL CAMP PILLOW
If you have your own gear and would prefer to use it on your tour, please bring it to the pre-trip meeting so that we can make sure it is suitable and meets safety requirements. The following is a list of suggested items to bring along. If you have any concerns or questions about the list, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
- Sleeping bag – A 3-season synthetic bag is recommended. Down bags will work but please take extra care to waterproof. If you are uncertain about whether or not you have the appropriate bag just give us a call or check with your local outdoor store. If you do not have a sleeping bag or would prefer not to travel with one, these may be rented for $25 plus tax. Please reserve in advance.
- Wetshoes – A pair that can get wet such as sturdy full strapped sandals (such as Keens, Tevas or Chacos), neoprene booties, crocs, or rubber boots. Please avoid flip-flops/thongs. Spirit of the West has a wide range of rubber boot sizes (youth – men’s size 13) available to borrow free of charge if you don’t have your own wet shoes or have limited space in your luggage. There will be an opportunity to try on boots at the pre-trip meeting.
- Camp footwear – An additional pair of footwear that you plan to keep dry. Runners, trainers or light hikers are great.
- Hat – A sun hat such as a baseball hat or full-brimmed hat as well as a wool or fleece warm hat for evenings or cooler days.
- Sunglasses & sunscreen (stored in a Ziploc bag) – A must for protection from sun and glare off of the water. Safety cords on your glasses are highly recommended.
- Small flashlight or headlamp – With spare batteries. Headlamps are preferable as they allow for hands free operation.
- Camera – In a waterproof bag or case, or you may use our dry bags.
- Bathing suit
- Water bottle – Bike bottles or Nalgene-style bottles work best.
- Personal items – Toothbrush, toothpaste, biodegradable soap/shampoo, washcloth, feminine hygiene products, hairbrush, etc.
- Medication – If you are bringing medication please ensure that… 1) The name and expiry date of drug is on the container; 2) You have the detailed instructions of your dosage and frequency; 3) It is packed in a water and sunproof container; 4) You bring a full extra dosage of your medication in a separate container to leave with your guide, in case you misplace or lose yours, or are weathered in. If you are flying, please pack all necessary medication in your carry-on luggage. This will help eliminate some stress should your checked bags be misplaced in transit.
- Mosquito repellent – Insects are not a significant concern for us in our coastal ecosystem, however for those unused to insects or with particular sensitivities some repellent may come in handy.
- Ziploc bags & several large garbage bags – We will provide you with dry bags, but these come in handy for transporting laundry and/or wet clothing.
- Gloves (optional) – Biking gloves work well to protect your hands from blisters. If you are really concerned abut cold hands, and are paddling in the spring or fall seasons, you may want to invest in neoprene gloves or pogies.
- Beverages – We supply a wide range of teas and coffee as well as juices. You are welcome to bring along soda pops or alcoholic beverages if you choose to. Please note however that we do expect our guests to consume alcoholic beverages responsibly and strictly enforce a no alcohol on the water policy.
- Fishing gear (optional) – Make sure you have a valid B.C. fishing license. These can be purchased on-line at http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/rec/licence-permis/index-eng.htm
- Book or journal
- Binoculars (optional)
- Gratuity for your guides – at your own discretion.
Clothing should be suitable for the time of year, bearing in mind that it could become cold and wet at any time of year. Layering is the best way to regulate body temperature and maintain warmth. We suggest avoiding cotton (except for those hot days). Cotton has no insulation value when wet. An inner material that wicks moisture from the body and gives a comfortable dry feeling even while wet is the best first layer (Polypropylene, Lycra, Nylon, Polyester). A synthetic material such as fleece or pile makes the best second layer to provide warmth. Wool is also suitable.
- Rain jacket & rain pants – For the unexpected nasty weather. To test your waterproofness – jump in the shower and see if you stay dry! (we’re serious!). If you would like to rent/hire raingear from us, please reserve in advance of the tour. Tops and bottoms can be rented for $25 plus tax for the set.
- Light windproof jacket (optional)
- Long-sleeved non-cotton shirt (synthetic/wool) – 2
- Long pants – 1 pair of fleece or warm comfortable pants. 2 lighter pairs made of a quick drying, synthetic fabric. Athletic style pants (running or yoga) are generally appropriate. Jeans are NOT recommended for paddling.
- Lightweight long underwear – 2 pairs, helps to keep you warm at night or as a base layer during the day. We recommend one set for kayaking and one set which is reserved for sleeping and always stays dry.
- Sweaters – 2 warm wool or fleece sweaters (one may be all you need, but it is nice to have a spare in case one gets wet).
- T-shirts – 2 or 3.
- Shorts – 1-2 quick dry nylon
- Warm socks – 3 to 5 pair (1 warmer pair for around camp)
- An extra set of clothes that you may want to reserve for the end of the trip.
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!