Welcome to the realm of the orcas
Johnstone Strait and Blackfish Sound
Families, focus on wildlife and ease with kids
* Kayaking trips & tours are priced and charged in Canadian dollars and are subject to 5% GST and $20 / person environmental sustainability fee. Please see our Terms and Conditions for complete terms.
Make Unforgettable memories with your family!
Northern Vancouver Island is the best place on earth to see killer whales in the wild. Most of British Columbia’s 300 or so orcas return to these waters to feed, sleep and play. And there’s no more exciting way to encounter pods of these fascinating animals than from the seat of your very own sea kayak. Also sharing this diverse habitat are dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, harbour seals, humpback whales, eagles, and black bears, to name just a few.
Customize Your Tour
We understand that families will have varying degrees of comfort when it comes to camping and kayaking, therefore we offer a lot of flexibility with this trip. The amount of time in kayaks, the route, the activities, etc can all be tailored to meet the needs of your family.
This tour offers a wide range and variety of paddling experiences all in a prime location for wildlife sightings – Johnstone Strait. As a basecamp style tour, we save time packing up camp each day and instead come home to the same campsite each night exploring by kayak during the day.
*This tour can also be offered as an expedition-style trip where we pack up camp every night and set up at a new site – contact us to design the perfect expedition if this is your preference.
Let Us Take Care of the Details & the Cooking!
We take care of the details so you and your family can focus on fun and adventure. Our dynamic guide team will keep you and your family well-fed, engaged, smiling, laughing, and learning about the wonders of the BC coast.
We also welcome participation and are happy to help share our skills and knowledge with you and the kids if you would like to learn more about kayaking, camping, and wilderness skills.
Where We Kayak
The Orca Family tour is based in the heart of the action of Johnstone Strait. This trip starts and ends with a water taxi ride from picturesque Telegraph Cove to our beautiful home for the next 4 days on Hanson Island. This location offers great paddling options in the west end of the Johnstone Strait and Blackfish Sound. This area of the coast has a true rugged northwest feel with its lush temperate rain forests, rolling mountains, and an abundance of seabirds and marine wildlife including the world-famous resident pods of killer whales.
“We had a wonderful time! This is a great introduction for our 6-year old kids to this area of the world. It is also great for my 78-year old parents to be able to see all these animals in their natural habitat. Guide Bob was so great with my parents. I know they were in really good hands and Nicole and Mackenzie were awesome with the kids and us!” Alice Yu from San Francisco, USA
Your home on Hanson Island
We will camp at our private Hanson Island campsite which comes complete with stunning views, wooden tent platforms, an outhouse, tarped dining area, and a rustic driftwood kitchen where your guides will prepare your tasty meals that both kids and adults will enjoy. This site is tucked away in an open forest and has a gravel beach that faces west to catch the summer sunsets as they bring our exciting days to a close. This comfortable and established site is the perfect place to base ourselves for exploring the local area.
The Orca Family Menu
Our menu provides hearty and nutritious meals for the whole family. The meals include breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and plenty of snacks for hungry paddlers. Our menu for this trip still appeals to adult palates but we also provide “kid-friendly” options and alternatives to keep everyone a happy camper! This is another area of this trip where we are love to be flexible and work with your needs as a family to accommodate allergies, dietary restrictions, and to ensure that your kids will be happy with our food.
Listening to the Whales Sing
We are equipped with a portable underwater hydrophone so we can listen to the beautiful songs of the orca as they pass while we are paddling.
Most Importantly – Fun!
Above all else, we want to make sure that everyone in your family has fun on this kayaking trip! Our professional and dynamic guides will help to keep your family happy with games, activities, and stories around the campfire that everyone can enjoy. We hope you can join us!
Professional guiding service, all kayaking equipment including special kid-sized paddling equipment (including kayaks, PFDs, paddles, pumps, ropes, and sponges), meals (lunch day 1 to lunch day 4), camping equipment including tents and Therm-a-rest sleeping pads, camp-style pillows, activities specifically for families, a special take-home package for the kids, water taxi service and all park, and land use permits.
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, or 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).
- Professional guiding service
- All kayaking equipment
(including kayaks, PFDs, paddles, pumps, ropes, sponges, and back support pillows)
- Prepared, tasty Meals (lunch day 1 to lunch day 4)
- Camping equipment including tents and Therm-a-rest sleeping pads and camp-style pillows
- A special take-home gift for kids
- Park and land use permits
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.
TOUR MEETING LOCATION
where & where: TELEGRAPH COVE, at 11:30 AM (Day 1)
On day 1 of your trip you will meet your guides 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. Please arrive 20 minutes early to allow time to unload, carry your luggage down to the launching spot, and arrange parking (if necessary).
WHERE & WHEN: TELEGRAPH COVE, BY APPROX. 12 PM (DAY 4)
Return time can depend on weather and travel conditions, but is typically between 11 am – 1 pm. 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.
Meeting in Telegraph Cove at 11:30 am, we will go over the kayaking basics and essential safety procedures before heading off on our paddling adventure. A certified water taxi will whisk us across the Johnstone Strait to be dropped right at our camp on Hanson Island. Our first day will be spent exploring the shores of the Johnstone Strait on the lookout for the Northern Resident killer whales and other marine life. We will enjoy our first delicious dinner together and having a bonfire on the beach – perfect opportunity to share our highlights of the day.
Day 2 & 3
On days 2 and 3 we will paddle the waters of the Johnstone Strait and possibly travel up to the nearby Blackfish Sound. There is a lot of flexibility on these days and ultimately we will choose the best route based on the weather and the group’s strengths and desires. Each night we will stay at the established Hanson Island basecamp, saving the chores of packing up camp each day. For our lunch breaks, we will enjoy picnics on various beaches. These breaks will also give us the opportunity to stretch our legs, discover the creatures that live in the intertidal zone, and explore the lush coastal rainforests with old-growth cedar trees. The evenings can be designed tailored to your family. Each day will be full of events but also leaves enough time to relax and simply take in all the natural wonders of our surroundings. The cozy camping under the stars and the chance to listen to the blows of the whales passing by is highlight for every kid (and parent)!
On day 4, after another hearty breakfast, we will slowly pack up our gear for the water taxi ride back to Telegraph Cove. A last opportunity to watch out for more wildlife. If you haven’t visited the Telegraph Cove whale museum with educational displays of coastal wildlife in Telegraph Cove before your tour, this is the best time to do it! It showcases whole skeletons of seals, otters, and whales, and many other interesting things.
This 4-day adventure is the perfect introduction to sea kayaking in a remote and coastal BC environment. To learn new wilderness skills, and the take a break from the hustle and bustle of your family’s everyday life.
FIND OUT WHAT YOU NEED TO PACK FOR FOR THIS TRIP:
Below is a list of commonly asked questions. If you have any further questions or concerns please do not hesitate to call us.
Where can I find updates to COVID-19 from Spirit of the West?
- learn about safety measures, mitigation plan, and procedures
- see answers to our most frequently asked questions about COVID
- learn how to travel and adventure safely in British Columbia.
To read our Terms and Conditions, please click here.
We also published a guide for Travel Insurance 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.
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 other 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).
We provide all meals during your trip and non-alcoholic beverages including a wide variety of teas, coffee, juices, hot chocolate are provided. Alcohol is not provided on our 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. The paddling on our Orca Family Tours will be defined based on the desire and ability of the families/children.
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.
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 is 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?
Our basecamp at Hanson Island is built up with tent platforms, and rustic driftwood counters in the kitchen for cooking. This site is tucked away in an open forest, and has a gravelly beach that faces west to catch the summer sunsets as they bring a long and exciting day to a close. A comfortable, established site is the perfect place to base ourselves for exploring the local area.
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, 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.
For a daily fee 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.
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
"The best trip ever! Say thanks to the awesome guides!"
Gabriel, 10 years
"We had great guides and they were super nice!"
Skye, 11 years
"Very fun, exciting and so adventurous!"
Julia, 12 years
"Very cool and great food and a fun experience overall!"
Ruby, 13 years
"A wonderful experience. Love learning new things and our guides were very knowledge-based."
"Excellent knowledge and skills shown by our guides!"
Our online booking system allows you easy access for booking your tour with Spirit of the West Adventures, any time of day.
Before finalizing your reservation, please carefully read over our Terms & Conditions, as these terms will apply to your booking. We also highly recommend that you look into Travel Insurance options to protect your travels before booking your tour as some types of insurance (such as Cancel for Any Reason insurance) can only be accessed within a limited period of time after paying for any portion of your tour.
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!
We highly recommend purchasing travel insurance known as Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR). Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) policy for Canadians travelling within Canada can be purchased from Manulife Canada within 72 hours paying for any portion of your tour by calling 1-888-220-5212 and giving the Spirit of the West agent code of WESTADV and asking for the Manulife Premium Protection Plan. Click here for more details on travel insurance.
If you are booking from outside of Canada, please ensure you check and keep up to date on entry requirements when planning and booking your trip. The ArriveCAN app provides travel information on current entry and exit requirements for Canada.