4 Day Base Camp Adventure
June to September
June 2 - September 21
This is our guides’ favourite base camp tour! Not too short, not too long, our 4-day trip is just right for those in search of a wildlife-focused sea kayaking experience that has multiple full days with the comforts of a base camp each night.
Spend 4 days exploring the Johnstone Strait, Blackfish Sound, the tidal narrows around Hanson Island and the southern tip of the Broughton Archipelago. You can expect to spend four to six hours a day on the water, to eat lunches on remote beaches, and to explore areas where larger marine mammals are more likely to be feeding. You will also visit the Plumper Islands and culturally significant Indigenous sites in the southern Broughtons.
This unique, all-inclusive tour is always led by an experienced, SKGABC certified guide who will provide you with an immersive on water experience; ten delicious and hearty meals; and a comfortable stay at three different oceanfront base camps. The timing and routes of our trips are always determined by our guides. This allows them to create the best possible experience based off of the tides, daily conditions, and wildlife! No two trips are ever the same.
The Day Before
We recommend that you stay in Telegraph Cove or Port McNeill the evening before your scheduled departure. We will have your dry bags available for pickup at our office anytime before 5:30 p.m., the day before your trip. If you are wondering about nearby slumbering places, please see our list of places to stay!
At 8:45 a.m. on your start date you will meet your guide at the North Island Kayak gathering area, at the end of the historic Telegraph Cove boardwalk. Your kayaks will be set out on our dock and all of the group gear will already be loaded.
Before helping everyone load their gear into their kayaks, your guide will spend some time ensuring you understand what to expect for the duration of the trip. There will then be a handful of onshore orientations: to the area, the gear, the kayaks, and paddling; after which you will launch and embark upon an incredible adventure in the Johnstone Strait!
We will select your first night’s base camp from one of our six, in order to provide the best experience based on the tides and currents of your trip. Traveling along the Vancouver Island shoreline and across the Johnstone Strait, your guide will ensure that you are comfortable by assisting you in developing your paddling technique. After you settle into your sleek, non-intrusive double kayak, you will stop and watch any wildlife that swims by and enjoy the rugged scenery of northern Vancouver Island.
During the day, you will poke around tidal shallows in search of intertidal critters; watch for bald eagles in their nests; and see slow rolling pods of pacific white-sided dolphins. And if you are lucky, you'll spot a black bear turning over rocks and looking for breakfast. For fortunate groups, perhaps you'll see a pod of orcas or even a humpback whale as it swims along the Vancouver Island shoreline with you. Rest assured that your experienced guide is monitoring the local chatter on their VHF marine radio to ensure no wildlife opportunity is missed.
Though wildlife encounters cannot be predicted, you will have four full days of opportunities to encounter them. In the early afternoon, your group will stop to stretch its legs and enjoy a picnic lunch on a remote beach before paddling the last stretch towards camp for the night. Hungry? Greek salad, hummus, pita, fruit, cookies, chips and tea are NIK classics!
You will have worked up an appetite after five to six hours of paddling. Luckily, a locally sourced charcuterie board will help tie you over before dinner is served. Your guide’s homemade beachside BBQ dinner will leave you smiling, stuffed, and nourished. BBQ salmon with risotto and roasted vegetables, halibut and prawn soba noodle stir-fry, chili, quinoa soup, and burritos are a few of our favourite camp dinners.
After dinner, enjoy card games with your party or take a stroll and explore the beach. Alternatively, you can hang around the campfire and get to know the other members of your group as you enjoy an incredible view of the Johnstone Strait. Your guide may open the library and provide some details about the wildlife you encountered that day as you enjoy dessert. Watch the sunset, and if you are lucky see the moon rise while your cozy tent awaits. On dark, moonless nights, the lack of light pollution allows for spectacular star-gazing.
You will spend the night with one other person from your party in spacious, eight-man tent, permanently fixed atop a flat and sturdy wooden tent pad. Our sleeping pads are triple the thickness of a typical backpacking sleeping pad, and pair perfectly with a day of activity and sounds of the ocean to ensure you have a comfortable slumber in the wilderness.
Days 2 & 3
Your second and third days are full of possibilities, depending on the conditions and the interests of your group. You may explore the southern Broughtons, or paddle to the Sofia Islets to look across to the Robson Bight, or perhaps the stars align for an outing to the Whitecliffs for lunch. Trust your guide and you will enjoy four days of spectacular wildlife in an incredibly dynamic coastal environment.
No matter the plan for the day, you will wake up to the smell of hot coffee and sizzling breakfast. The morning pace will be dictated by the weather and currents that day. On favourable days, breakfast will be served between 7 and 8 a.m., and there will be lots of time to relax and get organized. Once the kayaks are packed and moved down to the water, you will launch and begin the next day of your adventure.
Tidal rapids to the east and west of Hanson Island create tide rips which funnel smaller fish and often attract orcas and humpback whales. You will spend time moving through these locations, maximizing your chances of seeing these big, bad whales. If you are fortunate, you may witness the whales' unique feeding behaviours. You will likely be paddling in Blackfish Sound at some point, so keep your eyes out for Steller sea lions who also congregate here.
If your group happens upon a pod of orcas, your guide can deploy a research grade hydrophone and amplifier, allowing you to listen to their incredible conversations. Some of our guides can even identify which clan a family pod of orca belong to, based on their unique dialects. Your second and third days will include another picnic lunch at a remote beach and a few more hours of afternoon kayaking as you make your way to a new base camp for the evening.
Your second and third evenings will be spent at different base camps. There you will enjoy another homemade dinner from our beachside BBQ while you reminisce about the day’s activities and fun. Explore our library to identify and learn more about any creatures you may have seen on your excursion. If you manage to stay up past 10:30 p.m. in August, you may be able to see the blooming plankton's bioluminescence by throwing rocks into the water! You may ask yourself, “Is this Avatar?”.
You will wake up once again to a breakfast cooking and coffee brewing. After the kayaks are packed, you will slowly start the journey home. The route will vary depending on the weather forecast, but our focus will remain on wildlife viewing.
Your final picnic lunch will be on another remote beach before beginning the last leg towards Telegraph Cove. Your group will return to the cove by 3:30 p.m. After a quick debrief with your guide at their chart, you may grab your belongings and be on your way. We do the entire cleanup! However, many guests prefer to stay a while, reliving the adventure with new friends and exchanging contact information, so pictures can be shared.
Be sure to take some time to visit the Whale Interpretive Centre’s incredible collection of skeletons before departing Telegraph Cove.
This is a sample itinerary. In order to provide the most exposure to wildlife and scenery, we plan to camp at up to two of our six base camps in the area; however, we may need to make changes due to weather or tidal considerations. Our goal will always be to provide you with the best possible wildlife and kayaking experience.
The Queen Charlotte and Johnstone Straits attract an abundance of marine mammals in the summers but are much quieter in the winters. Because of this seasonality, we ask guests to pair their wildlife hopes appropriately with the dates of their visit. Please see our wildlife seasonality graph below:
Our Wildlife Seasonality Chart is based on data collected from 3-day trips. We do not guarantee sightings of any kind. The more time you spend on the water, the better your chances of wildlife sighting become!
Over 200 Northern Resident Orcas call this area home in the summer. These oceanic mammals travel in family pods and forage in the Johnstone and Queen Charlotte Straits for their favourite food: the chinook salmon. They reside in the Straits for an average of two months, typically arriving around mid-July and staying until early September.
Larger, more nomadic Transient Orcas (Bigg’s) are seen sporadically in the waters as well. They travel and behave less predictably, but occasionally pass by in a typically quiet and stealthy fashion (unless a porpoise crosses their path…).
An increasing number of humpback whales have been returning to these waters since the whaling industry eradicated them from the area. Whaling in BC ended in 1967, and 35 years later, only seven humpbacks were documented in the Queen Charlotte and Johnstone Straits. But in 2019, 95 individual humpback whales were documented as they fed on the abundant krill and herring in the straits. They are back! These solo giants arrive from Hawaii and Mexico in late May and stay to feed until October.
Steller Sea Lions
Steller sea lions, the largest sea lion, call this area home all year round. However, many more arrive in August and can be seen (and smelled), lounging on their favourite rocks in large groups, sometimes encompassing more than 40 members. Sea lions are curious creatures and groups are often joined by friendly pairs as you paddle in Blackfish Sound.
Year Round Wildlife
Harbor seals, bald eagles, pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall’s porpoises, black bears, minks and salmon are spotted all year round in the straits. The cold, nutrient rich waters create an incredible ecosystem. Beyond mammals, the abundant intertidal life in the straits is often underrated. Sea stars, chitons, barnacles, limpids, anemones, and urchins thrive in the straits and are often easy to find at low tide. Their alien forms and behaviours are both interesting and illuminating as some intertidal creatures’ physical structures have remained relatively unchanged for over half a billion years.
Historic Telegraph Cove, British Columbia
Located in Northern Vancouver Island, approximately 200 km northwest of Campbell River, BC, the community of Telegraph Cove has around 20 year-round inhabitants. It was formerly home to a cannery, a mill for the Canadian Air Force, and a telegraph post. It now serves as a starting point for many forms of eco-tourism.
Telegraph Cove is the departure and return point of all our trips. Because we are based in the cove, we have priority access to boat launches, allowing you to be first on the water. After only two minutes of paddling, you will be in the heart of the dynamic Johnstone Strait.
Telegraph Cove, and its nearest neighbouring community, Port McNeill, have multiple accommodation options available for you, prior to your trip. Please see our list of recommended accommodations in the area. In addition to kayaking, a variety of other adventures are available during your stay in the cove: grizzly bear tours, boat assisted whale watching, hikes, an art gallery, beach access and excellent dining options. Please see our list of things to do in Telegraph Cove.
The incredible Whale Interpretive Center, located beside our shop, is home to over 30 marine mammal skeletons. It must not be missed! Finally, you will frequently see bald eagles, minks, river otters, black bears, and even whales before we leave the dock.
Experienced SKGABC Certified Guides
Our outstanding team of SKGABC certified guides is the backbone of our company, facilitating your experience from start to finish. On trips, our guides fill the roles of group leader, paddling instructor, naturalist, risk-manager, weather forecaster, chef, wildlife tracker, and your new best friend. Our team is made up of an incredible group of people, all with unique stories and backgrounds and inescapable passions for the outdoors and the area we operate in. This passion brings our guides back to the Strait summer after summer. On average, our lead guides spend three years at NIK, and Brad has been with us for 21!
Our team of returning staff means that your guide knows the area well. This allows them to craft your day around the local forecast, currents, and wildlife patterns from a position of knowledge and experience. If the fog rolls in, the wind picks up, or the sun shines down, your guide will know how to make the most of the day. We trust our guides fully to manage your experience with a focus on safety, comfort, and wonder.
We provide all camping and kayaking equipment for our tours. Come with the clothing and personal items noted in the ‘What to Bring’ section and we do the rest. Some of the equipment we provide for our trips includes:
Seaward Passat Double Kayaks
All of our multi-day trips use double kayaks from Seaward. These touring kayaks are as professional as it gets. They have over 250 litres of storage, are made of light, durable fiberglass, and have comfortable seats and backrests.
We will provide you with a 10-litre and 20-litre dry bag for your personal belongings. Dry bags are the best way to store your clothes if you want them to stay nice and dry! Dry bags are leak-free, 99% of the time, every time. Due to the small chance that dry bags can leak, we recommend storing electronics in a more rugged container within a dry bag.
Paddles, Spray Skirts, PFDs, and Safety Equipment
After we dress you up for your adventure, you will be ready for the runway! We have PFDs, paddles, and spray skirts that will work for everyone. Your safety and comfort are our highest priorities.
Even when you are at remote beaches for lunch, you will enjoy the luxury of eating with plates and cutlery and sipping hot coffee with mugs. We have wash systems at all of our camps to ensure that your dishes are cleaned before every meal.
Comfortable Base Camps
Our network of base camps allows us to offer a completely unique experience. Our trips include guaranteed accommodations each evening, which means we may arrive at camp at any time, without the possibility of it already being claimed by another group. Our camps include enough 8-man tents, permanently fixed upon wooden tent pads, so that no more than two people need to share a tent each night. Our two people to one tent ratio allows you lots of space to stand up, get changed, bring your gear inside and relax. Each of our camps features a tarped dining area with picnic tables and a wilderness kitchen complete with a full sized BBQ.
We maintain outhouses at all of our sites, so you may enjoy some privacy and comfort while going to the bathroom at camp. We stock all our camps with a small, but hand picked library of books, which allow you to learn more about the wildlife you see each day. Each of our camps has its own uniquely beautiful geography, but all have their own beach where you can enjoy some peace and quiet, or gather around a crackling fire at sundown.
Delicious Homemade Meals
You will not go hungry on a NIK trip!
After over 20 years in operation, our kitchen team knows how to prepare enough food for each trip. We provide homemade breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, plus appetizers, desserts, granola bars, coffee, tea, and water. If you are still hungry, your guide whip up something else to fill you up. Our menu is designed to be nutritious, delicious, substantial, locally sourced, environmentally friendly, and flexible to dietary restrictions. We can safely manage food allergies, as well as cater to gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian diets upon request.
The safe handling and storage of food is an important part of our risk management at NIK. All our guides are Foodsafe Level 1 certified. Additionally, our kitchen team carefully consider which ingredients are safe to carry for days at a time.
We guarantee your guide will surprise you with their culinary skills. Our meals are designed to provide you with the calories and nutrition you need to paddle each day. Still, that won’t stop our guides from wowing you with delicious backcountry meals with restaurant quality flavours and presentation.
Here are just a few examples of what you could be served on your trip:
Frittata, shakshuka, breakfast burritos, granola and fresh muffins, pancakes/ french toast and fresh fruit.
Greek salad with hummus and pita, chickpea salad, sandwiches, bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon. All lunches include fruit, cookies, and chips
BBQ salmon with risotto and roasted vegetables, halibut and prawn soba noodle stir-fry , homestyle chili, quinoa soup, and burritos are just a few of our favourite camp dinners.
No two trips are the same! We pride ourselves on our fluid itineraries. The weather, tides, wildlife, and the interests of groups are different every trip. Because of this, we both trust and empower our guides to adapt the trip as they see fit so you can have the best experience possible!