Kayaks landed on East Curme Island

Kayaking in Desolation Sound

We’ve been paddling for two and a half hours. My arms are heavy. My nose prickles under the midday sun, and I quietly wonder how much further we’ve got left.

We’ve already navigated our double kayak through the quiet waters of the Okeover Inlet and now Desolation Sound Marine Park stretches ahead of us. There are more than 6,350 acres of shoreline and water here, and now the winds have picked up, it’s become much choppier.

As waves break against the kayak and soak my lap, I become increasingly fearful of capsizing. To distract myself, I keep my eyes fixed on the view. We’re encased by layer upon layer of tree-clad mountains, each with their own hue. It’s quintessentially Canadian, and it’s nothing short of stunning.

But here’s the thing about sea kayaking – you don’t move very fast. The view can remain the same for hour upon hour, and after a while, your eyes start to play tricks on you.

And that’s when I saw it. Or did I?

A black fin, poking through the water.

“Orca!” I yell.

“Walker?” my boyfriend politely enquires, pandering to my habit of pointing out every man, bird or beast in the vicinity.

“Fin!” I shout. Apparently, I can only muster one word at a time when I’m excited.

“No”, he replies, “no chance!”

And then it breaches. And so does a second. It’s a mother and her calf.

“Whales!” I squeal. Now he believes me.

We immediately stop paddling and sit in silence, hardly breathing, worried that even a whisper will prompt them to dive under. They swim past us, just 30 metres away, gliding through the water in perfect unison.

Then they are gone, back to the watery depths. The entire episode lasts less than a minute, but the memory will stay with me for a lifetime. It’s only the second time I’ve ever seen an orca in the wild, and it’s my first sighting from a kayak.

We were later told by the folks at Powell River Sea Kayak, from whom we had rented our sea-going vessels, that we were incredibly fortunate to have seen orcas. Although they’re not unheard of in Desolation Sound, it’s by no means an everyday occurrence.

After waiting another five minutes to make absolutely certain they wouldn’t resurface nearby, we continued on our way. By now the fatigue had miraculously vanished, only to be replaced by frenzied chatter, toothy grins and a rapid paddling pace.

Kayaking with seals

The seals on their rocky perch

We made short work of the remainder of the journey and soon reached our destination: the Curmes Islands.

If we thought the day couldn’t get any better, we were wrong. This tiny cluster of islands is more akin to the Mediterranean than the Pacific Northwest. Warm azure waters lap gently against rocky outcrops, scraggly trees sprout from scorched earth, and the vast seascape is punctuated by countless uninhabited islands.

Those wishing to spend the night here must purchase a backcountry permit in advance, and due to the delicate nature of the ecosystem, are asked only to camp on the tent pads provided.

Consequently, the next 30 minutes are spent running around like breathless maniacs, deciding precisely which spot would be the best. Despite being warned the Curmes Islands would be busy, there are few other people here, and the choice is ours. In reality, the exercise is futile, as the view from each wooden platform is jaw-dropping.

Woman looks out over Desolation Sound Marine Park

A wooden tent pad on East Curme Island

Once camp is finally set up and the kayak has been hauled above the tideline (which was much, much higher than anticipated), the activity is suddenly over. Now there’s nothing left to do but indulge in our Robinson Crusoe fantasies. The rest of the day is spent swimming, fishing and just sitting and watching.

I follow the exploits of the nearby seals whose rocky perch becomes increasingly smaller as the tide rises, only to disappear completely – much to their annoyance. I watch the sail boats motor lazily on by. And I track the progress of the blistering hot sun, until it finally dips below the horizon, causing reds and purples to bleed like ink across the sky.

Days later, when I’m back in Vancouver, the presenter of the TV show I’m watching poses the question – ‘who gets to live in paradise?’

I did, I think. Just for a night.

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