Orca Basecamp Sea Kayaking Tour
Spend 4 days kayaking and 3 nights camping at this magical site near Robson Bight, sleeping with your head on a pillow just METERS from passing orcas. While orcas will pass by most beaches in Johnstone Strait at some point or another, this beach has been a central point for orca encounters for decades because a steep pebble dropoff creates an ideal belly-rubbing site for killer whales. We have witnessed this VERY special orca behavior right from camp! (Nearby Robson Bight became an orca ecological preserve because of the rubbing beaches within.) Moreover, this unique landscape also forms a “corral” which the orcas use to herd their salmon dinners. View these spectacular behaviors from a rocky outcrop on the water and to see orcas up close – without disturbing them.
Imagine sipping a glass of wine on a sunset beach, where a gently receding tide reveals untold marvels of starfish and colorful invertebrates. The smell of dinner cooked hot in a dutch oven mixes with the fresh scent of cedar from the forest. As the lapping waves lull you into the serenity of the sunset mirroring rosy hues on the water, a great “WHOOSH” draws your attention to the coast. As you rush to the ocean’s edge, a pearly black orca fin lifts elegantly from the ocean’s smooth surface, followed by half a dozen others.
Don't just wait around for orcas! Your time in Johnstone Strait will be filled with a variety of activities. On our basecamp trip, plan to kayak 4-5 hours per day to different areas of the strait including Robson Bight Ecological Reserve. It also allows time for hiking, tidepooling, natural history talks, and wildlife viewing. Enjoy longer mornings without breaking camp or setting up your tent every day. Perfect for families with teens or novice kayakers who want to experience the magic of close orca encounters.
Best of all, our respect for the wild orcas extends to our camping and touring practices. We operate under the strictest, “Leave-No-Trace” ethics. Sturdy, canvas tents with standing-room height create a restful wilderness haven, so our Orca Basecamp remains eco-friendly without permanent structures (though not without amenities!). Now can enjoy the killer whales without harming their habitat. Rest assured that on a ROW SKA trip, you will leave this special world as pristine as you found it. (Read More about ROW SKA Sustainability & our 100% Carbon Offsetting) Green doesn’t mean lean! Camping with ROW SKA means “getting away from it all,” without “leaving it all behind.” Our tours are fully-catered (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and happy hour!) with gourmet meals prepared daily by our guides from scratch. We provide all of the camping and kayaking gear, from handcrafted fiberglass Seaward Southwind kayaks to easy-to-manage tents, sleeping bags, and sheets. You just need to bring your clothing!
While we have a 98% success rate for seeing orcas in the Robson Bight region, they are wild animals that roam at will and thus, we are unable to guarantee a sighting. To increase your opportunities for seeing the orcas, or simply to enjoy even more whale watching, you might want to add an extra day to your vacation to go on a Stubb's Island Whale Watching trip that is operated by motor skiff. Their motorized boat allows them to cover more ground in search of orcas and humpbacks throughout the Johnstone Strait area.
Click on our Before You Go tab for more info.
Images & Videos
Travel to Port McNeill, Evening Orientation Meeting
Port McNeill, located off of northern Vancouver Island, is a waterfront fishing village just a short drive from our launch site for this kayak itinerary that includes Robson Bight Ecological Reserve. Most guests stay at the Haida Way Motor Inn, where your guides will host an orientation meeting on the evening before your trip. You will have a chance to meet your fellow guests and acquire your drybags and wetsuit booties to pack for your coming adventure.
Transport to Telegraph Cove, Kayak to Base Camp
Your first day will begin early in the morning. We'll transport you from the hotel in Port McNeill to our kayak launch site and the friendly town of Telegraph Cove. This charming harbour is well-sheltered from wind and hosts a gently sloping dock, ensuring that you will have a smooth launch. Moreover, your guides will offer a thorough kayaking and safety orientation so that everyone feels comfortable and confident on the water. They will also assist you with paddling technique and skills on the water. You'll have a chance to try your hand in a short morning session to our favorite lunch site. After lunch, you will paddle to our signature base camp in the heart of the orca loop.
We see orcas on 98% of our tours though when killer whales are not present there is always a high chance of spotting other whales, eagles, seals, porpoises or other marine mammals or seabirds at any moment. Our guides use hydrophones when the orcas are in view so that you can thrill to the orcas vocalizing to each other underwater! You'll settle into camp and enjoy happy hour including local wines and hors d’oeuvres while the guides prepare a salmon bake for dinner. Recap the day's highlights over fresh baked dessert around a crackling campfire and gaze at the starlit sky or the glowing blue bioluminescence of the ocean before snuggling into your tent to sleep. Orcas blowing offshore makes for a spectacular lullaby.
Sea Kayaking, Whale Watching, Robson Bight Preserve
Enjoy a series of excursions from the base camp to fascinating areas in the Strait. The boundary of Robson Bight Orca Preserve is a popular destination, though our guides have a plethora of paddling destinations to show you. Each beach holds hidden treasures above or below the waves. Wildlife will be ever-present, from porpoises to sea lions to endless varieties of sea birds. How many bald eagles can you count? Of course, the orcas usually steal the show, and can pass by at any time. They like to forage along the coastline, but can easily be found cavorting and playing in the middle of the Strait! Your guides will entertain you with natural history presentations, aboriginal legends, and good old-fashioned fun around a campfire. They will also serve as your chefs, preparing hot and tasty gourmet meals right on the beach!
Telegraph Cove, Whale Museum, Return to Port McNeill
After a final breakfast and breaking camp, you will paddle back to our take-out at Telegraph Cove, stopping for lunch along the way and a visit to the Telegraph Cove whale museum. A taxi will return your group to Port McNeill in the afternoon after unpacking the kayaks. We recommend that you overnight in Port McNeill and invite you to join us for a no-host farewell dinner with your group and guides.
Note on Itinerary: Note: Basecamp tours run back-to-back. You might take a water taxi to or from the basecamp depending on the schedule for the week.You will still paddle each day, weather permitting. We will do our best to adhere to the schedule listed above. However, the itinerary may change due to reasons beyond our control such as wind, waves or inclement weather.
Note on Itinerary: We will do our best to adhere to the schedule listed above and visit our base camps on three separate islands. However, the itinerary may change due to reasons beyond our control such as wind, waves or inclement weather. Please Note: Although there is a very good chance we'll see Orcas throughout the week, the frequency and proximity of sightings will ultimately be determined by the Orcas' travel patterns. Our guides know the best places to see these magnificent creatures.
Dates & Rates
|Dates||Adult (USD)||Child (USD)|
|Jul 05, 2023 to Jul 08, 2023||$1,445£0€0$0$0||$1,345£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Jul 12, 2023 to Jul 15, 2023||$1,445£0€0$0$0||$1,345£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Jul 19, 2023 to Jul 22, 2023||$1,445£0€0$0$0||$1,345£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Jul 26, 2023 to Jul 29, 2023||$1,445£0€0$0$0||$1,345£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Aug 02, 2023 to Aug 05, 2023||$1,445£0€0$0$0||$1,345£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Aug 09, 2023 to Aug 12, 2023||$1,445£0€0$0$0||$1,345£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Aug 16, 2023 to Aug 19, 2023||$1,445£0€0$0$0||$1,345£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Aug 23, 2023 to Aug 26, 2023||$1,445£0€0$0$0||$1,345£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Aug 30, 2023 to Sep 02, 2023||$1,445£0€0$0$0||$1,345£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
Looking for an alternative basecamp option? Check out our Humpback Basecamp Tour! During the early season, from late June to early July, we host this Humpback viewing adventure from our base camp in the Blackfish Sound!
FAMILY DEPARTURES (For children as young as 9): Ask your Adventure Consultant for more details!
- All meals while on tour
- Transportation to and from the launch site
- Kayaking instruction
- All kayaking and camping equipment
- Dry bags for your gear
- Neoprene booties
- Service of our certified professional Guides
- Full service of our Adventure Consultants
TOUR DOES NOT INCLUDE:
- Transportation to and from Port McNeill
- Hotel before and after the tour
- Meals before or after the tour
- 5% Canadian Sales Tax
- Gratuity for guides
- Items of a personal nature
ALL PRICES IN US DOLLARS. We will do our best to adhere to the itineraries and trip descriptions listed on our website. However, tour itineraries or sub contractors (such as taxi, cruise boats or hotels) may change slightly due to reasons beyond our control including but not limited to Acts of God, wind, waves, inclement weather or other. We always welcome you to call us to clarify any item - often this is the best way to fully clarify expectations - call us collect or on our toll-free number. You will be sent pre-trip email with latest details within a month of your tour - it is your responsibility to check in with us prior to your trip to see if you have all the information you need. We will always do our best to provide you with the best possible tour and to fully meet your expectations to the best of our ability.
FAQ & More
While we have a 98% success rate for seeing orcas, they are wild animals that roam at will and thus, we are unable to guarantee a sighting. To increase your opportunities for seeing the orcas, or simply to enjoy even more whale watching, you might want to add an extra day to your vacation to go on a Stubb's Island Whale Watching trip that is operated by motor skiff. Their motorized boat allows them to cover more ground in search of orcas and humpbacks throughout the Johnstone Strait area.
The easiest way to get to Port McNeill by air, is to fly through Vancouver International Airport (airport code YVR) to Port Hardy, BC (airport code YZT). From Vancouver International's South Terminal you can catch a flight on Pacific Coastal Airlines direct to Port Hardy. Once in Port Hardy, it's a 35-40 minute taxi ride to Port McNeill. If arriving from outside of Canada, be sure to give yourself 1.5-2 hours between your arriving flight at Vancouver International and your departing flight from the South Terminal to Port Hardy, as you will have to clear customs and take a 15 minute shuttle from the International Terminal to the South Terminal (there are signs to guide you). Port McNeill is also accessible by car, via a beautiful drive following BC Route 19 from Nanaimo to Port McNeill. Vancouver Island can be reached from the Canadian or U.S. mainlands by utilizing one of multiple ferry crossings from the Vancouver metro or greater Seattle areas. The BC Ferries and Washington State DOT Ferry websites are very helpful resources if you are planning to drive to Northern Vancouver Island.
If you fly into Port Hardy, you will need to arrange a taxi for the 35-minute drive South to Port McNeill. You can expect to pay about $45-60 CAD for the one-way fare, however rates do vary. We recommend sharing the ride with other members of the tour if you meet one another on the plane (or are on the same flight when departing). It's best to bring cash to pay the driver.
We recommend making arrangements at the Haida Way Motor Inn in Port McNeill, BC, particularly if you do not have a car, as this is the site of the orientation meeting, as well as the pickup point for your transport to the launch site on the first day of the tour. The hotel is very basic, but clean and well-kept. Their in-house Northern Lights Restaurant has the best seafood in town. Indicate you are traveling with ROW Sea Kayak Adventures. We also recommend the Black Bear Resort, which is directly across the street from the Haida Way, and also features basic but comfortable accommodations. All hotels on northern Vancouver Island fill well in advance for summer, so wherever you choose to stay, we recommend making reservations early. Please note, hotel nights before and after the tour are not included in your tour cost.
You can always extend your trip through our friends at Stubbs Island Whale Watching or Mackay Whale Watching tours. Both are experienced operators located on Northern Vancouver Island. Whale watching by boat will allow you to quickly move to areas where sightings are reported, increasing your changes of seeing whales.
For all of our British Columbia kayaking tours, we follow "Be Whale Wise" regulations for the protection of the whales. According to the regulations, viewers must stay 200 yards/meters or more away from Orcas. We are very privileged to have the opportunity to observe these incredible creatures from close vantage points. The survival of the Orca, depends on everyone's cooperation with the "Be Whale Wise" and other responsible whale watching regulations. Occasionally, because orcas are much fast than us while in a kayak, they approach us much closer than the above guidelines. That said, many of our closest encounters have been from land, as the whales often come within meters of the shoreline! Understanding the behavior and range of the Orcas helps to better-set your expectations for your Orca kayak tour. Feel free to explore www.BeWhaleWise.org to read more about these regulations.
The northern resident pods of Orca are found in the Johnstone Strait between mid-July and mid-September when salmon, their primary prey, come from the ocean to spawn in the rivers of mainland British Columbia. There are more than 220 individually-identified whales in 17 separate pods within the region. The whales usually arrive around the second week of July and stay through September. The weather tends to be the best in late July through mid-August.
The four-day trip utilizes one campsite for all four days. You have more time to relax and enjoy the beautiful wildlife and scenery. Families with teens, novice kayakers, or those who prefer a slower pace would be ideal for this tour. The campsite we use on the Vancouver Island side of Johnstone Strait, by exclusive permit, is close to Robson Bight. The base camp's shoreline is composed of sea-polished stones that lure an orca to rub its 6-ton body along the beach, or herd salmon into the curve of the shore. Orcas regularly pass by directly in front of camp. Paddlers can scramble down the rock outcropping and stand at water's edge to watch orcas cruise by just below their feet. The camp offers great orca viewing right off shore. We never just "wait around for orcas" on the base camp. We take daily day trips, paddling to different beaches for lunch, hike, observing wildlife. Each trip includes about 4 hours per day of kayaking: two hours paddling in morning, and another two hours paddling in the afternoon after lunch. Often there is a hike at the lunch stop, and the evenings are filled with campfires, games, or fishing. On the 6-day tour, you'll enjoy 2-3 different sites (including the aforementioned basecamp) that are located along the travel routes used by the orcas. Given this loop route and the length of the trip, you are likely to see more wilderness areas and a more diverse selection of marine life. For instance, the six-day tour includes a visit to an area that's frequented by humpback whales. You will also have a chance to explore First Nations pictograph areas, and the base of the Broughton Archipelago, while remaining firmly in whale waters.
If you fly into Port Hardy, you will need to arrange a taxi for the 35-minute drive South to Port McNeill. You can expect to pay about $45-60 CAD for the one-way fare, however rates do vary. We recommend sharing the ride with other members of the tour if you meet one another on the plane (or are on the same flight when departing). Please bring cash to pay the driver. The taxi companies change regularly, but we recommend Waivin Flags Taxi, 1-250-230-7655 and Town Taxi 1-250-949-7877 on the North Island.
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