Sea Kayak with Orcas - Now Booking for 2023
Kayak with orcas in the Johnstone Strait, the BEST place in the world to observe killer whales as they feed on salmon off northern Vancouver Island. This is the only itinerary to spend 6 days in the heart of the areas where orcas roam, optimizing your chances of special encounters with these magnificent whales. Enjoy full-height canvas tents with sleeping cots in this unique base-camp to base-camp tour.
If you long to kayak with orcas, you've come to the right place. While some people are content to simply watch whales, sea kayakers yearn to experience them. Maximize your orca experience in the breathtaking scenery of Vancouver Island's inside passage. Here in Johnstone Strait, summer home of the northern resident orcas, paddle whale-rich waters and explore the the marine wonders of their ecosystem.
If weather permits, you'll stay at three different base camps on three different islands on the heart of the orca loop. Full-height canvas tents with sleeping cots await you at each of these wilderness base camps, so you can enjoy the orcas without the hassle of making and breaking camp or hauling a tent. Part of your tour will be spent in Blackfish Sound, home of orcas and a high concentration of humpback whales!
You will depart from Telegraph Cove in Port McNeill while our expert guides showcase the beauty and wildlife of the area. The whales may steal the show, but the Strait holds an entire ecosystem to explore. Peer at sea stars and anemones through crystal clear waters from your kayak, paddling glassy calm coastal inlets and channels in this sheltered wilderness. Learn about orcas from the guides' nature talks and the on-board library while friendly sea lions lounge on outcrops or take to the waves to get a closer look at you. Pass playful dolphins and curious porpoises, whose acrobatic water antics are mirrored by the aerial displays of eagles and sea birds. You will also observe First Nations pictographs, hike through forests filled with Old Growth Cedars, and learn about the aboriginal cultures that inhabited these lands. (If you would like to paddle the Broughton Archipelago, which is near Johnstone Strait but not a haven for orcas, head over to our Broughton tours.)
Green doesn’t mean lean! Camping with ROW Sea Kayak Adventures means "getting away from it all," without "leaving it all behind." Our tours are fully-catered with gourmet meals prepared daily from scratch like our fresh salmon bake, and daily happy hour with wine and hors d’oeuvres. We provide all of the camping and kayaking gear, so you just need to bring your clothing! ROW Sea Kayak Adventures proudly adheres to all Be Whale Wise regulations.
Click on our Before You Go tab for more info.
Images & Videos
Arrive in Port McNeill, Orientation Meeting
Travel to Vancouver Island’s stunning northern coast to begin your orca kayak adventure. The town of Port McNeill, is a working waterfront fishing village just 30 minutes south of the Port Hardy airport. Many of our guests choose to stay at the Haida Way Motor Inn, where your guides will host the trip 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.
Telegraph Cove, Kayak to Base Camp
Early in the morning, we provide transport from the Haida Way Motor Inn south to the launch site in charming Telegraph Cove, where your guides will provide a kayaking safety and orientation lesson. We launch from Telegraph Cove, paddling immediately out into the roadless, thickly forested, sheltered Johnstone Strait, in the heart of orca territory and home of the world's only orca preserve. Weather permitting, you will kayak to our series of wilderness basecamps three different islands on this loop trip. Each of our base camps is equipped with pre-assembled, full-height canvas tents and sleeping cots. Enjoy happy hour including local wines and hors d’oeuvres while the guides prepare a special surprise 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.
Sea Kayak the Johnstone Strait and Blackfish Sound
Awake to the smell of fresh brewed coffee and tea as the sun crests over rainforest boughs. Your guides will be wide awake and hard at work preparing a warm breakfast, but you can relax with a steaming mug of your favorite drink while wandering the beach for tidepools, reading a book, or watching a pod of passing orcas. You will kayak throughout orca territory in Johnstone Strait, and explore the adjacent channels and islands around Blackfish Sound where humpback whales may be spotted. Expect to kayak over four hours per day, broken up by lunch hour and floating rest breaks.
Robson Bight Orca Preserve, Sea Kayaking, Hiking
You will paddle to Robson Bight Orca Preserve as well as to First Nations pictograph sites on various days of your trip. Orcas can appear at any time on our tour. Killer whales can cover dozens of miles per day and often swim up, down, and around the strait hunting salmon or playing. You can also spot eagles, seals, porpoises or other marine mammals or seabirds at any time. Our guides use hydrophones when the orcas are in view so that you can thrill to the orcas vocalizing to each other underwater! Evenings and dinner will be spent relaxing in camp around a cozy campfire, toasting the day's adventures and listening to the guides spin tales and recount local legends. Orcas blowing offshore makes for a spectacular lullaby.
Telegraph Cove, Whale Museum and Return to Port McNeill
After breakfast and breaking camp, you will spend the day kayaking 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 join us for a no-host farewell dinner with your group.
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. 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 03, 2023 to Jul 08, 2023||$1,710£0€0$0$0||$1,710£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Jul 10, 2023 to Jul 15, 2023||$1,710£0€0$0$0||$1,710£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Jul 17, 2023 to Jul 22, 2023||$1,710£0€0$0$0||$1,710£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Jul 24, 2023 to Jul 29, 2023||$1,710£0€0$0$0||$1,710£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Jul 30, 2023 to Aug 05, 2023||$1,710£0€0$0$0||$1,710£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Aug 07, 2023 to Aug 12, 2023||$1,710£0€0$0$0||$1,710£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Aug 14, 2023 to Aug 19, 2023||$1,710£0€0$0$0||$1,710£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Aug 21, 2023 to Aug 26, 2023||$1,710£0€0$0$0||$1,710£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Aug 28, 2023 to Sep 02, 2023||$1,710£0€0$0$0||$1,710£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Sep 04, 2022 to Sep 09, 2023||$1,710£0€0$0$0||$1,710£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
- 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 certificied 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
The northern resident pods of orca (killer whales) currently number over 220 individually identified whales in 17 separate pods. They are generally found in Johnstone Strait when salmon, their primary prey, come from the ocean to spawn in the rivers of mainland British Columbia. The whales arrive after about the first week in July, and stay through late September. Our tours are scheduled only during the times when the whales have historically populated the area. Transient killer whales are found in the area beyond this narrow summer window, but are fewer in number and offer infrequent sightings. Humpback whales return from their breeding grounds in Hawaii early summer, and remain through the autumn. Though once hunted to extinction from the area, humpbacks have returned to the area as a tremendous success story, and are almost more common than orcas!
There are no recorded attacks on humans in history from wild orcas. To our knowledge a killer whale has never bumped a kayak or shown any aggression toward kayakers. All whales are acutely aware of their surroundings, and can use echolocation to track objects in their waters. From our many years in Johnstone Strait and hundreds of close encounters with killer whales, we feel very safe being in their presence. Most of the orcas we encounter are strictly salmon-eaters.
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 faster 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 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.
We recommend that you bring (2) pairs of shoes on your BC trip. Packing light for your adventure in the Johnstone Straight is highly recommended and from our experience you really only need 2 good pairs of footwear for your tour. We will supply you with a pair of neoprene booties for the duration of your kayaking tour. In addition to those booties we recommend you bring:
□ One pair sturdy trail shoes, or running shoes, to use for hiking and around camp
□ One pair sandals with ankle straps to wear while kayaking, on the beaches, walking around camp, etc. (Chaco, Keens or Crocs are preferred but there are many other brands that are suitable)