On the Water
Canoeing and Kayaking
Canoes are a traditional form of transportation along British Columbia’s numerous lakes and rivers. You can rent one at many of the more popular lakes, but if you bring your own you can slip into any body of water whenever you please, taking in the scenery and viewing wildlife from water level. One of the most popular canoe routes is in Bowron Lake Provincial Park, where a 117-kilometer (73-mile) circuit leads through a chain of lakes in the Cariboo Mountains. Shorter but no less challenging is the Powell Forest Canoe Route, on the Sunshine Coast. Other, less-traveled destinations include Slocan Lake, and Wells Gray Provincial Park. For information on canoe routes, courses, and clubs, contact the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC (604/737-3058, www.orcbc.ca).
Anywhere suitable for canoeing is also prime kayaking territory, although most keen kayakers look for white-water excitement. The best wilderness kayaking experiences are in the north, where access can be difficult but crowds are minimal. The Stikine River is challenging, with one stretch—the Grand Canyon of the Stikine—successfully run only a handful of times.
The province’s long coastline is great for sea kayaking, and rentals are available in most coastal communities. The Southern Gulf Islands are ideal for kayakers of all experience levels, while destinations such as Desolation Sound, the Broken Group Islands, and the Queen Charlotte Islands are the domain of experienced paddlers. Most outfits offering kayak rentals also provide lessons and often tours. One such Vancouver operation is the Ecomarine Ocean Kayak Centre (604/689-7575, www.ecomarine.com) based on Granville Island.
Tofino, on Vancouver Island’s west coast, is a mecca for sea kayakers. Tofino Sea Kayaking Company (250/725-4222 or 800/863-4664, www.tofino-kayaking.com) rents kayaks and leads tours through local waterways. Northern Lights Expeditions (360/734-6334 or 800/754-7402, www.seakayaking.com) specializes in overnight expeditions along the BC coast. Each Northern Lights trip features three knowledgeable guides, all necessary equipment, and an emphasis on gourmet meals, such as shoreline salmon bakes, complete with wine and freshly baked breads. The six-day trip through the Strait of Georgia is $1,595.
The best and easiest way to experience a white-water rafting trip is on a half- or full-day trip with a qualified guide. Close to Vancouver, the Green, Fraser, Nahatlatch, and Thompson Rivers are run commercially. In the Rockies, the Kicking Horse River provides the thrills. Expect to pay $90–120 for a full day’s excitement, transfers, and lunch.
British Columbia’s 25,000 kilometers (15,500 miles) of coastline, in particular the sheltered, island-dotted Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the mainland, is a boater’s paradise. Along it are sheltered coves, sandy beaches, beautiful marine parks, and facilities specifically designed for boaters—many accessible only by water. One of the most beautiful marine parks is Desolation Sound, north of Powell River; locals claim it’s one of the world’s best cruising grounds. Many of the enormous freshwater lakes inland are also excellent places for boating.
Yachties and yachties-to-be should head for Cooper Boating (1620 Duranleau St., Granville Island, 604/687-4110 or 888/999-6419, www.cooperboating.com), which boasts Canada’s largest sailing school and also holds the country’s biggest fleet for charters. For those with experience, Cooper’s rents yachts (from $390 per day for a Catalina 32) for a day’s local sailing, or take to the waters of the Strait of Georgia on a bareboat charter (from $1,750 per week for a Catalina 27).
Some of the world’s most varied and spectacular cold-water diving lies off the coast of British Columbia. Diving is best in winter, when you can expect up to 40 meters of visibility. The diverse marinelife includes sponges, anemones, soft corals, rockfish (china, vermilion, and canary), rock scallops, and cukes. Plenty of shipwrecks also dot the underwater terrain. The most popular dive sites are off the Southern Gulf Islands, Ogden Point in Victoria, Nanaimo (for wreck diving), Telegraph Cove, Port Hardy, and Powell River (the scuba diving capital of Canada). Many of the coastal communities along Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast have dive shops with gear rentals and air tanks, and many can put you in touch with charter dive boats and guides.
A quick flip through the Vancouver Yellow Pages lets you know that scuba diving is alive and well north of the 49th parallel. The city’s many scuba shops have everything you need, and they’re excellent sources of information on all the best local spots. Coming highly recommended is Rowand’s Reef Scuba Shop (1512 Duranleau St., Granville Island, 604/669-3483, www.rowandsreef.com; daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m.), a full-service dive shop offering rentals, sales, organized diving trips, and PADI dive- certification courses throughout the year. The local Diver magazine (www.divermag.com) is another good source of information; its scuba directory lists retail stores, resorts, charter boats, and other services.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition