Quadra Island Vicinity

  • The Wild Coast, Volume Three, by John Kimantas, Whitecap Books (2007).
  • Discovery Islands and Desolation Sound - Recreation Map and Trip Planner, Produced by Wavelength Magazine.
  • Chart 3539 (1:40,000), Canadian Hydrographic Service - for Surge Narrows area etc. off Quadra Island
  • Chart 3538 (1:40,000), Canadian Hydrographic Service - for Cortes Island
Introductory Comments

At this writing, I've only been sea kayaking for 3 years. Consequently, my exposure to kayaking destinations is limited. So I've not kayaked the island-infested coast of Croatia nor even the Broken Group off the west coast of Vancouver Island (VI). With that caveat out of the way, I'll say that the area of the Discovery Islands (especially around Surge Narrows) is my favorite destination to date. From VI, the gateway to this sea kayaking refuge is Quadra Island, accessed by ferry from Campbell River. As is my habit in these accounts, I choose to describe a specific trip rather than to give a general overview.


On Sunday, August 30, 2009, there were 6 of us who caravaned from Nanaimo to Campbell River, cartopping our kayaks.
  • Anna & Brian - brought single kayaks
  • Dana & Bob - brought single kayaks
  • Eli & Richard (Hey, that's me!) - brought a tandem kayak
Photo: Bob, with Dana and Anna, ... and Brian

Photo: Richard (in skirt) clutched by Eli

We hoped to get in 3 days of kayaking using a lodge as a base camp. As a group, we could decipher tide and current tables for our intended destination, had a couple of marine radios, had the appropriate marine charts, could navigate, and were safety conscious - perhaps on the conservative side.


We reserved rooms at Discovery Islands Lodge (DIL) operated by Ralph and Lannie Keller. It is essentially a Bed & Breakfast hostel. Although off the grid, solar power and generator back up (unneeded for our stay) provide such amenities as lighting, refrigeration, and hot showers. The facility is in a splendid setting, very clean, and convenient to Surge Narrows and vicinity.

Photo: DIL from a previous trip

DIL focuses on clients wanting day trips, guided or unguided. We planned to paddle August 30, 31, and September 1 with reservations at the lodge for each night. Even though we were kayaking unguided, we availed ourselves of the advice and suggestions offered by our hosts. Ralph and Lannie also offer various expeditions, with overnight camping along the routes, starting from their Coast Mountain Lodge on nearby Reed Island. Although we brought our own kayaks, I did notice that the rentals available at DIL were of high quality.

Photo: Part of the DIL fleet

The lodge worked out perfectly for us. It was not full when we stayed, so we had plenty of elbow room and no extra competition for the 3 showers or 3 washrooms. The breakfasts were tasty and hearty, appropriate for a day of exercise. Ralph and Lannie kindly provided 3 rain-free days with, at most, moderate winds.

Day 1 of 3

Our caravan arrived at the Campbell River ferry just barely in time to catch the 9:30 AM sailing. The actual voyage takes 10 minutes, so soon we were on our way to DIL - starting with paved roads, but eventually gravel/dirt. The final driveway into DIL is quite steep, but is fortunately concrete, providing good traction. We unloaded our luggage into our various rooms and we were on the water by 12:40.

We chose to paddle to Whiterock Passage, which frames Mount Doogie Dowler, and is visible from the lodge.

Photo: View of Doogie Dowler from Discovery Islands Lodge

There was a decent chop so we scuttled north along the Quadra coast to reach the shelter of Peck Island and others of the Settlers Group. As we neared Whiterock Passage, the larger Maurelle Island provided shelter. Including a break to stretch our legs, we spent perhaps 2 hours on the water.

After hot showers and organizing our rooms, we met in the large dining area on the lodge's top floor. Anna and Brian were our cheerful chefs for this first night, setting the standard quite high for us other two couples on the subsequent nights. We managed to find some wine to complement the meal. After the meal we were relaxed enough to pass up the opportunity to fire up the sauna out on the dock. In fact, we never did avail ourselves of this nordic amenity.

Photo: DIL's wood-fired sauna

Day 2 of 3

Today's route started much like that of the day before, but instead of continuing to Whiterock Passage, we wandered about in the marine park which contains the Settlers Group. This is an area of intricate tidal rapids, so the appropriate current tables are important. Beazley Passage can see currents as high as 11.5 knots. Beazley is used by the larger boats and appears less interesting for kayakers. During our time on Quadra, the maximum was more like 7.5 knots. Along with high currents come whirlpools, eddy lines, overfalls - turbulence in general. I do like the French phrase. which accompanies the English on the Canadian Charts, "ATTENTION TOURBILLONS ET TURBULENCE". At any rate, we ventured into the rapids not too far from slack current, but still got to either ride or battle the lesser currents.

Today we again took a break to stretch our legs, but then later a lunch break. We saw a few of the dainty and graceful Bonaparte's gulls, herons, seals, etc. Like yesterday, the weather was fair with moderate winds where unsheltered. At day's end we kayaked back to DIL via locally named "Canoe Passage", took needed showers, and subsequently gathered in the kitchen/dining area for dinner - this time concocted by Eli with my subsidiary help.

Photo: The table awaits

Day 3 of 3

Our goal today was the Octopus Islands, north of the region of tidal rapids. Using the current tables, we went north through Surge Narrows and then south about 6 hours later, close to slack both times. In fact, it was too close to slack - no whitewater excitement whatsoever.

Our first paddling break was at Yeatman Bay, where we found Hank and his motorsailer aground, stranded by the exiting tide. Clearly, Hank was something of a neophyte, but also a clever, intelligent problem solver.

Photo: Aground at Yeatman Bay

While the other 5 went off on a hike to Quadra's Main Lake, I clambered aboard Hank's boat upon his invitation for coffee. His tale was most interesting - essentially ending with his decision to bag his real world business and experience life while time remained. From the photo, you can see he has poised his boat to await high tide.

Upon the hikers' return, we continued toward one of the Octopus Islands, with Brian as our most able navigator. There we had lunch and then headed back south. We again took a break at Yeatman Bay, where we could await the time of slack current. Hank was now afloat. no doubt planning his trip though Beazley Passage. Eli and I were to see him the next day at Quadra's Heriot Bay - so his plan went fine.

Photo: Moon jellies

There were other kayakers at the bay, a group from Universität Salzburg. I visited with them for a bit, having taught at that institution on 5 different occasions. Then, appearing from the forest, was Rod Burns, a modern day John Muir. He gave us his naturalist's spiel which had to be discontinued by our need to time our entry into Surge Narrows for slack.

We saw our first bald eagle today, in addition to various other creatures. Eagles are usually not at all uncommon, but according to Ralph Keller, they were currently off feasting elsewhere - a salmon run? I've never understood why people get so excited upon seeing a bald eagle - do eagles get excited to see a bald human? Not as far as I can tell.

Once back at DIL, showered, and wined, we were served a fine dinner by Dana and Bob.


On the morning of September 2, we had yet another excellent breakfast from Lannie. Then we packed our luggage and stuffed it all into our respective vehicles. Anna & Brian and Dana & Bob took the ferry back to Campbell River and then drove the ~2 hours south to Nanaimo. Eli and I drove to Heriot Bay and took that ferry to Cortes, where we spent the next 5 days.

This was a special trip with wonderful companions. DIL is more remote than many of the sites where we have kayaked. Of course, the more adventuresome expedition kayakers would find this amusing. But for us, it was a memorable experience. As a somehwat younger person in the 1950's and 60's I did a fair amount of canoing in Minnesota's Boundary Waters (BWCA) and Ontario's Quetico. This Quadra trip had a similarly remote feel. Of course, the Boundary Waters and Quetico have been overrun in more recent years.