Updated: Mar 9
Take seven adventurous folk, add a glorious rustic lodge and the mystery of the Discovery Islands beckoning on the horizon, then shake. Voila, you’re making magic. That’s the recipe we followed last August at Discovery Islands Lodge, a panoramic perch above Hoskyn Channel on Quadra Island, British Columbia where the promise of new experiences is laid out in a 180-degree view.
The four-day, three-night adventure was blessed with brilliant weather, sometimes too brilliant with the British Columbia heat dome still sizzling. No matter, our indefatigable group was keen to push their limits a bit under the watchful eye of Pam Martin, Blue Jellyfish SUP Adventures’ leader.
The adventure also offered a certification for Paddle Canada Coastal Touring 1 Stand Up Paddle Skills.
About Our Leader
Trip leader, marine biologist Pam Martin is a certified Paddle Canada SUP Basic and Advanced Instructor as well as a Paddle Canada Coastal Touring Instructor and guide. She has chosen this location specifically for the easy access to its rich marine biodiversity, as well as the spectacular coastlines ideal for stand up paddling expeditions. Porpoises, sea lions, Orcas and Humpback Whales are often spotted here.
The resort is tucked away off an increasingly narrow dirt road through a rainforest on Quadra Island, a mostly wild destination a short ferry ride from Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Surge Narrows Road also spoke directly to the possibilities that lay ahead.
Discovery Islands Resort is a three-story wooden structure clinging stoutly to the rocky coastline that was once the headquarters of a fish-farming enterprise. It failed but the natural order was restored. It sat dormant for several years before it was brought back to life as an adventure destination.
A Look Into Each Day
Participants arrived on their own, one coming from Ottawa, and assembled for a get-to-know-you session and short introductory paddle.
On the water for that initial paddle, it was hard to imagine you were just 175 kilometres (108 miles) from bustling Vancouver. You can fly into this region of Vancouver Island from there as well as Victoria, Seattle and Calgary.
But you might as well be a million clicks away once you dip a paddle in the crisp blue-green water.
Dinner on Day 1 turned into an excellent mixer, with a buzz of excitement at what lay ahead. Folks danced around each other in the well-equipped kitchen and then convened at the long communal dining table to break bread and bond new friendships.
Afterwards, Pam pulled out detailed maps of the area and ran over the paddling possibilities and what bearing the anticipated weather would have on them. Participants wrapped up the day watching the day fade from the third-storey deck featured on three sides of the lodge. The promise of Day 2 seeped across the channel from Read Island, whose shore we planned to explore.
A Look Into Quadra History
Using the resort’s wifi hotspot, a history buff could do some quick research on Quadra Island. It was the home of Coast Salish nations deep back in time and one history records British explorer Captain George Vancouver meeting with indigenous inhabitants in 1792. That was a few years after the gloriously-named Peruvian-Spanish navigator Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra claimed the island for the Spanish Empire. What he found was a paradise of deep forests, rocky coves and waters teeming with fish.
But the Brits had other ideas, making a counter claim for Quadra which almost led to war after the so-called Nootka Crisis. Britain and Spain sparred over sovereignty of Nootka Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, with the Dutch flexing its muscle on behalf of the Brits and France first mobilizing on behalf of Spain, then deciding the conflict wasn’t in its interests.
After a series of treaties, the Spanish relinquished their claim and dismantled their fort. But Juan Francisco must have been pleased his name stuck.
Day 2 dawned bright and promising to bring the heat as well as winds gusted more robustly than forecast. Pam ran through some strategies for our group of seven over tea and coffee, finally judging we would head north hugging the shore and should the wind persist, we’d toy around some smaller islets. In that way, if conditions worsened, we could make for the lodge with the wind at our backs.
It was a bit brutal bucking that wind early on our way to Discovery Islands Resort, but we caught a break when it slackened and we could paddle across lightly-used Hoskyn Channel to Read Island and it’s towering cliffs.
We were shooed back from it by a sign warning of falling rock, then delighted by squadrons of a cliff bird raining out of the rock face and zooming past us. These pigeon guillemots on Sheer (yes, really) Cliff disappeared as quickly as they materialized, sending us later to our search engines.Turns out they are common along B.C’s coastline. Their sleek black bodies, bright red feet and white wing flashes seemed uncommon to us.
From the cliffs, we crept close to shore and found a small beach with a few pockets of shade as the heat dome intensified. Pam had made sure everyone packed lots of water and electrolytes so we hydrated, snacked and slathered on more sun screen as we girded for a push back across the channel to Discovery Islands Resort.
We covered just eight kilometres, though it felt like more in the searing conditions. A few folks plunged straight into the water at the docks, others crashed for late afternoon naps while some settled for cold beers on the deck.
The group was already talking about Day 3, more exploring and more distance, plus the heady notion of the exhilarating pull of the tide up narrow channels.
And that day dawned brilliantly with excellent conditions and would play out as something of a marathon in blazing conditions over 16 kilometres.
After another review of conditions and confirming plans and contingencies, the group hugged the coastline towards the Settlers Group of Islands, stopped at an islet south east of Peck Island for snacks.
One paddler was keen to see the tidal rip as it surged past the island’s northwest point. Pam stressed caution that entering that torrent was only for the most expert paddlers. He returned in a few minutes clearly impressed and warned off by the force and volume of water cascading through the narrows.
As the group mustered to head back across Hoskyn Channel and another break at Read Island, a piece of aquatic ballet played out.
While the paddlers looked up at Mount Doogie Dowler, which features a massive cat-ears profile, marvelling at how much closer they seemed to it than at the lodge, a pod of porpoises began playing in the slack conditions. It was a joyful leap and dance few people ever get that close to.
Surge Narrows post office, on Read Island, was another revelation. It’s one of three remaining floating post offices in Canada and not to be confused with the stretch of water at the Settlers Group Islands or Surge Narrows Provincial Park on nearby Maurelle Island.But what a find. The post office was established in 1912 and is served by float plane. Inside, a series of lockers serving the 80 inhabitants of Read Island and other islands stood waiting for the latest delivery.
From there, the group headed northeast to where Hoskyn Channel begins to narrow, crossed the channel and began a seven-kilometre glorious grind back to the lodge, exalting in the draining joy of the seven-hour expedition.
An Experience Under The Stars
Hungry for more, a smaller knot of paddlers headed to the docks after dark to bask in the bioluminescence radiating from below the surface of the water. It’s like the world is inverted and a starry sky is beaming up at observers through a chemical process as fish, squid, crustaceans and algae produce neon, blue or even red lights that sparkle as waves diffuse the light. The light is produced to confuse predators, attract prey or even lure potential mates.
Group participant Clare Wedgwood described it this way:
“After paddling 16 kilometres we shared great cuisine on the decks, breathing in the serenity of our surroundings. Later, three of us, feeling like teenagers sneaking out, headed to the dock. Hanging over the edge splashing the water we experienced the magic of bioluminescence. Then lying back, we watched shooting stars. WOW!”
Some of the same late-night revellers were up before the sun to take in another mystical experience, the sun rising over the Discovery Islands and washing the channel in golden shafts of light.
Piling back into vehicles to head home a few hours later, it was unanimous — that was a remarkable 72 hours getting off the grid and tuning into nature.
This trip was not just an experience for paddlers, it was an opportunity to explore, cover new ground on the island, learn, build friendships, and admire the beauty around us, especially the magical ocean. Discovery Islands Lodge gave me the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, and reset as I released some of the stressors and tensions I had been carrying.
I came back with new perspectives, feelings of rejuvenation, and deep connections that no one else will be able to understand.
If you are looking to make summer 2022 one to remember and want to take your SUP skills to the next level, you can get on the hotlist for the Discovery Islands Lodge now. We also have dates for our Salish Sea SUP Camping Expedition available; sign up for July 4th - 6th OR August 4th - 6th.