Denny Island is located on the Discovery Coast of British Columbia, in the area known as the Great Bear Rain Forest, immediately east of the community of Bella Bella on Campbell Island. Denny Island was developed as an antisubmarine bomber reconnaissance unit in 1941, which was disbanded in 1944. It was subsequently purchased and developed into a full-service marina and fishing resort, known as Shearwater. All that remains of the air force base is the hangar, the tarmac, and a few bunkers.
Besides bases for the Canadian Coast Guard and Canadian Department of Fisheries & Oceans, there are a couple of bed-and-breakfast lodgings, fishing charter operators, commercial fishermen, moorage for pleasure boaters, a small grocery and liquor store, a Canada Post office (Denny Island), a small community school, and regular water taxi service from Shearwater to Bella Bella.
When European explorers arrived on this coast in the 18th century, it was inhabited by Natives from several cultural groups, being the traditional lands of the Heiltsuk First Nation. Although hunters and gatherers like the tribes of the Interior, the coastal natives were able to establish permanent villages due to their abundant food supply. Their complex cultures were distinguished by an emphasis on wealth, a refined artistic tradition, and a rich spirit life. Travel along the coast was accomplished by dugout canoes that could be impressive in their length. Although there’s nothing more inspiring than to see one of these massive canoes in action, they are only brought out for ceremonial occasions, such as a paddle trip to Vancouver or the Olympic Mountains in Washington.
Location: Denny Island is located on the Central Coast of British Columbia, called the Discovery Coast, 3 miles (5 km) from Bella Bella. There is a regular sea bus service between Bella Bella and Shearwater on Denny Island. BC Ferries ‘Discovery Coast Passage’ service runs between Port Hardy and Bella Coola, stopping at different ports along the way, including Bella Bella and Shearwater. Denny Island is located 100 nautical miles north of Port Hardy (on Vancouver Island) and 76 nautical miles west of Bella Coola, which is the nearest access point to the provincial highway system on the BC mainland (Highway 20 runs from Bella Coola to Williams Lake in the Cariboo.
Pacific Coastal Airlines operates flights twice daily in the summer, and daily in the winter, to Bella Bella from Vancouver International Airport South. From there, boat service is available to Denny Island at Shearwater.
Great Bear Rainforest: One of the last unspoiled rainforests on the planet, the Great Bear Rainforest is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Mountain Range on the west coast of British Columbia. The ancient Great Bear Rainforest is one of the largest tracts of temperate rainforest left in the world (2 million hectares), and is home to thousands of species of plants, birds and animals. In this lush rainforest stand 1,000-year-old cedar trees and 90-metre tall Sitka spruce trees. Rich salmon streams weave through valley bottoms that provide food for magnificent creatures such as orcas (killer whales), eagles, wolves, black bears, grizzlies, and the rare and mysterious white Kermode (Spirit) bear.
Canoeing & Kayaking: Many parts of the Discovery Coast are relatively unknown to kayakers. It will appeal to resourceful paddlers who seek a sense of pioneering, which includes laying some groundwork, discovering new fishing spots, wildlife watching, dealing with unknown tidal currents, and finding new campsites.
Paddlers can enjoy the many small straits, exposed coastline, and islands accessible from the communities of Bella Bella and Shearwater, such as the Goose Group in the western reaches of the Hakai Provincial Recreation Area. There is good camping on the south end of Campbell Island as you make you way through Hunter Channel towards Goose. Be prepared to paddle 8 km through the open water in Queens Sound between Campbell and Goose, the largest by far of the five islands gathered here. At the north end of Goose Island is a pure white beach composed largely of pulverized clam shells that when walked upon with bare feet emit a squeak not unlike the squeal of a sneaker on a gymnasium floor. This is truly an enchanted island.
Diving: The waters of the Hakai Provincial Recreation Area are amongst the finest in the world for underwater exploration, with exceptional viewing opportunities year round. There are wrecks along virtually the entire Central Coast, making it a magnet for divers. Three good wrecks are just off Atli Point, near Shearwater, and Namu is particularly popular. Liveaboard dive charter vessels are available, which are outfitted with diving tanks and wet suits, and are based on the Central Coast between June and September.
Hakai Luxvbalis Conservancy Area is British Columbia’s largest marine park, and one of the better-known paddling areas. Located approximately 40 km south of Port Hardy and 10 km west of Namu, this 123,000-hectare area encompasses a large archipelago of outstanding natural beauty and recreational value. From fully exposed shorelines to rolling, forested hills and 1000-metre peaks, Hakai offers some of the most varied and scenic coastline in the province. Special features such as lagoons and reversing tidal rapids, beaches, all-weather anchorages, tombolos, and an intricate network of coves, inlets, and channels make it an ideal area for boaters, anglers, scuba divers, naturalists – and experienced sea kayakers. The recreation area has no developed facilities, and offers wilderness sites for camping only. Over 100 species of birds have been identified in the park, ravens and ospreys among them. Feeding flocks of gulls, auklets, murres, and murrelets are numerous in the waters of Kildidt and Queens Sounds. Black oystercatchers, pelagic cormorants, surf birds, and both black and ruddy turnstones are also common.
Fiordland Conservancy is an exceptionally scenic area located in the Kitimat Ranges of the Coast Mountains, with rich estuaries at the base of sharply plunging glacier-topped mountains. Salmon spawn in the many coastal rivers and creeks. There are a number of excellent beaches and interesting upland features, including glaciers, waterfalls, lakes, and rivers, along with wonderful hiking and wildlife-viewing opportunities. Sitka deer, salmon, and grizzlies have shared this magnificent area with the Heiltsuk people for centuries. Trapping, hunting, fishing, and other traditional food-gathering activities have richly sustained these people over the years. There are a number of archaeological sites located here, particularly along the shorelines. Unfortunately for paddlers, campsites are few due to the steep topography of the area. The recreation area is an important habitat area for both black and grizzly bears, which can make travel on shore risky.
Accommodation: Inside Passage Cottages provide an eco-friendly, clean, quiet and safe base from which to explore Denny Island and the Great Bear Rainforest. Built in spring 2012, the self-contained cottage has a fantastic view of Whiskey Slough.
Ferry to Denny Island: If travelling on the Queen of Chilliwack, the most stunning scenery is between Bella Bella and Bella Coola. With the setting sun behind you, the monolithic rock formations looming over the narrow Burke Channel give the cruise a European flavour. You’ll get an even better look at the scenic Dean Channel during daylight hours if you board the ferry in Bella Coola for the southbound sailing. Weather permitting, the ship’s two upper decks are an excellent vantage point from which to watch for the logging camps, barge houses, and abandoned settlements that indicate a human presence on this rugged coastline. Although Natives have inhabited the area for thousands of years, the inhospitable terrain has limited development and exploration by European settlers until comparatively recently. Wildlife viewing – the ferry slows for orcas – is another bonus of this trip. Don’t forget your binoculars. Facilities aboard the Queen of Chilliwack include reclining sleeper seats, a cafeteria, and small licenced lounge, a gift shop and – a boon for kayakers – pay showers.
Those taking the Discovery Coast Passage should be aware that, depending on their departure time and length of trip, they may have to ‘camp’ one night aboard ship. A sleeping bag or warm blanket will enhance your comfort in one of the reclining seats. Alternatively, bring along a camping mattress and stretch out on the floor. A small number of cots and blankets are available onboard. Hardy types are also permitted to pitch their (self-supporting) tents on the deck.
The village of Bella Bella is located on Campbell Island, 5 kilometres to the west of Denny Island. Bella Bella is home to the Heiltsuk Native Band and is the largest community on the Central Coast. Although it was the former site of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort McLoughlin in the 1830s, nothing remains of the fort today.
Circle Tour: See the best of BC when you embark upon one of the many circle tours that take in Vancouver Island, the Discovery Coast, the Sunshine Coast, the interior winelands or the remote Northern British Columbia. The coastal tours involve exciting rail, road and ferry trips, which is half the fun of travelling in British Columbia. Scenic highways flank the coast, taking you through charming beachside communities, rolling farmlands and majestic mountain ranges. Start your journey here and now, by selecting from one of the Circle Tours, designed to assist you in planning your journey by road through beautiful British Columbia.