On Swindle Island in Finlayson Channel, approximately 219 kilometres north of Port Hardy, is Klemtu, home of the Kitasoo Native Band, and the original site of summer camps where the Xais-Xais and Kitasoo peoples came to fish and hunt.
A permanent settlement emerged in the 1870s with the advent of coastal steamer service. The China Hat Cannery constructed in 1925 by Todd & Sons is now owned and operated by the band, along with an experimental aquaculture farm, and is the village’s main employer.
When European explorers arrived on this coast in the 18th century, it was inhabited by Natives from several cultural groups. 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.
The 450 residents live along the waterfront, which has a long boardwalk, and commercial activities centre around the public Transport Canada wharf. A hot kayaking and dive spot, services here include a well-equipped general store, a cafe, post office, a modern fuel facility with a full range of marine and auto fuels, and a community health clinic.
As soon as you go ashore at Trout Bay, you will be greeted by the friendly community and wonderful features of Klemtu. On the nights that the ferry stops in Klemtu, the community will come to life with an historic culture tour of the village, followed by a traditional Kitasoo feast, ending with a spectacular demonstration of Native dancing. The three-hour tour will give insight into this remote village that was once a bustling coastal fishing and trading centre.
The Discovery Coast extends from Port Hardy to Bella Coola on the Central Coast, and includes the communities of Namu, McLoughlin Bay, Bella Bella, Denny Island (Shearwater), Klemtu, Ocean Falls, and Hakai Pass area.
Location: BC Ferries Discovery Coast Passage service runs between Port Hardy (on Vancouver Island), and Bella Coola (mainland), stopping at different ports along the way including Klemtu. Klemtu is located 136 nautical miles north of Port Hardy and 103 nautical miles west of Bella Coola. Bella Coola is the nearest access point in the provincial highway system and the nearest community.
Alcohol: Visitors should note that Klemtu is a dry community. Alcohol is discouraged and should not be brought into the community.
Located in the Kitimat Ranges of the Coast Mountains, Fiordland Conservancy is an exceptionally scenic area, 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.
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.
Canoeing & Kayaking: From Swindle Island, adventurous paddlers can plot an 80-km, 10-day course south, rejoining the ferry at McLoughlin Bay (Bella Bella). Head for the exposed west coast of Price Island, where you might see cruise ships passing in Laredo Sound. Campsites may be hard to find without exploring the many tiny bays behind the mass of rocky islets guarding the coastline. This jumble of bays and tiny islets is characteristic of the west side of Price Island. Stunted trees, blown landward by the winter storms all their lives, give evidence of the ferocity of the weather that routinely batters this coastline. The east coast of the island may give more shelter, but ferocious horseflies (they bite!) can be a nuisance. Fishing can be rewarding, as long as the halibut isn’t too big to land from a kayak. Vancouver Rock and Boulder Head, farther south, are both great spots for rock fish, red snapper, and halibut.
From Klemtu, it’s possible to paddle to Princess Royal Island, 12 km farther north, home of the legendary Kermode or Spirit Bear. You can keep your fingers crossed for a sighting, but you’d be very lucky to spot one of these gorgeous blonds. The gaping fjords and inlets around Swindle and Princess Royal Islands are stunning, but be warned that campsites in this area are few and small, and by midsummer, most have a meagre water supply. As in Hakai, paddlers here should be experienced and self-sufficient. Besides sea fog, strong currents represent a potential hazard. Crossings or exposed coasts can be dicey (with surf landings). High tides may make camping difficult, so try to schedule your trip for between full moons. Periodically strong outflow and inflow winds can be a problem in the steep-sided fjords. Because weather conditions can delay trips, give yourself plenty of time.
Approximately 130 km north of Port Hardy and 10 km west of Namu is the Hakai Luxvbalis Conservancy Area, British Columbia’s largest marine park, and one of the better-known paddling areas. 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.
Hiking: For hiking enthusiasts, there are plenty of trails in and around Klemtu. A five-minute boat ride away boasts a stunning waterfall that runs from the top of the mountain right down to the ocean. Follow the never-ending stairs that go alongside the waterfall, or hike by trail from the village. You can also take a short boat trip to the many untouched islands that surround Swindle 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.
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.
Circle Tours in British Columbia.