The rugged and remote Esperanza Inlet and Nuchatlitz Inlet region on the west coast of Vancouver Island is rich in native culture and history, being the traditional territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation, who inhabited these lands for thousands of years before the arrival of the Spanish in 1774 and Captain James Cook in 1778.
Nuchatlitz Provincial Park on Nootka Island protects a number of archaeological sites, evidence that the area has been inhabited for millennia by First Nations people drawn to the region by the abundance of natural resources. These sites include ancient burial sites on and around Nootka Island, located in caves just off the beach.
These inlets, including the finger inlets that branch off from them (Port Elize, Espinosa Inlet, Zeballos Inlet) were gouged out by glaciers during the last ice age, and are extremely remote and sparsely populated. This isolation is enhanced by the stunning scenery, attracting anglers, kayakers, divers, campers and hikers to the wilderness area.
This coastline is known for it’s ocean swells as the Pacific rolls in all the way from Japan, superb outer reef systems, and long expanses of pristine and deserted beaches. Marine wildlife in the area includes killer whales (Orca), migrating gray whales, seals, porpoises and sea otters. Land mammals include black bear, cougar and deer.
Location: Like many of the parks in the North Island region, access to Esperanza and Nuchatlitz Inlets is by floatplane, or by boat from the nearest towns of Tahsis and Zeballos. These exciting journeys present unparalleled views of the rugged and remote wilderness beauty that is the west coast of beautiful Vancouver Island.
The MV Uchuck lll provides a year-round freight and passenger service for westcoast communities in Nootka Sound, Yuquot (Friendly Cove), Tahsis and Kyuquot, departing from the Muchalat Inlet, 12 km south of Gold River. The route takes you through Nootka Sound, up Tahsis Inlet and out Esperanza Inlet to the ocean. From here you travel along the west coast to Kyuquot Sound where the trip ends at the settlement of Kyuquot. Adventurers heading for Esperanza Inlet can arrange with the Uchuck lll to be dropped off and picked up along the route.
Sea Kayaking adventures in Esperanza Inlet, Nuchatlitz Inlet, Kyuquot Sound and the Nuchatlitz group of islands are operated out of the coastal village of Tahsis and Zeballos, which is accessed by road of Highway 19 between Woss and Port McNeill. This is sea kayaking at its best: isolated and remote coastline, beautiful campsites, magnificent sunsets, and an abundance of wildlife.
Kayakers wishing to explore this remote region can book space for themselves and their kayak aboard the MV Uchuck 111, boarding in Gold River. The vessel will unload kayakers into the scenic area of Esperanza Inlet and Catala Island en route to its scheduled stop at Kyuquot in Kyuquot Sound. Paddlers can also launch at Little Espinosa Inlet, accessed on the Zeballos Main logging road. Kayakers should note that strong headwinds can blow down Esperanza Inlet.
Fishing off Esperanza and Nuchatlitz Inlets is excellent for deep sea fishing and saltwater fly fishing. Large spring or chinook salmon migrate down the west coast of Vancouver Island on their way to their spawning grounds in the rivers of Vancouver Island and the coastal mainland of BC, by way of the Juan de Fuca Strait at the southern tip of the island. Salmon fishing begins in May and runs through to September, with the peak Springs run in mid-August – Pin Rock and Black Rock off the entrance to Esperanza Inlet are popular spots for Springs. Depending on the year’s run, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans closes Esperanza Inlet to fishing south of Little Zeballos River by the middle of August. The shelving bottom around Catala Island provides good bottom fishing, with halibut tipping the scales at between 40 and 200 pounds. Anglers are accommodated in comfortable fishing lodges or rustic fish camps nestled in pristine west coast wilderness – see Premier Listings below for fishing guides and lodging.
Garden Point Recreation site on the northern shoreline of Nootka Island offers a gently sloping beach, groves of old growth trees, and great mountain views across Esperanza Inlet. Camping is also possible at Belmont Beach and on the many tiny islands in the area – those that are not off limits as Native reserves.
Stop for a visit to the abandoned old Native village of Nuchatlitz on the extreme western tip of Nootka Island.
Catala Island Marine Provincial Park incorporates Catala Island and Twin Islands in Esperanza Inlet, protecting numerous reefs, islands, islets and marine ecosystems. Catala Island itself is forested with mature trees, twisted and stunted by the strong winds blowing off the Pacific Ocean. A lake and bog area are also found on the island. The 850-hectare wilderness park, which incorporates 254 hectares of upland and 596 hectares of foreshore park, is an area with important significance to the island’s First Nations people. An Indian Reserve is situated at the extreme eastern tip of Catala Island, with access prohibited to visitors.
The park has no facilities, but sea kayaking and wilderness camping in the many informal campsites attracts visitors to the island to explore the reefs, lakes, bogs and the rugged shoreline. Rustic trails lead to the lake and bog in the centre of the island. The tall trees on the island are twisted by the fierce winter winds and form a ragged backdrop to the island’s smooth and sandy beaches. The eastern tip of the island is a First Nations reserve, where visitors should not trespass. Boats anchored in the Rolling Roadstead anchorage of Catala Island will be subjected to the constant and steady swell from the Pacific, with little respite. Nearby Queen Cove off Esperanza Inlet provides a sheltered overnight anchorage. Nearby Queen Cove on Vancouver Island is the nearest all-weather anchorage from which boaters may access Catala Island.
Nuchatlitz Provincial Park is located on the western tip of Nootka Island, between Nuchatlitz and Esperanza inlets. A great diversity of flora and fauna is protected within an extensive range of terrestrial, intertidal and marine environments. Nuchatlitz is an excellent place to study intertidal life, as many tide pools can be found throughout the maze of islets and reefs that make up the park.
The 2,135-hectare park (803 hectares upland and 1,332 hectares foreshore) also protects vital habitat for British Columbia’s recovering Sea Otter population. The remote islands are becoming a popular kayaking destination, offering both exposed coast and protected waters for paddling, quiet coves and a multitude of beaches. A wealth of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts exists, including boating, sport fishing, camping and wildlife viewing within the park and its surrounding area. There are sheltered camping areas on some of the islands, but no facilities are provided within the park. Access to the park is by boat from Zeballos, 18 km to the northeast.
Sea Otters: Offshore you may be fortunate enough to spot a rare sea otter that inhabits only isolated areas of the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. The area is an extensive area of marine shoreline, reefs and islets providing habitat for BC’s recovering Sea Otter population. Decimated by the fur trade in the early 1900s, and extirpated in BC by the late 1920s, sea otters from Alaska were transplanted to the northwest coastal waters in 1969-1972. The present population on Vancouver Island is estimated at 2000.
The re-introduction of the sea otters has become something of an issue in neighbouring Kyuquot Sound recently, as the sea otters compete with the Native Indians for crabs, abalone and sea urchins. The unfortunate result is a decline in the sea otter numbers. With the elimination of the endearing whiskered critters by greedy and thoughtless European fur traders and native hunters in the late 18th and early 19th century, the otters’ natural foods became more abundant, decimating their own natural foods, predominantly kelp.
With the return of the sea otters to their natural habitat, the crabs, sea urchins and abalone are now being kept in check, with the revival of the kelp beds so important as a source of food, shelter and spawning grounds for so many species of fish and other marine life. This is having a positive affect on the marine life along this coastline. The Natives are upset that the sea otters are depleting the local shellfish levels, and the sea otters…well, they just want to continue doing what sea otters were doing for thousands of years before Natives and Europeans arrived and laid claim to their waters.