The capital city of British Columbia, Victoria boasts many historic buildings and some of the most fascinating museums in Western Canada. The city benefits from one of Canada’s mildest climates, which allows its residents to pursue outdoor pleasures all year round.
Vancouver Island, British Columbia, is truly a sea kayaker’s paradise, boasting so many great paddling spots that it can be hard to decide where to start. The city of Victoria, located at the southernmost tip of the Island, attracts tourists from around the world, but many miss the amazing paddling destination virtually in Victoria’s backyard.
Just 3 miles east off the coast of Oak Bay are Chatham, and Discovery Islands. Despite being so close to town, these two islands are truly gems and their proximity to the city belies their rugged beauty. Whether it’s for a day-trip or a quick overnighter, Discovery Island it a favorite getaway for Victorian paddlers in the know. It should be noted however that due to the presence of currents and strong winds in the area, basic navigational and paddling skills are required before attempting this trip without a guide.
A favorite place to launch when heading to Discovery Island is the Oak Bay boat ramp off of Beach Drive.
Paddling out of the Oak Bay Marina toward Chatham and Discovery, my preferred route is to cruise through the Chain Islets archipelago – a great place to see lots of seabirds: cormorants, pigeon guillemots, black oystercatchers, and countless gulls populate the area.
The Chain Islets are an ecological reserve and a sensitive nesting ground, so landing is not permitted, but simply paddling through the islets, weaving between rocks and kelp beds is great fun. It’s also a terrific opportunity to see the many harbor seals that are often sunning themselves atop rocks or on beaches. Bald eagles are a regular sight, and lucky paddlers may see river otters or sea lions too.
From the Chain Islets, paddlers must cross Plumper Passage to reach Chatham and Discovery. While the distance is less than a nautical mile, currents can be strong here, forming waves and turbulent water, so it is best for novice paddlers to cross at slack tide (when consulting the currents atlas, Race Passage is the Reference Station and Baynes Channel is the Secondary Station).
Whether it’s a quick paddle or a weekend camping trip, Chatham and Discovery Islands offer an amazingly beautiful getaway right on Victoria’s doorstep.
Discovery Island was named in 1846 in honor of the British Explorer Captain George Vancouver, who explored the coastlines of British Columbia between 1792 and 1794 in his ship HMS Discovery. Neighboring Chatham Island bears the name of his other escort ship: the HMS Chatham. The southern 61-hectare portion of Discovery Island was designated a Provincial Marine Park in 1972.
Camping is permitted on Discovery Island in beautiful Rudlin Bay. Gravel beaches lead up to a small meadow bordered by fir and arbutus trees. Campsites offer a breathtaking view of the majestic Olympic Mountains across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington. Basic facilities like pit toilets and picnic tables are available to campers. There is no charge for day use. A self-registered camping fee of $5.00 CAN per night is in effect from May 1 to September 30 and is payable on an honor system. There is no potable water available on the island so be sure to bring plenty of drinking water with you. No campfires are permitted.
Heading East, just around the corner from Rudlin bay, paddlers will encounter picturesque Discovery lighthouse. The northern portion of Discovery Island, Chatham Island and some of the adjacent islets are Indian Reserve, so paddlers should not land without permission from the Songhees Band.
Before heading home, kayakers can decide to circumnavigate both islands or cruise between them, exploring the many channels between islets and rocks. If rounding the northwest section of Chatham it is important to be aware of the very strong currents in Baynes Channel between Chatham Island and Cadboro Point.
Whether it’s a quick paddle or a weekend camping trip, Chatham and Discovery Islands offer an amazingly beautiful getaway right on Victoria’s doorstep. Despite being so close to the city, once you’re over in the islands and enveloped by their natural beauty and wilderness, you’ll feel all your urban worries melt away!
Alex Matthews is an avid paddler and the author (with Ken Whiting) of an
instructional DVD and several books on sea kayaking, including his newest:
“Sea Kayaking Rough Waters”. Alex lives with his beautiful wife Rochelle on
southern Vancouver Island.