Up until we moved to Tofino, two years ago, I had never heard of the Broken Group Islands. About 6 months ago, Adam showed me photos of the Broken Group and immediately I wanted to go see the beautiful aqua blue waters and white sand beaches, surrounded by pristine rainforest.
Fast forward to July, and we were about to go out on a 5-day kayaking adventure with Hello Nature. I was a bit nervous, wondering if I could handle that many days of paddling and I couldn’t stop thinking about what the bathroom situation was going to be like. Seriously. What was the bathroom situation on these islands? It’s a crazy thought, but one that goes through your head when you’ve never done a trip like this before.
The following is basically a collection of everything that I felt throughout our trip in the Broken Group – the good and the bad. I can tell you that every change in the weather created a new scene, bald eagles were highly entertaining, and the feeling of remoteness was special and at times a bit terrifying if you let your mind wander to something going wrong.
The great thing is that we never actually worried too much on this adventure, because we went with Hello Nature tour guides, Kevin Bradshaw and Isabelle Cliche. Kevin has 18 years of experience paddling in the Broken Group – the most of anyone in the world. Essentially, there’s no one better to escape into the Broken Group with than Kevin and Hello Nature.
DAY 1 – Departing Ucluelet for the Broken Group
We left from Ucluelet shortly after 8am on a water taxi that included our group of 9 people, all of our clothes, food, kayaks and other camping equipment. As we were leaving my mind started to ask many questions. How would everything fit into the small hatches of the kayak? Do they tow a kayak that is just filled with supplies? Did I pack enough socks? How would I survive without my Red Rose tea? Then a fog settled in around us and I wondered what it would be like paddling in the fog for days. At the end of July and particularly in August, the West Coasters call this time of year “Fog-ust.” It’s a regular part of life here. Lots and lots of fog.
Travelling with us was Ilka Vogt and her husband, Arturo Latigo from Vancouver. Also in our group was Heather Hoffman of Chicago, Kathy Powell of Nanaimo and her sister Edith Palumbo from Prince George.
The first island that our group landed on was Wouwer Island. After unloading our water taxi and getting the kayaks on the shore, we quickly learned from Kevin and Isabelle how to pack the kayaks. It’s incredible how much stuff you can put in the hatches of the kayaks. We even had a small guitar with us that Ilka brought along.
We set off paddling just after 10:30 am. I instantly regretted dressing as warm as I did. I was wearing a stay dry shirt and stay dry hoodie. For me, it’s always better to be a bit cool than warm. When we stopped for lunch on Gilbert Island we all peeled off a layer.
Isabelle and Kevin, made lunch which consisted of a crunchy salad with hummus and corn chips. It was simple, filling and healthy. I always find food made by someone else tastes better. Hello Nature prides itself on its meals for one day, multi-day, and weekly kayaking and hiking trips. Their goal is to have delicious food that is healthy and will power you through a day of physical activity. Frank of Hello Nature does the meal prep, while Kevin’s wife Alicia does the baking.
After lunch, we paddled to Turret Island. We went on a small hike with Kevin who showed us some beautiful old-growth trees and provided interesting interpretation on banana slugs. Afterwards, we paddled to the otherside of Turret where we set up camp. Adam and I managed to set up our tent without arguing. I know, we were shocked too.
Dinner was risotto with zucchini, tomatoes, and local salmon with carrot cake dessert. One nice little touch I liked was that there was always tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. I managed without my Red Rose tea and instead had Earl Grey.
That night we had a campfire and got to know our group, while Ilka brought out her guitar and sang to us. Adam and I went off to watch the sunset. It was stunning. That night we went to bed early, as everyone was tired from the fresh air and first day of paddling. I quickly fell asleep listening to the waves and the fog horn.
DAY 2 – Turret Island | Benson Island
My eyes opened and I knew it was early. I looked up and could see the outline of a banana slug on the tent. Instantly, I had to pee and as I exited the tent banana slugs greeted me everywhere. They are fascinating prehistoric looking creatures. If you are worried about where to go to the bathroom when camping in the Broken Group – don’t be. All the islands that have campsites also have solar composting toilets. So no – you do not have to dig a hole as I thought we may be doing.
Kevin and Isabelle had breakfast made by the time our group met on the beach. Bacon, eggs, and sweet potato hash. Yum. After breakfast we jumped in the now empty kayaks and off we went to paddle by Puffin Island and through a lagoon on Clarke Island.
We made our way to Benson Island and learned all about midden. Midden is the compost from the Tseshaht First Nations people that lived on these islands until the 1960’s. Archaeologists use midden to determine what was eaten and how the First Nations lived. Kevin told us about a complete grey whale skeleton that was found in a midden pile in the Broken Group. The strength and manpower it must have taken to bring that whale up on to the land. It’s mind-blowing really.
We hiked out to a blowhole that was the coolest blowhole I had ever been around. I’ve been near blowholes in Hawaii, Mexico and in Atlantic Canada. This was gigantic in comparison. After the hike we ate roast beef sandwiches and relaxed along the beach.
Wildlife that day was abundant. Sea stars, bald eagles, oyster catchers, pigeon guillemots, stone plovers, Ruddy turnstones, seals and we even saw a tiny deer on one of the islands.
We paddled back to Turrett Island for our second night at camp. After two days of paddling I could feel my arms and shoulders were sore. Adam felt the same.
That night dinner was shrimp pesto with a watermelon, feta, cucumber salad. Our dessert – a pumpkin spice nut cake. I topped it off with a hot chocolate while we sat around the campfire. Once again, Ilka was singing and entertaining us. We were also joined by a gentleman from Scotland who sang Frankie and Johnny and had us all laughing. After a short walk to take in the beautiful sunset, we were in bed by 9pm, falling asleep listening to the birds.
DAY 3 – Willis Island
I awoke as the sun came up and I was starving. Adam and I got up and started to pack up our tent and belongings. It was moving day and we would be setting up camp on another island later in the day.
Kevin and Isabelle had prepared bagels, bacon, eggs, avocado and fried up the left-over roast beef. We made ours into breakfast sandwiches and it was a solid, filling breakfast.
After gathering our things together, Adam and I realized it is important to pack up properly. We didn’t have as much room because we didn’t get the air out of our tent, air mattress, and sleeping bag. A rookie mistake. We should have listened to Kevin. We forced our stuff into the hatches of our kayaks and we were off to Willis Island.
It wasn’t a long paddle and Kevin strategically got us there early so that we could have the smaller but more private campsite on the west end of the island. There is a larger campsite on the east side but he said it sometimes get a bit crowded. Our tent was set up right by the beach. It was a beautiful location.
We had a lovely lunch of chicken Caesar wraps with tomatoes, peppers and lot of freshly grated parmesan. After lunch we took advantage of the beautiful sunshine to have some fun on the beach at Willis Island. The night before all the ladies had shook hands and made a deal that we would go swimming if it was sunny & warm the next day. Kathy was the first in the water. She told me she swims almost daily in Nanaimo. The cool water (14 degrees – if lucky) doesn’t bother her a bit. I was being a chicken about getting in the water so Kathy chased me into the water. Once in the ocean, I started to give myself a scrub with a biodegradable soap my sister had given me. It smelled amazing. I had only been three days, but I was sweaty and a sea bath was necessary. Adam eventually came in too, swimming for the first time in British Columbia waters.
Supper that night was a buddha bowl of tofu, cous cous, beets, carrots and kale. Afterwards, we jumped into the kayaks for a sunset paddle. As we rounded Willis Island, I wondered if it was a mistake, as my arms were sore and the water was a bit choppy. I wasn’t nervous about the waves as I’ve been boating almost my entire adult life. I was simply hoping we wouldn’t be constantly paddling into the wind. Within minutes, though, we turned around the back part of the island where there is a smaller island that caused the water to settle into a sheet of glass. What a difference.
As we went around the east side of the island, the sun could be seen starting to sink into the mountains near Ucluelet. The water was bathed in golden light. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever witnessed. I don’t know if it was because I was tired and sore, but I became a bit emotional. At that point, Adam and I pulled our kayaks beside each other in the calm water to watch the sun sink down. It was an unforgettable experience.
DAY 4 – Willis Island | Pinkerton Islands | Tiny Group
The next morning I woke up feeling fantastic while listening to the sound of bald eagles chirping. I wasn’t sore, I wasn’t tired, and I was looking forward to the day. Kevin had been up since 6am and had the coffee made. Isabelle put out muffins, granola and yogurt.
As we sat and ate our breakfast we all cheered for a little mink, who escaped the clutches of a bald eagle. The mink had a fish and basically threw it to the eagle to avoid being eaten. It was better than any show on TV.
Our plan for Day 4 was to see as much of the Broken Group as we could. I had yet to see the aqua blue waters I had seen in the pictures Adam showed and as we set out into the fog, I wondered if we would at all. But as quickly as the fog rolls in, it rolls out. It became sunny and beautiful.
We paddled all morning and stopped for lunch just off of Vancouver Island near the Pinkerton Islands. We had paddled quite far and we definitely earned our lunch which consisted of chickpeas, kidney beans, feta, cucumbers, apples and corn.
We ate in a grassy area that is likely a bear estuary in the spring and fall. We watched for bears constantly. After enjoying lunch in such a beautiful, remote setting it was time to gradually make our way back to Willis Island. This was the most challenging paddle of our week. I think I was running on adrenaline. I kept singing songs in my head and we passed the time chatting to one another as we paddled.
Along the way, Kevin told us captivating stories about hiking the West Coast Trail and kayaking trips where he got injured or someone else did. We all loved these stories, as we shook our heads and couldn’t believe our guide was essentially the Canadian version of Bear Grylls.
As we came close to a tiny island in the Tiny Group – I finally saw it. Aqua blue water! I was so excited. We paddled ashore as I watched giant Dungeness crabs in the clear blue water. The crabs were scurrying over the white sand. This was the paradise everyone talked about. We sat down on the sand, looking at the bleached-out shells while eating biscotti and granola bars.
It was sunny, hot, and felt tropical. I wandered into the water up to my knees and loved every minute of it. All of us felt renewed as we paddled home. That day we went 11 nautical miles, which according to experienced kayakers, is a lot of paddling for one day.
Everyone went to bed early that night. It had been a perfect day but it was time to go home tomorrow which made us happy and sad. We were torn between leaving this paradise and returning home to our Chocolate Lab – Bella.
DAY 5 – Heading Home
Bald eagles were having a conversation close to our tent at 6am. It was our final day. We were treated to bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, pears, apples and hard-boiled eggs to start the day. It was such a good breakfast.
We packed up and departed at 9am. We were to paddle to our pick-up spot and spend our last few hours swimming and enjoying the white sand beaches.
We arrived at our final island and decided we would swim after lunch. Lunch was a charcuterie board with sliced salami, chips, smoked oysters and cheese. It was gourmet in the middle of nowhere.
After lunch Kathy, Edith, Isabelle and I jumped in the water. It was cold but felt amazing. We also took part in an island clean up, as we noticed there was some garbage tucked into the driftwood and along the beaches. Two old tires were found along with chunks of styrofoam, ropes and water bottles. The ecosystem in the Broken Group is incredibly sensitive, so garbage like this can be detrimental. As we picked up garbage a deer came out on the beach. She didn’t seem bothered by us, so Adam took a bunch of pictures of her. She had adorable white stripes on her ears.
At 2:30pm our water taxi arrived at the island to take us home. As we left, I was happy to be going home to Bella and to have a shower, but I wished our adventure was just a bit longer. I felt like I was changed in some way. I was proud of myself and Adam for doing this trip. We had never done anything like this before and I’m not sure if we could have done it without the expert guidance of Kevin and Isabelle. Having them there to prepare our meals and make everything about the trip comfortable and relaxing was a huge plus. They also made sure we were safe, never paddling in dangerous conditions and teaching us how to paddle effectively.
We paddled, hiked, camped and had a fantastic time. We had both been nervous about how our bodies would hold up during this trip, as we don’t do strenuous jobs. We did just fine. That means you could too. Hello Nature is the group to go with. Kevin is a world-class guide, plus, he is funny and only hires awesome people to work with him. A big thank you to Kevin, Isabelle and the entire gang at Hello Nature for an incredible trip to the Broken Group.
Hello Nature | hellonature.ca |1 844 706 2751 |1705 Peninsula Road Ucluelet, BC