Victoria

If you’re looking to explore Victoria from a refreshing, engaging water perspective, get fitted into a kayak for a two-or three-hour tour of Juan de Fuca Strait (or the city’s inner harbour, depending on wind and currents) with Kelp Reef Adventures.

From the moment I’d learned about family-owned Kelp Reef Adventures, I was secretly hoping that I’d be able tour the Juan de Fuca Strait and get to Harrisons Island for an encounter with a Pacific harbour seal rookery. As they’re the closest kayak shop to these waters, it’s easy to fit this adventure into a two-hour tour.

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I got my wish late last month when wind conditions were just right to head out from the shop’s Fishermen’s Wharf location on a mid-week afternoon.

Three Vancouver Island brothers/certified guides took over the business from the former owner three years ago. Courtney, Austin and Brandon look after the business and take turns leading tours from April through end of September. This year’s been challenging due to the pandemic — they were only able to get started up in May.

The trio has seen many Albertans and British Columbians book tours, as US and European visitors are non-existent in 2020.

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After signing a waiver and getting a quick land briefing, Austin, a guide and instructor, gets me into a double kayak (he’ll be steering/paddling in back so that I can capture photos and videos along the way). They’ve got a special slide-off launch so your legs and feet stay dry. Paddlers have the option of a single or double kayak as well as having the guide with you.

Sooke-born Austin has been leading tours for the past six years, well before their Victoria business got underway. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced kayaker, this is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon!

Our tour begins at Heron Bay, where we soon move along towards Shoal Point and Berens Island. As we pass through Rose Bay, we spot a pair of bald eagles on a tree, which upon closer inspection, appears that they’ve got some food in their talons to feast on.

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The journey continues towards McLoughlin Point (in Esquimalt), where a group of naval homes – part of the Coastal Defence System – overlook the bay, built to protect Victoria from Japanese intruders, though that day never came to be.

The excitement builds as we kayak through a Bull kelp forest and discover a Kelp crab with the exact colouring and texture as the kelp. It never ceases to amaze me how creatures are designed in nature to mimic their surroundings. This crab is pretty much spot-on.

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Once we make our way towards Harrison Islands, we begin to spot several Pacific harbour seals lounging on the rocks. These protected, nutrient-rich islets contain shallow water that prevents Orca whales from making a feast of a young harbour seal.

The pups, normally born in July, are raised here year after year, the mothers breast-feeding their young while training them until they can safely look after themselves.

Kelp Reef Adventures

According to Austin, the seals are used to kayakers and aren’t threatened by their presence. We quickly find out just how comfortable they are around us when one pup splashes alongside our kayak, swims under it, then splashes us on the other side for fun. This quick encounter becomes the highlight of my tour!

Aside from the seals, we spot River Otters, Great Blue Herons, Oyster Catchers, Cormorants, Canadian Geese and Sandpipers.

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Once we circle around the Harrison Islands, we make our way through to West Bay, then along the west side of Victoria Harbour and through the inner Harbour for some last views of downtown before heading back to Fisherman’s Wharf. Tour routes vary per guide and weather.

Kelp Reef Adventures is located at 1 Dallas Road (at Fisherman’s Wharf) in Victoria, BC.

My tour was compliments of Kelp Reef Adventures and Tourism Victoria for the purpose of this feature. Opinions, as always, remain my own.

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