Considered to be one of the west coast’s premier cruising destinations, Desolation Sound abounds with both history and wildlife. On a recent trip with Discovery Marine Safaris and the Museum at Campbell River, we cruised over to this area from Campbell River, heading south and east, passing historic Cape Mudge Indian Reserve on Quadra Island and the Island’s lighthouse built in 1898. Captain Vancouver visited the Coast Salish living on Quadra in 1792, commenting that they “conducted themselves with the greatest civility and respect”.
Later, Quadra Island became an important centre of industry for logging, mining and fishing many years before central Vancouver Island became settled.
One of the most intriguing islands on the route is Mitlenatch. Now a wildlife sanctuary under the protection of BC Parks, it has the largest seabird colony in the Strait of Georgia. On our trip, we spotted many birds, sea lions and seals along the shore. Because of its unusual climate, Mitlenatch has unique flora and fauna like cactus, which is not found on other Gulf Islands. Sheep were once kept there despite the arid climate and it is thought that they must have found moisture in the moss to slake their thirst.
The next island ahead is Hernando, named for the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes, for whom Cortes Island is also named. A private island, it is coveted for its lovely sandy beaches. Cruisers then pass by the Twin Islands, which were owned at one time by German royalty and made famous by visits from the British Royal yacht which once brought Queen Elizabeth to these wild isles.
Entering into Desolation Sound, it is difficult to believe that Captain Vancouver once proclaimed the area to be so dismal, that he named it as he did. With the vista of the snow capped Coastal Mountains to the east, the verdant landscape of West Redonda Island and picturesque Lewis Channel to the north, it represents the quintessential beauty of British Columbia’s west coast.
On the southern tip of West Redonda, the boat cruises into the sanctuary of Refuge Cove, long a boater’s safe haven. Today, it boasts a marina, fuel dock, general store, restaurant and art gallery. The Museum’s tour includes a stop for lunch here and an opportunity to get off the boat and wander around, taking in the quaint surroundings.
Heading back out into Lewis Channel, cruisers have an excellent view of Cortes Island and the settlement of Squirrel Cove to the west. One of the highlights of the trip is a chance to see and take pictures of gorgeous Cassel Falls on the west coast of West Redonda. On the way back, our group had the fortune to come upon a pod of several transient Killer Whales, identified by Discovery Marine Safaris’ staff. Always a delight, wild life viewing is often a part of every trip with the crew of Discovery Marine Safaris sharing their knowledge of where and when exotic marine mammals like whales are likely to appear along the route.
As these photos reveal, taking a camera along is a must! The Museum is offering three trips to Desolation Sound this year on Sundays in July and September. For the 2015 schedule see the following: http://crmuseum.ca/historic-boat-tours. Call 250-287-3103 to reserve.