This 71-Year-Old and Her Son Went on the Kayak Adventure of a Lifetime

Who needs more collectibles as birthday gifts? Kayaking with whales off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island was the best birthday present Helen Harwood could have asked for.

1 / 5
Kayaking in British Columbia
Courtesy: Helen Harwood

An Unexpected Kayak Adventure

Who needs more collectibles as birthday gifts? My 70th birthday was coming up in June 2015, and when my daughter-in-law, Ali, returned from a trip called “Kayak with Whales” on Hanson Island off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, she told my son Paul, “That’s the perfect trip for your mom.”

So a kayak adventure is what my son and I did in September 2016, along with two brothers from Great Britain and a couple from Seattle. I travelled from Ontario to join Paul in British Columbia for our kayak adventure. At the beginning of our trip, we took a water taxi from Port McNeill to base camp on Hanson Island. Then, after breakfast every day for four days, we loaded fibreglass kayaks with supplies and left our campsite accompanied by two guides from Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures. By then I had turned 71, and I was the oldest person on the trip by close to 25 years. Many times when we were moving kayaks or loading gear, my much younger group members did it all for me. I felt like the Queen.

2 / 5
Helen Harwood and her son Paul
Courtesy: Helen Harwood

Spotting Whales, Sea Lions and Seals

Paul and I took a double kayak so I could stop paddling anytime to take photos. “Mom, it doesn’t matter what you do, we are not going to end up in the water,” Paul assured me. Where we were kayaking on Johnstone Strait—a glacier-carved channel—is more than 400 metres deep, and taking care of Mom was high on Paul’s priority list.

Our guides knew the best places to see whales, sea lions, seals, dolphins, starfish and urchins. We were never disappointed. Paddles went down often, and cameras came out in their place. Sometimes we didn’t bother with the photos and just watched in awe as magnificent creatures came close enough for us to see eyeball to eyeball. Posing for a photographer was not high on their priority list. Sometimes, though, the sea lions would appear to be looking directly at us as if to say, “Here I am. Take my picture.”

3 / 5
Sea lion
Courtesy: Helen Harwood

Close Encounters

We also saw so many orcas and humpbacks that I lost count. We heard their animated conversations with the help of a hydrophone. One morning, the humpbacks put on quite a performance for us, probably no more than 20 metres offshore. Three of us early risers were sitting on a cliff looking out over the water when we heard them across the strait. Then we saw a distinctive tail fin appear, then another, then another. Each time, it was a little closer to us. They were coming out way! We were screaming, “Humpback, humpback!” every time one leaped. When one of them breached three or four times, we screamed even louder. We were able to identify the one that breached from a photo reference album. She had been given a name, but I forget what it was. What I do remember was the breaching.

Discover the best wildlife experience in every province.

4 / 5
Helen with a sea urchin
Courtesy: Helen Harwood

The Weather Takes a Turn

The weather was beautiful until the last day, when the heavy mist, rain and wind came. I was once again glad to have my very experienced kayaker son at the stern. by the time we arrived at our water taxi pickup point, I was shivering from the cold and soaked to the hide. Thanks to Ali, I had some warm, dry clothes—she had anticipated such a need and sent along an extra supply of good outdoor clothing. Paul insisted I take his good rain jacket, while he squished into my soaking-wet one. Have I mentioned I was treated like the Queen?

Take a peek at British Columbia’s stunning Calvert Island—Canada’s answer to the Caribbean.

5 / 5
Helen at an oceanside lunch site
Courtesy: Helen Harwood

Leaving Hanson Island

All too soon, it was time for us to leave Hanson Island, where we had spent four wonderful days. I felt a little sad as the water taxi shuttled us out to our pickup point. I had been kayaking with the whales while spending days of quality time with my son at a rustic yet very luxurious campsite.

I asked Paul, “What are you going to do for my 80th?”

Now that you’ve added a kayak adventure to your bucket list, check out the 10 places in Canada every Canadian needs to visit.

Originally Published in Our Canada

Newsletter Unit