Whales, seals, eagles, and gorgeous scenery highlighted our first day at the Orca Dreams camp on an island off of Vancouver Island in prime whale-watching waters.
Read on for details and photos.
Back in October 2017, I planned this trip with Orca Dreams for my 55th birthday weekend. I love whales, especially Orcas (aka Killer Whales), and I wanted to do more than just go out on a whale watching tour with a hundred other people.
With our plans to visit the northwest U.S. this summer, my research showed that northern Vancouver Island offered a more remote opportunity with a high concentration of whales. The name "Orca Dreams" certainly played a part in my selection of excursions, but other aspects of the website sealed the deal along with the number of people being limited to ten for each four day/three night trip.
And the fact that our U.S. dollars would give us about a 25% discount on the Canadian dollar pricing didn't go unnoticed.
We arrived at Telegraph Cove around 11:00 a.m. and paid our $8 CAD per night to park. There are two parking lots for overnight parking, but the $5 CAD lot was full.
Telegraph Cove is a cute little village, and we walked around a bit to check it out and determine exactly where we needed to meet our water taxi.
We hauled our luggage across the boardwalks and around to the far side of the harbor where there was a sign next to the Whale Interpretive Centre for Orca Dreams guests.
We noted the Killer Whale Cafe for a possible post-trip meal.
We met a family of four from Alberta - John, Stephanie, A.J. & Chloe - that would be part of our group. We took their photo at the gathering sign on this misty morning.
We watched a tour of kayakers return from their morning paddle.
Then we met the rest of our camp-mates, a couple from France, and a father & daughter from upstate New York. At noon, we boarded our water taxi for the half hour trip to the Orca Dreams camp.
On our taxi ride, we entered Blackney Pass, and we soon got our first look at a Humpback Whale.
Our water taxi captain, James, stopped the boat for us to watch. Soon another one surfaced not far from the boat. The sounds of the blows carried across the water and it sounded like they were much closer than they were.
This second whale dove and gave us a great tail shot which is always a thrill.
While we watched that whale off the back of the boat, one on the other side breached. Unfortunately, we all just turned around in time to only witness the huge splash.
We saw a couple more Humpbacks before continuing on to camp.
Best taxi ride ever.
Not far from the whales, we arrived at the Orca Dreams camp where we would be staying in really nice tents with decks and real beds.
The water taxi pulled into the beach, and we all helped unload our bags and supplies for the camp before climbing down ourselves.
The staff greeted us, assigned our tents, and gave us the brief overview of the camp as well as a rundown of the afternoon's plans.
There are five tents, and we were in the most private one that can just barely be seen from the water; however, I think I would have preferred one with less privacy and a wider view. With that said, we had no complaints as there were features to our tent we liked better than the other tents.
From our deck, we had this view.
Inside, each tent has either a queen bed or twin beds plus a bench on which to sit your stuff, a few hooks to hang things, a broom, and limited LED lights (which run off of a battery) to help get ready for bed in the evening.
There is no electricity in the tents, and the camp uses a generator as needed to help with meal preparation and to charge cameras, phones, etc. It's not run often, and when it is, you can't hear it from the tents.
Also, there is no heat in the tents. Extra blankets are provided, but it's wise to follow the pre-trip packing list provided and bring plenty of layers.
The back deck of our tent has a small table and a place to hang coats and wet gear.
The tents were open in the front and the back, but you can zip up both "doors" and have screens or zip up flaps for more privacy or warmth at night.
There is a small path behind the tents that connects all the tents and the common areas.
The dining shelter is located between the tents and serves as the focus of the camp.
There are two latrines - think very nice outhouses or pit toilets with real toilet seats. This is the nicer of the two, but both were quite clean and just fine for this wilderness experience.
At one end of the camp is an outdoor shower that does have hot water.
Or, if you prefer, you can take a bath while watching the Humpback feeding grounds through a small window in the vegetation.
A sign and a curtain on the path leading to the "bath" area indicate whether or not the shower/bathtub are being used.
However, water conservation is important as the water for the camp is supplied by a small spring. While we were there, the water level was low due to a recent lack of rain, so on Day 2 they asked us to refrain from showers. A little disappointing, but not a big deal.
On the opposite end of camp is the kayak shack, with rubber pants and jackets, rubber boots (aka "wellies" or "gumboots"), life jackets, and other equipment for the kayaks.
Quite soon after getting settled in, we had our first group meal.
For meals, we were joined by the staff and the proprietors, Kelly & J.D. It was pleasant, casual, family-style dining.
Shortly after lunch, we met down on the beach to go out for our first excursion on the water. It was high tide, so there wasn't much beach left, but it made bringing the boat - the "Tenzing" - to shore easier.
Climbing the ladder into the boat at various water levels was something we'd do many times.
This was one of two Harbor Seals that hung out in our little cove entertaining us.
To our north, it was quite foggy so visibility was limited. Suddenly a huge cruise ship appeared. Our guide, Ryan, told us we were in part of "The Inside Passage" for cruise ships.
We watched as this one sailed out of the fog and continued south toward Vancouver.
We spotted our first whale tail of the afternoon as another cruise ship suddenly appeared in the mist. See it in the background of the photo below? A bit eerie.
Ryan explained that there is a "narrows" section to the south that the cruise ships try to navigate at "slack tide". So, a few will often go through this area at the same time to arrive there in optimal conditions.
We stayed in the Blackney Pass area and could hear Humpback blows, but we couldn't see anything in the fog.
I took a photo of this Rhinoceros Auklet, which is a close relative of puffins.
The Rhinoceros Auklet is named, obviously, for the "horn" at the base of its bill. They are pretty cool seabirds, and they were our constant companions on the water this weekend.
While checking out the "rhinos", a Harbor Seal swam by.
Hearing on the radio that visibility was not getting any better to the north, and hearing no reports of Orcas in the area, we headed south and soon completely exited the fog.
Seeing a huge flock of birds, Ryan steered us in that direction.
When feeding like that, the birds indicate abundant herring, and it could also be a place for Humpbacks to do some "lunge" feeding.
We saw no Humpbacks, but it was very interesting to watch the Eagles swoop in to grab fish.
Ordinarily, we see gulls scatter when eagles appear, but here there were five or six eagles, and the gulls didn't panic.
The eagles would always come in from the same direction and, if they missed, they would circle around. The juvenile eagles struggled while the mature eagles rarely missed.
There wasn't much in the way of whale action, but the eagles, gulls, auklets, and murres kept us entertained awhile.
And the scenery was amazing.
Back at camp, we went on a group walk.
After the bath/shower orientation, we walked/hiked to two of the three viewpoints on the trails.
This one is fairly close to camp, and there are two chairs planted on the bluff to enjoy the view.
A bit further was Humpback Point, where we sat on the rocks for several minutes and watched the Humpbacks blow in the distance.
The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing. I roamed the shoreline around camp as the tide receded.
I hoped Orcas would swim up that narrow channel beside the camp, but no luck there. I did, however, see this Steller Sea Lion swim by.
The ringing of the bell at the dining shelter told us it was time for dinner.
After our lasagna dinner and a tasty dessert, we took the wooden chairs down to the beach where we enjoyed the view, the antics of the Harbor Seals, and the blows of the Humpbacks out in Blackney Pass.
This coastal area of British Columbia is under a fire ban as of a couple a weeks ago, so while guests would normally sit around a campfire here in the evenings at Orca Dreams, hanging out on the beach will have to do. I think we'll manage.
Tonight was going to be a little chilly, so the staff provided us with hot water bottles that we slipped into our beds to warm them up.
As we headed off to our tents, we could still hear the splashes of the seals, and we slept to the blows of whales. If you love wildlife, there is nothing quite like the blow of a whale as the only sound you can hear.
We were certainly off to a great start.