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Water Taxis: A Great Way to Access 10 New Kayaking (and Hiking) Adventures on the BC Coast

Do you dream of bold kayaking adventures that just don’t fit into a one-week or two-week vacation window?  Consider a water taxi!  In this article, we’ll explore how water taxis can be a powerful travel hack helping you unlock awe-inspiring adventures that would otherwise be out of reach. We’ll introduce you to a few operators who can get you out further into remote areas.  And we’ll describe some awesome trip ideas that use chartered or scheduled water transport to get you to unforgettable paddling and hiking spots.  From the Gulf Islands to the Broughton Archipelago, Vancouver Island to Haida Gwaii, we’ve got you covered.

Why Use A Water Taxi?

  • To get the most out of precious vacation time —  Many paddlers fantasize about magical wilderness locations where ancient forests meet pristine five-star beaches teeming with amazing wildlife. Sadly, the two-way paddling distance puts many of these dream locations out of reach.  That’s where you need a water taxi!  Replacing one leg of your journey with a water taxi drop-off doubles the distance you can reach within your limited vacation window.   Replacing two legs of your journey with a water taxi lets you cherry pick the most spectacular part of your trip and spend all your vacation time enjoying your favourite location.  And finally, a triangular route with water taxi drop-off at one location and pick-up at another, opens up large remote areas like Hakai Pass or Haida Gwaii for deeper exploration.  In the wise words of one kayaker, using a water taxi lets you ‘paddle smart, not far’.
  • To have a more relaxing trip — Water taxis can transform a grueling round-trip grind into a relaxing one-way meander. When he was younger, Jerry’s kayak trips felt like a forced march: fast paced, high mileage, day after day — attention focussed on the physical challenge of reaching his destination and not the breathtaking scenery around him.   Jerry pushed one friend to collapse in the middle of a trip and pushed a group of seasoned paddlers to mutiny.  As he matured, Jerry discovered the joys of a more laid-back vibe.  Reading books on a beach.  Sitting around a campfire sipping Napa Valley wine.  Water taxis are a great tool to help you get the pacing right —  the same stunning scenery as the forced march, but now a relaxed and restorative vacation in the wild and not a marathon.
  • To take advantage of following winds — Wind conditions can make or break your kayaking journey. With a water taxi, you can strategically position yourself upwind for the start of your trip, ensuring an easier downwind paddle to your end point. This not only conserves energy but also enables you to savor the scenic beauty and wildlife without feeling wiped out.
  • To enhance safety and bypass dangerous crossings — In windy parts of the coast, less time on the water exposed to dangerous winds and long crossings makes for a safer trip. A water taxi drop-off cuts your risk in half while a there-and-back taxi can eliminate treacherous crossings entirely.
  • To workaround injuries and infirmities — On a recent paddling trip, Jerry was recovering from shoulder replacement surgery. He hadn’t paddled in years and wasn’t confident his shoulder could handle long-distance upwind paddling.  As a workaround, we hired a water taxi to drop us off at one location, then pick us up at another, giving us a manageable paddle between two points we felt comfortable with. One spritely paddler Julee met last year used water taxis as a workaround to continue paddling between rafts of sea otters in her favourite wilderness location deep into her 80s!
  • To accommodate mixed skill levels within a paddling group — If your paddling group has paddlers of varying or unknown paddling skills, it is critical to size your trip for the weakest or unknown paddler, not the strongest. Water taxis are an important tool for cutting down paddling distances ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone. 
  • To Go Hiking! — Many coastal adventurers hike as well as kayak. Water taxis open the door to a number of stunning hiking trails rivalling the popular West Coast Trail, but with fewer hikers.

10 Exciting New Adventures Using Water Taxis

1. Bunsby Islands, Checleset Bay and the Brooks Peninsula

When we started dating, Jerry’s heart was set on exploring the wild beaches of the Brooks Peninsula, a gem on Vancouver Island’s west coast. There was just one hitch — he could only miss one week of work.  Jerry had twice before attempted the 94-km round trip from Fair Harbour and been thwarted by strong northwest winds that would have made it impossible to clock-in on Monday.  On his third attempt, and our first together, we decided to book a ride with one of the two water taxi operators in Kyuquot Sound.  Leo Jack of Voyager Water Taxi greeted us at Fair Harbour and let us choose between a dry drop-off in the Bunsby Islands or a wet drop-off on the Brooks Peninsula, weather permitting.  We chose the latter and enjoyed a leisurely one-way paddle back to Fair Harbour with the wind at our backs.  One of the pioneers in the water taxi business, Leo Jack has been a reliable figure in British Columbia’s coastal kayaking scene for years. His knowledge of the local waters makes him a great choice for kayakers visiting Kyuquot Sound. 

Water Taxi to Brooks Peninsula
Leo Jack of Voyager Water Taxi
Voyager Water Taxi Drop-off

2. Southern Kyuquot Sound

On our most recent trip to Kyuquot Sound, Jerry was still recovering from shoulder replacement surgery. To ease the strain, we called up Kyuquot Sound’s other water taxi operator, Tony Hansen at Siiqaa Water Taxi.  Tony was able to pick us up at Fair Harbour, drop us off at our chosen location, and then pick us up at a different location for the return trip to Fair Harbour.  This cut our point-to-point paddling distance down to something Jerry was comfortable with, and our group of four had a wonderful time. Read about our Kyuquot adventures in this article:   Kyuquot Sound Revisited.

Pick-up by Siiqaa Water Taxi at Winter Harbour
Wet Drop-off in Kyuquot Sound

3. Kayak Glamping On Spring Island

To celebrate her 60th birthday, Julee invited a group of friends to join her ‘kayak glamping’ on Spring Island near the village of Kyuquot. Julee’s friends were new to kayak camping, and she was wary of assuming full responsibility for their safety.   To make the trip comfortable and enjoyable for everyone, Julee and her friends booked a 5-day Sea Otter Kayak Tour from a base camp operated by Westcoast Expeditions.  Julee’s group reveled in the joy of wilderness paddling while the knowledgeable guides took care of water transport between Fair Harbour and Spring Island, deluxe tent accommodations, chef-prepared meals, and each day’s chaperoned paddling itinerary.  Westcoast Expeditions caters to a variety of kayaking preferences from wildlife viewing to accessing more remote areas.  They offer exceptional opportunities for kayakers of all ages.  At the camp, Julee met multiple paddlers who had fallen in love with this delightful wilderness playground and returned many times.

Kayak Glamping at West Coast Expeditions
Sea Otters in Kyuquot Sound
Kayak-themed Birthday Party with West Coast Expeditions

4. Broughton Archipelago

The journey from Port MacNeil on Vancouver Island to Paddlers Inn  — located near Echo Bay Marine Park on Gilford Island — usually takes two or three days by kayak. Bruce McMorran’s water taxi cuts that to a little over two hours.  Winds in the Broughtons should not be underestimated.  Jerry learned this the hard way on his first paddle in the area, when strong northwesterly winds blowing down from Queen Charlotte Strait forced him to be rescued by a passing fishing boat (read this Dangerous Crossings article for the whole story).  Nearby Johnstone Strait is also notoriously windy.  Kayakers seeking to reduce exposure to dangerous winds while venturing deep into the heart of Orca territory should look into the dependable water taxi service offered by Bruce McMorran. Paddlers Inn is a gem of its own. With several accommodation options and guided kayak adventures, it makes a great base camp for exploring a remote corner of the Broughton Archipelago, rich with wildlife and Mamalilikulla First Nations history.

Bruce McMorran at Paddlers Inn
Paddlers Inn Water Taxi

5. Great Bear Rainforest, Bella Bella/Shearwater and Hakai Pass

On our two month, 600-km paddle from Bella Bella to Tofino, a number of our all-time favourite beaches and paddling memories were in this rugged part of the mid-coast: the magical McMullan Islands; the small islands off the southern tip of remote Goose Island; the entrance to Cultus Sound; the entire west coast of Calvert Island; and Burnett Bay, south of Cape Caution. While camping in the McMullan Islands, we met paddlers enjoying a one-way return paddle to Bella Bella after a water taxi drop-off on remote Goose Island.  Their time frame was tight, and they really wanted to see Goose Island and the McMullan Islands specifically.  But they would never have been able to reach this remote corner of the coast without the water taxi. 

Paddlers interested in guided trips in the area should check out the Great Bear Rainforest trip offered by Spirit of the West Adventures.  Their journey begins and ends in the Heiltsuk community of Bella Bella, reachable via a 2.5-hour flight from Vancouver or a BC Ferries trip from Port Hardy.   From Bella Bella, the route takes paddlers on a one-way journey south through beautiful beaches and wind-swept islands of this amazing wilderness archipelago.  To make the most of paddlers’ time and hit the best beaches along the way, a water taxi picks up paddlers at Calvert Island for the return trip to Bella Bella. Spirit of the West Adventures is not itself a water taxi service, but rather charters water taxi pick-up with a local Heiltsuk operator in Bella Bella called YuWala Marine Charters. YuWala has a number of boats catering to different group sizes and will arrange drop-off or pick-up at many locations in the area.

Water Taxi Picking up Spirit of the West Paddlers for the Return Trip to Bella Bella

Another great way to access this part of the coast is to travel with BC Ferries to Shearwater, then spend your first night at the Shearwater Resort.  This interesting resort and marina operates its own fleet of water taxis and will deliver kayakers and hikers to many different locations around the Great Bear Rainforest.  One classic paddle in the area is the one-way trip from Shearwater to Port Hardy via the McMullans, the west coast of Calvert Island and Burnett Bay.   A water taxi pick-up or drop-off is a great way to cut the trip down to whatever size fits within your personal vacation window.

6. Haida Gwaii

Planning a trip to the Gwaii Haanas Park Reserve on Haida Gwaii might seem overwhelming. Access is usually through Sandspit — either flying there directly or driving twenty minutes from the BC Ferries terminal at Alliford Bay.  But the distances from Sandspit to the prime paddling areas in the Gwaii Haanas are HUGE! (Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site)  So how do paddlers pull it off? By reaching out to Moresby Explorers.  

Moresby Explorers offers accommodation in Sandspit at their Seaport B&B.  From there or Alliford Bay, they’ll arrange ground transportation to Moresby Camp, the closest launch to Gwaii Haanas.  They’ll rent you all your kayaking gear.  Their Hurricane Zodiacs will transport you and your stuff to their floating lodge at the northern edge of Gwaii Haanas.  Or you can arrange pick-up and drop-off at other locations and open the door to an array of breathtaking one-way, two-way, or loop paddle routes. A BC Marine Trails board member used Moresby Explorers for two lengthy kayak expeditions in Haida Gwaii and was very impressed by their ‘great service’.  When his group’s circumstances changed on one of these trips, he was able to communicate directly with Moresby Explorers en route using an InReach Spot 2-way Satellite Phone to arrange an alternate pick-up location

Moresby Explorers' Taxi Service in Haida Gwaii

7. Nootka Island — A Classic Trip Aboard The MV Uchuck III

Paddlers seeking a trip back in time should catch a lift aboard the MV Uchuck III for a unique cruise aboard a historic vessel. Originally built in 1942, this 136-foot marvel has been in operation on the west coast of Vancouver Island since 1955.  With a comfortable wood-panelled lounge, coffee shop, and expansive open-air seating on the  upper deck, the Uchuck III offers front row seats to view the wild west coast of Vancouver Island.  Kayakers can securely load their kayaks and provisions, and then enjoy a marine cruise on a working cargo vessel with room for 100 passengers.

Starting From Gold River, the Uchuck III makes regularly scheduled runs to Friendly Cove/Yuquot where Captain Cook made first contact with local First Nations in 1777.  Continuing onward to Nuchatlitz Inlet, Esperanza Inlet, and Kyuquot, the Uchuck III stops at resorts, fish farms and logging camps to drop off supplies using a cargo winch system and lifting platform.  The same system is used to wet launch kayakers at select stops near prime wilderness paddling destinations.  Kayaks are positioned onto the lifting platform on the ship’s deck with the kayaker in position, ready to paddle. As the paddler hangs on to the cables, the lift platform is lowered overboard to just below the ocean’s surface, allowing the paddler to simply paddle off on his or her adventure.  

A BC Marine Trails board member raves about his classic cargo run aboard the Uchuck III.  He and a friend were dropped off at Nuchatlitz Inlet as the vessel made its overnight trip north to Kyuquot, then was picked up eight days later on the vessel’s return trip to Gold River.  For his friend, the adventure remains an all-time favourite kayaking memory.  Cheap too!  Fares aboard the Uchuck III are much cheaper than a privately chartered water taxi. 

Uchuck III at Friendly Cove
Wet Launch from the Uchuck III

8. Hot Springs Cove

Paddling from Tofino to Hot Springs Cove can be a tough upwind slog when summer northwest winds are blowing. A water taxi cuts the round trip in half and the direction of travel can be selected to take advantage of favourable winds.

9.Lasqueti Island and Jedediah Island

Concerned about the exposed crossing to Jedediah Island Marine Park? Consider the passenger ferry operated by Western Pacific Marine under contract to BC Ferries.  With three round trips between French Creek on Vancouver Island and False Bay on Lasqueti Island (5 days a week in summer) the hour-long ferry journey leads to a reasonably protected 24-km paddle to the main kayaker’s beach at Home Bay on Jedediah Island.  But be sure to call ahead.  If the Centurion VII ferry is running, it takes 59 passengers and many kayaks.  When the smaller Hollyburn is running (e.g. due to mechanical problems or crew shortages on the larger Centurion VII), it takes only 40 passengers and no kayaks.

10.  Vancouver Island Hiking Trails

Many coastal adventurers hike as well as kayak. They want a rainforest-‘n-beach vibe similar to the West Coast Trail, but minus the crowded summertime campsites.

Prior to her birthday bash, Julee and a friend caught a water taxi to Rugged Point for wilderness backpacking on its expansive windswept beach.  When our boys were young, we used Tofino Water Taxi to access the 16-km Ahousaht Wild Side Trail on Flores Island.  Recently, one of our sons used Cape Scott Water Taxi out of Port Hardy to access the start of the challenging 58-km North Coast Trail on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.  Many hikers use a Water Taxi out of Tahsis to access the 37-km Nootka Trail on the west coast of Nootka Island or the 50-km Hesquiat Peninsula Trail between Nootka Sound and Clayoquot Sound.

Backpacking the Ahousaht Wild Side Trail on Flores Island
Beaches Along the Wild Side Trail
Ahousaht

Booking A Water Taxi

Don’t expect booking a water taxi to be like booking a haircut at your local salon.  Some operators are established businesses with many employees and modern communications.  Others are in rural locations with poor internet or phone access and scarce staffing during the off-season.  During peak summer periods, small water taxi operators are often pulled in many different directions and may not immediately return phone calls or emails.  As with any adventure, curveballs happen. If you can’t deal with them, stay home.   Costs for regularly scheduled water transport like the Uchuck III are generally lower than for a private charter and per person costs for a private charter are lower for larger groups. Here are a few notable water taxi options with our apologies to operators who didn’t turn up in our search and aren’t listed:

LocationWater Taxi Services Appearing in This Article* (clickable links below)
Broughton ArchipelagoPaddlers Inn Water Taxi
Clayoquot SoundTofino Water Taxi 
Cape ScottCape Scott Water Taxi
Great Bear Rainforest, (Includes Bella Bella, Shearwater & Hakai Pass)Spirit of the West Adventures  
Great Bear RainforestYuWala Marine Charters
Great Bear RainforestShearwater Resort
Haida GwaiiMoresby Explorer  
Kyuquot SoundVoyager Water Taxi
Kyuquot SoundSiiqaa Water Taxi
Kyuquot SoundWest Coast Expeditions
Lasqueti IslandLasqueti Island Ferry
Nootka & Kyuquot SoundUchuck III Water Taxi
LocationOther Water Taxi Services
Desolation SoundLund Water Taxi 
Discovery IslandsDiscovery Launch Water Taxi
Discovery IslandsWay West Water Taxi
Gulf IslandsGulf Islands Water Taxi 
Howe SoundSea Dog Expeditions 
Nootka SoundMowachaht/Muchalkaht First Nation Water Taxi 
Nootka SoundShorebird Expeditions 
Nootka SoundZeballos  Expeditions Water Taxi

* Note:  Westcoast Expeditions and Spirit of the West Adventures are tour companies that use water taxis for guided trips and are not water taxi companies.

The Demise of the Lady Rose

No discussion of water taxis in British Columbia is complete without acknowledging the unfortunate demise of the iconic Lady Rose, a beloved vessel that served as a lifeline for kayakers, hikers, and adventurers for decades.  A few years ago, the Lady Rose stopped delivering kayakers from Port Alberni to the Broken Group Islands in Pacific Rim National Park. Its loss was felt deeply in the kayaking community but underscores the importance of the remaining water taxi operators who continue to provide vital services along the BC coast.  Lady Rose Marine Services continues to operate the MV Frances Barkley on a route between Port Alberni and Bamfield.

Conclusion

Sea kayaking along British Columbia’s rugged coast is hard.  Kayakers must contend with long distances, strong winds, unpredictable weather, and all the other demands of self-supported expeditions. By making adventures both more accessible and more enjoyable, water taxis are a valuable tool to help access our coastal paradise.  Water taxis help paddlers get the most out of scarce vacation time, access more remote areas, paddle with greater safety, workaround injuries and infirmities, and concentrate on the most rewarding aspects of their journeys.   We consider operators like Leo Jack, Bruce McMorran, Tony Hansen, Westcoast Expeditions and the Uchuck III to be valuable adventure partners, helping kayakers immerse themselves in the breathtaking landscapes and marine life of the coast. Although the iconic Lady Rose may have retired, the legacy of water taxis in British Columbia lives on, providing paddlers with the opportunity to explore more, paddle further, and savour the magic of the BC coast.

Jerry & Julee Kaye

Jerry and Julee have been exploring the coast of British Columbia by kayak and sailboat for over 35 years. They live in Vancouver.

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