Monday, January 14, 2008

Barkley Sounds Deer Islands; Kayak Paradise

Want to avoid the kayak crowds? Consider the Deer Group, nestled along the south shore of British Columbia’s Barkley Sound. Less popular than the Broken Islands, six miles to the north, the Deer Group can be reached without the use of a ferry or the risk of a long open water paddle. That said, the area is not for beginners; the Sound opens up to the vast Pacific Ocean and weather can turn ugly but, if you plan ahead and watch the forecast, you can take advantage of the protection offered by the Deer Islands.

The best launch site is the little town of Bamfield, about two hours west of Port Alberni. If you arrive late you can camp near town or take advantage of several B&B’s in the area. ( &

After launching in town a two mile paddle puts you in the islands. We chose Diana, one of the closest, and used it as a base for exploring the west end of the Group. Weather permitting a paddle to the Folger Island sea lion colony is worth the effort. The noisy animals will protest your presence while they entertain you with their diving and barking antics.

Having spent two days exploring the west end of the Group we broke camp and headed northeast toward the Stud Islet off the north shore of Tzartus Island. The shoreline varies and numerous rock caves beckon the curious paddler along the way.

Campsites are scattered throughout the Deer Group. Some are on Native Reserves and require prior permission to use. One of the best resources for the area is the Barkley Sound map produced by Coastal Waters Recreation. ( They are not navigation charts but they do show campsites, points of interest and areas that might be challenging for a paddler. The size of a highway map they are easy to handle on the water and in camp.

We found a sandy beach camp site in the Stud Islets, just south of Weld Island.

The next day we headed southwest, cutting through Robbers Passage to explore the south side of Flemming Island. The Port Alberni Yacht Club outstation, in the passage, was the only sign of development we encountered the entire time. We ended up in a prepared campsite on Sanford Island. We were told the site was maintained by a gentleman who claimed the island as his own. Since it was fall, he was not in residence and we took advantage of the wonderful surroundings.

One note about Deer Group paddling. Water is scarce. Hard to believe in the rainy northwest but it’s true. There are creeks on Tzartus Island, near Holford Bay, and on the southern end but we didn’t go ashore to find them. We made do with the water we carried.

For more information on paddling the Deer Group Mary Ann Snowdon’s classic, “Sea Kayak the Gulf Islands” (formerly Island Paddling) is recommended and available at

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