We traveled south to our final destination on Vancouver Island, Campbell River, about halfway between Victoria and Telegraph Cove. We’d booked a waterfront campsite, a bit of a splurge, but it was to be our last campground near the ocean for a while.
Campbell River is a pretty large town with a population of over 31,000 people and is a supply point for Northern Vancouver Island and a couple of other islands. The river, which the town is named after, drains into Discovery Passage, a channel separating Vancouver Island and Quadra Island.
The channel links Johnstone Strait with the Strait of Georgia. It is part of the Inside Passage to Alaska.
One of the “features” of the campground is that cruise ships to and from Alaska pass right in front of the campsites during the night. The campground staff actually list which ships are scheduled to travel each night and provide a website for cruise ship tracking. So we discovered that it’s possible to track any cruise ships position at any time. Who knew?
With such a lovely campsite we took it easy for a couple of days and hung out. There were crazy currents and whirlpools and passing boat traffic. It was sort of mesmerizing.
The town of Campbell River is also known as the “Salmon Capital of the World” according to their tourist literature, and many people come here to fish. And, even though Hector and I don’t fish, we checked out the Discovery Fishing Pier.
And took a walk on Pier Street, “the birthplace of the city”. The pier was pretty cool with built-in rod holders, bait stands, and fish cleaning tables; obviously a great place to fish for those without a boat.
There is also a tiny aquarium that collects specimens from the nearby waters in the spring and places them in tanks in water that is pumped from the Discovery Passage. The specimens are returned to their place of origin after the season. We didn’t visit the aquarium, but the premise sounds very interesting.
Last but not least, the pier has a little concession stand that served us some very nice fish (halibut) and chips.
Back in Telegraph Cove, we had asked the captain of our whale watching boat, who is from Campbell River originally, for recommendations on boating in the area. He recommended a marine wildlife and tidal rapids tour that is not solely focused on the whales.
So we visited the sister company to the Telegraph Cove tour company, Discovery Marine Safaris, on Pier Street and Hector asked for a “frequent customer” discount. And we got one! And it turned out that the captain that was going to lead our tour was the older brother of the captain on our whale watching tours.
The marine wildlife tour goes out into the Discovery Passage and between the nearby islands looking for marine mammals, eagles and other birdlife, and for whales if they’re in the area. It’s a four-hour tour in a smaller boat than the one used for their whale watching tour.
After a bit of traveling we went right by our campground on our way to see if we could catch up with some whales the captain had heard were in the area (no luck).
But the unique part of this tour is that the boat takes you through various tidal rapids. These are formed when incoming tides are forced to travel through narrow channels that have ledges and pinnacles at the bottom. The rapids made early travel in the area treacherous, and some are still impassable by larger vessels.
The tides are, of course, affected by the gravitational effect of the moon. And since we were between the full and new moons, the rapids were not very high. But they were still impressive, like river rapids but without the big drops. And, like river rapids, they had whirpools, boils and eddies.
We rode through Yuculta Rapids, known as the most treacherous of all, then Dent Rapids and Arran Rapids. After our run through the rapids, we stopped for lunch in one of the mellower whirpools downstream. We floated there and it spun us around slowly as we sat. This was definitely a first for us.
We hurried over to the Museum at Campbell River but it was only going to be open for a little over an hour. The very nice lady at the front desk gave us a ticket with a pass to return the next day. Perfect.
The museum includes exhibits of First Nations cultures, my favorite was a wonderful story told in conjunction with a mask display. There are also exhibits on logging, pioneer life, sport fishing, and the salmon industry.
It also features several movies including a film about the largest non-nuclear explosion in history. Ripple Rock was an underwater mountain that created a marine hazard on the trade route north from Vancouver.
This planned explosion, which took place in 1958, took three years of work by hundreds of men building shafts in the rock in which to place explosives (2.7 million pounds of TNT). The film takes you through much of the men’s work through to the final explosion. It was an astounding event.
More walks around town revealed reminders of the First Nations who originally inhabited this region.
It was time to get out on the water again, and, having experienced tidal rapids, we decided to go out on the much calmer Campbell River Estuary, much of which has been restored after it had become “an industrial pit”.
The restoration work was done through a partnership between the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Tula Foundation and others. Work began in 1999 and included purchasing a couple of islands, cleaning up concrete and fill, regrading the shoreline, digging new backchannels and replanting marsh vegetation in marsh and riparian areas.