Kayaking Twin Islands

Since we weren’t allowed to travel outside of our health region over the May Long weekend, options for camping were pretty slim in the lower mainland. We’ve been wanting to kayak up Indian Arm since before we bought our own kayaks, and we decided to do a short trip out to Twin Islands on Saturday night.

Carolyn and Steve have a sailboat that they dock at Lonsdale, so the plan was for them to spend the night in Bedford Bay, near Belcarra, we would camp on Twin Islands, and then we could explore around Indian Arm together on the sailboat.

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Me and Seth wanted to leave out of Belcarra, but there’s no overnight parking anywhere in Belcarra (they really need to do something about this, I’m fine to pay for it, but there’s literally no options), so we were forced to leave from Deep Cove instead. Usually we launch from Belcarra around 9am and have no problems with parking, so we figured that would be sufficient for Deep Cove as well. We offloaded the kayaks and all our gear at the main parking lot and then I went in search of street parking while Seth brought everything down to the beach.

I was not prepared for how busy Deep Cove was at 9am. It was completely crawling with other boaters and picnickers. I drove around for ages looking for street parking before finally giving up and parking way up in the bush and walking 15 minutes back to the beach. The boat loading zone has to be one of the worst designed loading zones I’ve ever seen. People were double parked all over the road and the beach in front of the kayak rental shop must have had about 2 dozen paddlers.

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We had offloaded further down the beach, so it was just us and a family of 4 who were loading up their canoe. It was a gorgeous hot, sunny day, so we put on sunscreen before launching into Deep Cove towards Twin Islands. Our plan was to go directly to the island to secure a campsite and then spend the rest of the day around Indian Arm. It was still really calm on the water when we left, so a lot of the paddlers charted a direct course across Indian Arm to Twin Islands. I don’t like paddling in the middle of a huge open body of water for extended periods of time, so we clung to the coast until we were parallel with Raccoon island before crossing Indian Arm.

As the name suggests, Twin Islands comprises two islands located very close together. When the tide is low, you can walk between the two, when the tide is high, you can paddle between them. The tide was pretty high when we arrived, so I paddled around to have a look at the two islands. The North Island has steep cliffs along the exterior and the only way to get on the island is from a dock on the north side. In contrast, there is a small beach on the South Island where you can land, so we decided to land there.

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Seth took a quick run around the island, it’s not very big and there were already several tents set up, but he found a nice spot looking north across the inlet. We dragged all our gear up to the site, but decided to relax and have lunch before setting up. Unfortunately, it was then that Carolyn called to tell us they weren’t going to be able to make it out for the day. They had loaded all their gear onto the sailboat and backed out of the marina, only to discover their throttle was broken. They could reverse, but they couldn’t get the boat to go forward! So they were going to have to commit the day to fixing the problem before they could do any sailing.

After we had lunch I heard some other paddlers talking to the people in the campsite next to us about how camping isn’t actually allowed on the south island and debating whether to camp there or not. This came as a surprise to me because I hadn’t read about it anywhere in my research and couldn’t see any signs. We did some quick research since we still had cell service and I was able to find one line on the parks webpage that says “south island is just for day use”. Then I did a walk around the entire island and did find a single sign in the middle with a no camping symbol. We didn’t notice it when we first came in because it’s not visible from the water and another group had literally set their tent up right in front of it.

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So we had a little bit of a dilemma. I hate breaking rules in the backcountry because they usually exist for a reason. In this case, I suspect it’s because there’s no outhouse on the south island. We had come prepared for this because I actually thought there was no outhouse on either island, but my conscience didn’t feel right to camp on the island once I knew you weren’t supposed to, even though clearly other people we’re doing it. To be frank, the entire island was a bit of a gong show. There were boats everywhere and tons of picnickers and campers.

We had wasted time on the south island offloading and eating our lunch and I knew sites were now going to be slim on the North Island as well. So we debated what to do for a while and eventually decided to pack everything back up and skip camping altogether. The day was mostly supposed to be about spending time with Steve and Carolyn and neither of us was excited about camping on a super crowded island. Instead, we decided to paddle around Indian Arm for the afternoon and then return to Deep Cove before dark. It was a little disappointing, but I know we made the right chose not to camp where it’s not permitted.

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At least we hadn’t set up any gear, so it didn’t take too long to repack the kayaks. A dozen people had abandoned their boats on the small beach and neglected to give any thought to the rising tide, so Seth rescued 2 kayaks and a canoe that had started to float away because they hadn’t been tied on. We were both incredulous at such a level of negligence that we weren’t sad to leave Twin Islands behind. I would have liked to check out the North Island at least, but the dock makes it very difficult because you have to carry your kayaks up the gangway and store them on the island, which neither of us wanted to do with fully loaded boats.

We had the current with us, so we decided to paddle up Indian Arm a little way to see the old Buntzen Lake powerhouse. It was a quick paddle along the coast to get to the powerhouse, but the water was getting pretty choppy so I was a little nervous. I read that Indian Arm is best paddled in the early morning or in the evening and that the wind tends to come up in the afternoon. This was our first time paddling in the afternoon and it definitely wasn’t the best conditions. There’s no where to land by the powerhouse so we decided to make our crossing and head over to Thwaytes Landing, a small section of beach that has been designated as a Regional Park.

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It was an uncomfortable paddle, especially when any motorized boats would pass us, throwing their wake up over the tops of our kayaks. Normally I don’t have a problem with power boats, but these were not being considerate of paddlers and would speed by very close to us. I know they have the right of way, but they’re a lot faster than me and if they decide to pass right next to me, there’s really nothing I can do about it. It was a choppy landing at Thwaytes, but we had the beach to ourselves. There’s no facilities and it’s one of the stranger regional parks I’ve visited, but it’s great that it exists because there aren’t many rest points for paddlers along the arm.

The waves did die down a little bit while we hung out on the beach, so we decided to re-launch while things were a bit calmer. We didn’t want to go any further up the arm, so we started back the same direction we’d come. The waves had gone down a little, but there was still a pretty strong headwind to paddle against. We definitely got a good work-out and took another break at Brighton Beach, which is across from Twin Islands. It’s not a public beach, but we figured we could break at the end because generally you can’t own the beach below the high tide line (although Seth did some research and there are homeowners that own the beach because they bought the land before this rule came into effect). Unlike the camping rules though, I don’t care so much about this one!

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We were interested in going back to Twin Islands to go for a swim, but we didn’t want to cross the arm again, so we decided to head back to Deep Cove instead. It was tiring and took longer than anticipated, but we managed okay and finally paddled into the cove around 5pm. The water was surprisingly warm, so I decided to go for a quick swim in Deep Cove. Pre-Covid I would always go on a May Long weekend camping trip with my friends and me and Carolyn would go swimming, so I always swim at the end of May and all I can say is the ocean is definitely warmer than the alpine lakes!

I hiked back up to the car and we re-loaded the kayaks and all our gear. I texted Carolyn to let her know we were back and she quickly gave me a call to see if we wanted to come join them for supper since we were still in North Van. So we ended up picking up take-away and eating our dinner on the sailboat sitting in the marina! Not quite the meal we’d planned for the day, but we laughed that at least we finally got to hang out on the boat! We’ll definitely try the trip again in the future, but next time we’ll try to paddle out Friday night instead of Saturday morning to hopefully beat some of the crowds. Or potentially even go on a weeknight because it’s just so busy on the weekends, it does take away from the experience.

So overall, not the trip we planned, but we made the best of it and had some lessons learned about paddling in Indian Arm. Fortunately, since we don’t have to rent kayaks, it’s relatively easy to try the trip again soon.

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