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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Kayaking Jug Island

Seth and I started kayaking a few years ago in an effort to find a hobby that we both enjoyed. I love backpacking and camping and Seth likes hiking and camping, but he does not really like backpacking. Seth kayaked with his family as a kid and liked it, so I thought touring with sea kayaks might be a good shared hobby for us because we could get out in nature and go camping without having to carry packs. Turns out it was a great idea and we both loved it! We took a kayaking basics course in 2018 and have gone on a 3-day trip every year since, so this year we decided to get ourselves a pair of kayaks!

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Kayaks are definitely not cheap and have a lot of costs that come along with them (roof rack, paddles, PFDs, skirts, etc). To date we’ve always rented kayaks, and while that’s not cheap either, you can still go on quite a few trips before it approaches the cost of buying your own. But we’d like to start doing day and evening paddles as well, so we decided it was worth the money and are super excited about our new boats! We got them at Skyview Outdoor Store in Surrey, which I would highly recommend. We both got Boreal Storm 16 kayaks, which means they are 16 foot long sea touring kayaks. To differentiate between the two, I got a yellow one and Seth got red.

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We took them out on their maiden voyage over the Easter weekend in early April. We wanted to launch from the Belcarra picnic area, but we were a little too late getting started on Easter Sunday and couldn’t find parking, so instead we took them over to Sasamat Lake. It’s a nice little lake and it was fun to test them out there, but it’s a bit on the small side, so we returned to Belcarra early on Easter Monday to kayak to Jug Island. If you’re planning to explore (by foot or boat) from the picnic area, arriving early is a must as its a small parking lot and Metro Vancouver does close the road once it’s full. They have also introduced pay parking this year for $2 an hour. There is an upside though – you can get public transit to both Sasamat Lake at Belcarra from Moody Centre!

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We had absolutely perfect weather for it on the day we went – blue skies with a dead calm on the water. I really like Belcarra Regional Park and I’ve hiked out to Jug Island a few times. It’s only a 5km hike, so I recommend checking it out on foot if you’re in the area, but this time I definitely preferred visiting by boat! We took our time paddling up the coast looking at all the giant homes along the water. It has a very urban feel until you reach the end of the peninsula, but once you round the corner you can see Jug Island and up Indian Arm and it feels much more remote.

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We paddled around Jug Island and then pulled into the little beach at the end of the trail to have a snack. We didn’t see any other paddlers on the way out, but there were already quite a few hikers enjoying the view. We paddled a little further up to take a peak into Bedwell Bay and get some photos up Indian Arm before turning around and heading back. We saw a lot more paddlers on our way back and round trip it was about 7km of paddling. With the break at the beach looking towards Jug Island, I thought this was a really good half day beginner paddle!

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Going in April though, you definitely need to play close attention to the weather conditions and dress for it. It was a gorgeous sunny day when we went and Seth even kayaked just in a t-shirt for part of it, but the water is freezing, so I had a merino layer under my waterproof jacket and gloves and headband to keep my ears warm (plus extra fleece layers in my dry bag). I’m planning to invest in some neoprene booties next because the water is cold on your feet so early in the season!

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Now that we have kayaks, I’ll likely be posting a lot more content about kayaking. We have a few ideas for where we’d like to take them this year, but since we’re still new to the kayaking scene, would love to hear anyone else’s recommendations! Like I said, we have the Sea Kayaking Basics course from Paddle Canada, but we’re planning to upgrade to their Level 1 course soon to grow our knowledge and be more prepared on the water.

Looking forward to lots of new adventures!