A lonely dusting of islands on the west coast of Canada, the Broken Group Islands are a kayaker’s dream destination. The group, which includes more than 100 uninhabited islands, is a secluded marine wilderness which offers adventure for paddlers of all ages and skill levels.
The sheltered waters of the inner islands provide calm and clear paddling for hobby kayakers who are more interested in seal spotting and enjoying the scenery than fighting the elements.
The outer islands, teetering on the edge of the wide-open Pacific Ocean, provide a thrill ride for more experienced kayakers, who don’t mind battling wind, waves, and currents in the name of adventure.
The Broken Group Islands
There are sandy beaches, lagoons, sea caves, and quiet coves to explore. Harbour seals play hide-and-seek off the side of your kayak while bald eagles soar overhead and fish dart through the clear waters below. Quiet forested islands proved ample secluded camping spots and the west coast sunsets are just exceptional.
Because it is remote and only accessible by water, this idyllic kayaking destination manages to remain peaceful and pristine, despite its fame. With no electricity, fresh water, or shelter available, a kayaking trip in the Broken Group Islands requires a lot of planning to ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure.
When I set out on a kayaking trip with eight adults and seven kids, I was expecting fights, tears, and tantrums – you know, the usual behaviour when you travel with a bunch of grown-ups. Instead, the adults were happy and well-behaved for the entire trip – and so were the kids.
Tips for Broken Islands Kayaking
Here are my top tips for not only surviving but actually enjoying a family kayaking trip.
1. Plan Like Your Life Depends on It
Usually, on my adventures, I try to avoid too much planning and preparation, instead allowing the wind to take me where it may. However, when you’re travelling to a place where there is no food, water, or electricity, careful planning could make the difference between an enjoyable adventure and a Man vs Wild-style fight for your life. If you don’t want to end up sleeping in a tree and drinking your own urine, a few weeks of planning before leaving for the Broken Group is an absolute must.
Start by making a master list of all the gear you will need to take, a list of what is being supplied by your kayak rental company, and a list of all the food and water you will pack. Depending on the size and configuration of your kayak, you may be pressed for space, so just winging it and bringing everything but the kitchen sink is not going to work.
Here’s our kayaking packing list for the Broken Group Islands, to get you started
2. Follow the Leader
Our group was fortunate enough to have a natural-born organizer and leader in the shape of Sara, my sister-in-law, who spent a year on a sailboat with her family of five. Not only did she hatch the plan in the first place, but she also invited the families who came along and organized hotel stays, ferry rides, kayak rentals, and park passes for us. She decided where we would head the first day and found out which island would be the best for our large group.
The rest of us, though several of us are also type-A organizers, happily followed her lead, letting her make arrangements on our behalf, and trusting that she would handle the details of the journey.
Nominating a group leader does put a lot of strain on that person, but allowing Sara to run with it and going happily along with her plans meant that instead of hundreds of emails back and forth debating the merits of each new possibility, we were quick and efficient with our communications.
They usually went something like this.
Sara: I was thinking it would be smart to camp on a single island and take day trips from there.
The rest of us: Sounds great!
The caveat? If you don’t do your own planning and booking, you don’t get to complain if things go wrong.
3. Stay in One Place
If we had visited the islands alone, my husband Stephen and I would probably have treated it as a mini-tour, moving from island to island each day. With a group of 15, staying on one island and taking day trips in the kayaks makes much more sense.
The amount of gear, water, and food that we had to carry was overwhelming, and fitting that gear through the small kayak hatches into the holds was a mind-boggling exercise in spacial relations. Limiting our kayak packing chore to two times – once on the way there and once on the way home – was a smart move.
3. Let the Kayaking Group Split
Staying in one place also meant that we didn’t always have to travel as a group. While it was fun to paddle en masse to our campsite, it was also painfully slow. The teenagers in the group spent more time waiting than paddling while the parents carrying kids in double kayaks had to work twice as hard to keep up.
Once we’d made camp, we were all free to do as we pleased. While some of us wanted to brave longer day trips to the outer islands, others were happier to stay on the beach, playing in the sand, or snorkelling in the crystal clear water. Still, others preferred short, easy paddles through the calm waters of the inner islands.
4. Come Together for 5pm Appetizers
The success of the entire adventure hinged on this one genius idea, another brainchild from Chief Organizer Sara. Since we had four afternoons to spend on the islands and four families travelling together, each day, one family was responsible for providing a group-wide appetizer that we could munch on in the late afternoon.
After a full day of kayaking, this snack was an absolute necessity to provide the energy to keep hungry kids (and adults) sane while we prepped dinner on our tiny camp stoves.
5. Divide and Conquer at Mealtimes
Ever tried to plan a meal for 15 people with diverse eating habits and nutritional requirements? Not an easy task. Now imagine trying to make dinner for 15 with no water or electricity in a kitchen made of driftwood, shells, and sand. Yikes.
To avoid that unappealing scenario, we split into family groups at mealtimes, each family preparing their own food around a central “kitchen” area we had set up on the beach. We ate as a loose group, each person digging in as soon as his or her individual meal was ready.
Another hat tip to Sara, who created and shared a daily meal plan about a week before we set out. The other families, including us, cribbed from Sara’s menu which meant that our meals were in sync. One night, we all made Japanese curry, and one morning, we had a pancake cook-off on our four camp stoves. Here’s our meal plan for the trip
This prevented any green-eyed envy when meals were being served and it was a nice way to share a group meal while still splitting the burden of cooking. Like the 5pm appetizers, desserts were a group affair, being provided by one family each night.
6. Get Playful
If your kids (or adults) are used to hot and cold running TV, internet and video games, the long evenings on the beach might start to feel pretty dull. To keep everyone entertained, bring a few games along for your family kayaking trip in the Broken Group.
Bring games that can be enjoyed by as wide an audience as possible, take a long time to play, and depend more upon imagination than complicated pieces that will be lost on the beach. Spies-versus-government role-playing game The Resistance was a hit with our group.
Even the 9-year-old girls got into it! A pared-down version of Dungeons and Dragons also kept the older kids happy late into the evening.
7. Bring Wetsuits and Snorkel Gear
While some people report needing wetsuits for kayaking in this part of the world, we found that the weather was plenty warm and we were happy with just t-shirts and shorts. But, since the water in the Broken Group circulates freely with water from the open ocean, it stays extremely cold, hovering at around 10C (50F) all year round.
In water this cold, most of us couldn’t even immerse ourselves without wetsuits, let alone stay in long enough to spy on the creatures that populate the underwater world. For the swimmers and snorkelers in the group, wetsuits were an absolute must.
Practicalities of a Broken Group Island Kayaking Trip
Depending on where you live, getting to the Broken Group Islands will involve some combinations of planes, boats, cars and kayaks, of course. First, you have to get to Vancouver Island
Getting to the Broken Group Islands
If you’re leaving from Vancouver, board the ferry to Nanaimo either at Horseshoe Bay or Tsawwassen. Alternatively, you can fly from Vancouver to Nanaimo or Tofino. From there, you’ll need to drive to one of three kayak launch points for the Broken Group.
Launching from Port Alberni
If you’re coming from Tofino, you can board the Lady Rose ferry in Ucluelet instead. Lady Rose rents kayaks which are fully equipped with safety gear, including life jackets, spare paddles, and paddle floats.
Boarding the ferry with a week’s worth of food, water, and camping gear sounds daunting. To make it easy, Lady Rose provides huge plastic bins that can be loaded in the parking lot. Then, they haul the bins onto the ferry and unload them onto the dock at the other end.
On our arrival at Sechart Lodge, our rental kayaks were ready and waiting for us to load. From the dock, it is a one-hour paddle to Hand Island, which is a popular first-night campsite. We chose to camp on Willis Island, which is about a three-hour paddle from Sechart.
Secret Beach Kayak Launch
If you want to avoid the ferry hassle, you can launch from Secret Beach, about 45 minutes from Ucluelet.
Getting to Secret Beach involves driving along 13 km of gravel road, so go slowly and allow yourself extra time to get there. There is a paid parking lot at the launch point and also a large campground. The paddle from Secret Beach to Hand Island, the nearest campsite, is around 3 hours.
Water Taxi from Ucluelet
The third way to get to the Broken Group is via water taxi from Ucluelet. The ride takes between 45 minutes and an hour, and you can also rent kayaks from the water taxi company, Broken Island Adventures. They will drop you and your gear off on one of the islands and will pick you up later at an arranged time and place.
If you’re staying overnight in The Broken Group Islands, you need to get a camping permit. Find out more about fees and how to pay them here.
When to Go to Broken Group Island
High season in the Broken Group starts mid-July and runs through to the end of August. We were there during the last week in June, as soon as the kids were out of school. It seemed like the ideal time – we couldn’t have asked for better weather, while we had campgrounds and waterways practically to ourselves.
What to Bring on a Broken Group Island Kayaking Trip
Here’s our kayaking packing list to get you started The Broken Group Islands Paddler’s Preparation Guide from Parks Canada has a comprehensive packing and gear list.
How Much Water to Bring?
There is no fresh water on the islands, so you need to pack in enough water for your stay. The recommended amount is a gallon of water per person per day. Everyone in our party brought about 10% more than that and we ended up paddling back home with several gallons of extra water.
Despite the added weight, it was nice to have the security of a little extra water. Bringing most of our water in one-gallon containers allowed us to slip it into all the small storage spaces on the kayaks. Larger containers are much harder to manage.
- Check out the free Travel Planner’s Cheat Sheet by My Five Acres.
Do you have questions or tips about family kayaking? Add them to the comments below and we’ll try our best to help