Level: Challenging

Distance: 49 km

Time: 2-3 days

Warning: Marine Traffic

Marine Chart: 3526

Click to View Map

Tide Table: Squamish

While Bowen Island is without suitable camping, Gambier Island is well-appointed with beaches and should form a key element to any multi-day paddle in the Howe Sound area. Launch your kayak from Tunstall Bay on the west side of Bowen Island and then head directly west through the Paisley Group of islands towards Plumper Cove on the far side of Keats Island. Since the campground on Keats is relatively close at hand spend some time poking around the Paisley Group.

At Plumper Cove you'll find 20 walk-in campsites, pit toilets and many larger boats moored off shore. Click here for a full description of Keats Island.

Risky Business

An alternative route takes you directly north from Tunstall Bay along the western shore of Bowen Island towards Hope Point 10 km away on Gambier Island. The final 2 km cuts across open water, use caution and avoid dallying as you cross the ferry lane here. Unlike the busy Horseshoe Bay - Nanaimo route, ferries pass through this waterway only about once an hour. Never, however, attempt such a crossing under foggy conditions or when visibility is limited.

From Hope Point you can explore Port Graves, Centre Bay and West Bay or dash directly across the harbour mouth for the distant Grace Islands 5 km away.

Whichever route you choose follow the Gambier Island coast northwards towards Woolridge Island. To your left you'll notice the communities of Langdale where the ferry docks, Williamsons Landing, Twin Creeks, Port Mellon and Longview stretched out along the shore of the Sechelt Peninsula. With the exception of the small community of New Brighton, the shore of Gambier Island to the east is largely uninhabited.

In spite of the proximity of the pulp mill at Port Mellon, the waters of Thornbrough Channel are reputed to be excellent for salmon fishing. Try trolling at slow speed as you make your way northward. Bottom feeding fish may contain toxins generated at the pulp mills nearby. Pulp manufacturing is a known source of deadly dioxin and furan pollution.

As you round the northern shore of Gambier Island cut across the channel towards the long stretch of beach at McNab Creek. With plenty of potable water, driftwood for fire making, open beach for tenting and few vestiges of civilization this is about as perfect a camping spot as you'll find in the Howe Sound area. An Indian pictograph can even be found on rocks to the east of the creek itself. The future of the McNab Creek area is somewhat uncertain as industrial development in the form of a liquid natural gas plant has been proposed for the area.

Hiking Side Trip

Next morning, invigorated by a good night's sleep, paddle 3 km back across Thornbrough Channel to Ekins Point on Gambier Island and find the hiking route to Gambier Lake behind the yacht club outstation. Taking a mere 1½ hours round trip, this hike, though a bit steep, is most definitely worth it.

From Ekins Point follow the shore east then south and within 4 km you'll note a number of small but suitable camping beaches. Plan to linger here over night at least as this is the closest you'll get to wilderness in Howe Sound.

Rather than set up camp so early you may wish to cut across Ramillies Channel and circumnavigate fortress-like Anvil Island. The steep cliffs of Anvil Island make landing or camping here virtually impossible.

Journey's End

As day three breaks keep in mind that journey's end is still 18 km away. There are, however, a number of worthy points of interest on the way. Christie Island is a rookery for seagulls and cormorants while Pam Rock is a favourite basking place for a colony of harbour seals. Refrain from approaching too closely in both places to avoid startling the wildlife.

From Halkett Bay at the southwestern corner of Gambier Island a six hour return hike to the summit of 614 metre Mount Artaban can be undertaken by the truly adventuresome. The hike is detailed here. Be sure to leave plenty of time to scoot back across the sea lanes to Bowen Island.

Halkett Bay Provincial Marine Park has a few rustic campsites on shore as well as a dock and pit toilets if time is running short and you decide to spend one final night in the out of doors. The minimum time necessary to circumnavigate Gambier Island is two full days of paddling.

For kayak rentals contact: Bowen Island Sea Kayaking

The End

Bull kelp

Bull Kelp

Besides being edible, and delicious at that, this gigantic algae had a number of important technological uses for coastal First Nations. The stalks were spliced together to make fishing lines hundreds of metres long. Though brittle when dried the lines could be thus stored indefinitely. Soaking before use would resore pliability and strength suited to hauling halibut from the depths. The hollow stalks could be employed as water conduits as well. Bulb and wide upper stalk were employed in the kitchen as squeeze tubes and storage containers for edible oils. Salves and ointments made of deer fat and other ingredients could be poured in the bulbs as well. Upon hardening the kelp was peeled away leaving a "cake" of skin cream or sun screen

Illustration by Manami Kimura