Clayoquot Sound was the site of an intense battle in the early 1990s between multinational logging interests and a coalition of environmental and Native Indian groups. Hundreds were arrested for blockading logging roads but ultimately protesters won a number of concessions over big business. Not the least of these was, belatedly, a five year moratorium on all logging in the area with perpetual protection for many major blocks of rain forest.

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Kayaking out of Tofino, on the edge of Clayoquot Sound, is logistically very simple. The Tofino Sea Kayaking Company, where you pick up your kayak is located next to the Canadian Coast Guard just a few steps away from the bus depot. After you arrive walk down towards the main dock turning right on Main Street. You cannot miss the funky kayak shop and espresso bar.

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Getting to Tofino by bus, while pretty simple from Vancouver, is a full day trip. Nonetheless, if you arrive in the mid-afternoon, June to September, there's still plenty of time to get organized, equipped and paddle 4 km over to a gorgeous sandy beach on Vargas Island. Since the beach, which lies south of Rassier Point, is somewhat exposed to the open Pacific you can expect to be kayaking in fairly heavy rollers with surf breaking on the beach making landing troublesome at the very least. There's only one thing to do. Ride the surf in while paddling like mad and then, when the surf recedes leaving you high and dry on the beach, quickly jump out and pull your craft further up the beach before the next breaker rolls in. The southern end of the beach belongs to the Yarkis Indian reserve. Respect this traditional land and refrain from camping here.

If you decide to stay in a hotel with a real bed and a shower check out Maquinna Lodge, virtually across the street from the Tofino Sea Kayaking Company. It's nothing special but the rooms are clean and quiet and it's budget-priced. As always reservations are recommended.

From your campsite on the edge of Clayoquot Sound you have choices, many choices. This book will outline two popular routes but the sound is a nearly limitless web of open Pacific and protected inland waterways, islands big and small with channels and inlets and arms and bays reaching in every direction. You could easily spend weeks exploring this part of the coast and still never see it all. A word of warning however. Do not venture beyond land into the open Pacific unless you are a confident kayaker with many nautical kilometres and years of paddling behind you.

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Dentalia Shells

These thin, tubular mollusks formed the currency of commerce throughout the Pacific Northwest as long as 3000 years ago. Pre-European civilization is often considered a barter economy, with, for instance, coastal tribes swapping oolichan grease directly for prized Oregon obsidian. Commodity traders, however, could rely on this wampum to close a transaction when interest in the goods was decidedly one-sided. Called hykwa in Chinook jargon, dentalia shells possessed all the necessary attributes of money, being portable, recognizable and durable but rare and desirable enough to foster trade. Being available in a variety of sizes, the tusk-like shells were even divisible into small change. Professional traders are known to have tattooed measuring lines on their forearms as a handy calculator of individual shell values. Only a handful of groups, including the Nuu-chah-nulth in the vicinity of Tofino, possessed dentalia in quantities sufficient enough to make them wealthy. Harvesting the deep water mollusks was no easy undertaking however. From a dugout canoe a long, broom-like apparatus was thrust straight down into the muddy sea bottom then retrieved. With any luck a shell or two would be trapped amongst the stiff twigs at the end of the handle. Dentalia were also ostentatiously displayed as symbols of wealth and power in the form of body adornments. Perhaps most recognizable are the breast plates invariably worn by cheesy Hollywood Indians.

Illustration by Manami Kimura