Photograph by Catherine Karnow
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Kayakers get the best views in the Discovery Islands, where outdoor activities are popular.
Photograph by Catherine Karnow

The Discovery Islands

Meet British Columbia’s best kept secret. Tucked between Vancouver Island and the mainland, and unreachable by car or foot, this untamed set of ten islands demands to be explored by kayak. Explains Carol Perry, owner of Perrywinkle Cottage on Quadra Island: "The Discovery Islands are everything you imagine the west coast of Canada to be: endless ocean, lush fragrant forests, driftwood-strewn beaches, and ever changing sunset colors with majestic mountains as their backdrop."

When to Go: June through September. Thanks to their location in the rain shadow of British Columbia's Coast Mountains, the Discovery Islands escape most of the rain, mist, and fog that afflict the province’s coastline. The summer months offer plenty of sunshine and warm breezes—and outdoor adventures such as salmon fishing, kayaking, scuba diving, orca watching, and hiking.

Where to Stay: Discovery Islands Lodge is a rustic, no-frills home away from home on Quadra Island featuring breakfast, accommodation for 18 people, and unbeatable sea kayaking adventures. At April Point Resort, also on Quadra Island, all 56 double rooms in the restored fishing lodge's main building have ocean views. For more space, stay in one of the lodge’s two- to four-bedroom houses overlooking Gowlland Harbor. Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge is secluded on 1,100 forested Quadra Island acres despite being only a ten-minute ferry ride from downtown Campbell River. The First Nations Laichwiltach people designed and built the beachfront resort on their ancestral land at Cape Mudge, which includes a wood "Big House" central gathering space and beachfront cottages with full kitchens.

How to Get Around: The archipelago is only accessible by watercraft or floatplane, so budget-savvy travelers should depart from the Campbell River ferry terminal on Vancouver Island. BC Ferries sail between Campbell River and Quadra Island daily. Once back on land, explore the lush surroundings on foot, or by car, taxi, or bicycle; Island Cycle in Heriot Bay rents bikes for as little as $38 per day. Cortes is the only other isle reachable by ferry; visitors can climb aboard at Heriot Bay. Local water taxis also connect Campbell River with not only Quadra and Cortes, but also the smaller islands, including Sonora, Read, and Rendezvous.

Where to Eat or Drink: Quadra’s Gowlland Harbour Resort showcases locally sourced ingredients to create a menu bursting with west coast flavor. Savor fresh herb-grilled salmon or chicken breast stuffed with dried blueberries and hazelnuts. Another Quadra favorite, the Kameleon Food & Drink, which offers free Wi-Fi, is often packed with locals dining on vegetarian and gluten-free items, including lemon ricotta stuffed French toast and huevos rancheros.

What to Read Before You Go: Tidal Passages: A History of the Discovery Islands (Harbour, 2008). Quadra native and historian Jeanette Taylor traces the rugged history of the islands from their First Nations days to modern times.

What to Buy: After viewing the treasures of the Kwakwaka’wakw people at the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre in Quadra’s Cape Mudge Village, visit the gift gallery for local artwork, carvings, and jewelry. Handcrafted glass, pottery, woodwork, and one-of-a-kind paintings are also available at the Cortes Craft Shop Co-op in Squirrel Grove.

Fun Fact: Surge Narrows on Read Island features a floating post office.

Jackie Middleton is an award-winning freelance writer based in Toronto.