By Hollyhock presenter Mike Moore
Cortes Island lies at the north end of the Salish Sea, where Vancouver Island juts up against the BC mainland coast. This is a scenic and diverse area and it is at the edge of BC’s vast coastal wilderness.
To the east the view is dominated by the mountain peaks of the Coast Range with the iconic Mt. Denman towering 6600 feet above the myriad of channels and islands of Desolation Sound. The back waters of Desolation Sound have the warmest ocean temperatures north of Mexico, reaching in to the mid 20’s. There is no other place in the world where you can swim in water so warm right under snow-capped mountains!
To the south Cortes thrusts out into the Strait of Georgia at the north end of the Salish Sea. The mountains on Vancouver Island and the Coast Range create a rain shadow effect here so that the climate is warmer and drier here than to the north of Cortes.
To the west the tidal waters flowing in from the Pacific Ocean are squeezed through the narrow channels of the Discovery Islands creating the tidal rapids that this area is famous for. Currents reaching 12 knots flush the area with cold, oxygen and nutrient rich water that feeds the abundant marine life here. Some of these rapids form standing waves of up to 2 1/2 metres high, a favourite place for kayakers to play! But it also is a great place to watch for seals, sea lions, dalls porpoise, pacific white-sided dolphin and orca fishing in the rich waters.
And to the north of Cortes, there lies a largely uninhabited wilderness. There are no road accessible communities between the towns of Lund and Bella Coola, 300 km apart as the crow flies but with over 900 km of coastline separating them. The mainland coast just off of Cortes has the southern most grizzly bear populations. Cortes is home to black- tailed deer, cougar and river otters. Wolves are sometimes seen in our back yards. Living this close to the wilderness demands a level of attention and respect. We keep our livestock well protected and fenced and keep our dogs on the leash while walking in the wolf’s forest home.
While Cortes is home to the vibrant communities of Mansons Landing, Whaletown and Squirrel Cove, it is easy to find empty beaches and forest paths to explore. Kwas Park is 70 hectares and has trails that wind through first growth trees and along Hague and Gunflint Lakes. Vondonop Inlet Park features reversing tidal rapids, steep-sided fjords, and tidal flats. This rugged 1,277-hectare park has no designated hiking trails within the park, although a good trail does exist from the Von Donop to Squirrel Cove, outside the park (approximately 5 km). A rough trail also runs to the top of Cliff Peak that has an elevation of 459 metres and is Cortes Island’s highest point.
Exploring the waters around Cortes by kayak or guided boat tour is an excellent way to get a sense of the wildness of the coast. Favourite kayak launch sites include Mansons Lagoon and Cortes Bay. A swim in Desolation Sound or a trip to view the wildlife at Mitlenatch Island are regular destinations for the boat tours that leave from Cortes Island.
For further information on what Cortes has to offer, see www.ourcortes.com
Explore the spectacular Cortes Island region with Mike Moore at Hollyhock during Sea Kayaking Adventures Aboard Misty Isles July 12 – 17 or September 8 – 13.