As we pulled into the Octopus Islands, I could tell right away that the several hours detour and two tidal passes we had to go through had been worth it. We entered a narrow waterway through the trees, and rounded small islands vibrant with greenery. We anchored in 20 feet, the only boat here, and once the engine was off I listened, straining to hear any sounds. It was so quiet I suddenly knew the meaning of the phrase “so quiet your ears hurt.”
The absence of city sounds, distant boats / machinery, or even wind noise is unusual in modern life – even in a quiet house, a fridge or computer is usually running and our ears rarely experience true silence.
The Octopus Islands reminded us a lot of the Broughtons (but without going nearly that far) – peaceful and enclosed by green trees and mountains. They’re located northeast of Campbell River, and are accessible only by boat and after passing through one or two tidal passes (fast flowing current which can be dangerous), which I hear keeps this place pretty quiet even in the summer peak season.
We had read a great description of the Octopus Islands from S/V Yahtzee’s trip here in 2016 and were pretty sure we’d like it here. We decided to stay 2 full days / 3 nights. The first night we were the only boat, the 2nd night a motorboat anchored in the cove east of us, and the 3rd night two sailboats joined the motorboat in that cove.
The weather was great (sunny and in the 70’s) and there’s lots to do here – we hiked the trail to Newton Lake twice, paddleboarded, visited the art house in the woods, did boat yoga, and caught up on boat chores.
These two lay days were also good because we knew we’d have some hard days ahead going up Johnstone Strait. Johnstone is one of the toughest bodies of water we’ve sailed, and we expect this time will be no different because the southerlies we’ve been hoping for don’t seem to be coming. So we spent some time stowing the dinghy and paddleboard, and Natalie baked muffins and treats for the days ahead where it’ll be tougher to cook.
Reprovisioning in Campbell River
Prior to arriving in the Octopus Islands, we had anchored at Quathiaski Cove (north of Grouse Island) across from Campbell River for the night (arriving around 6pm due to having to wait for current), and the next day pulled into the Campbell River marina for a day.
Discovery Harbor Marina is probably our favorite marina in BC. It’s affordable (we got the winter rate which was only 38 CDN, including electrical), and close to many useful stores for provisioning. This is our last stop with good, cheap groceries for quite a while – all the groceries north of here will be more expensive, have less selection, and sometimes lower quality (older vegetables/fruits).
The Real Canadian Superstore, a 5 minute walk from the marina is where we do all our grocery shopping. The prices are cheap by BC standards, and even in some cases lower than US prices. The only things we’ll never find cheaper in Canada are wine and beer (comparable wine is about 100% more (2x) Trader Joe’s prices, and beer is 10-20% more).
Campbell River also has the Spice Hut, an Indian restaurant we went to two years ago. This time we were even more impressed – it was the most flavorful Indian food we’ve had in a long time, better than most Seattle Indian places.
Hiking to Newton Lake
(Back at the Octopus Islands) Monday morning we put the motor on the dinghy and did the ~2 mile motor to the trailhead in Wiatt Bay (the large bay near the Octopus Islands). It’s a half mile hike to Small Inlet and 1.5 miles to Newton Lake. We went a bit past the lake to get in closer to 4 miles roundtrip.
It was a great hike, with the trail in good shape and a canopy of trees over most of it. We kept an eye out for cougars, but the most we saw on the trail was some slugs and a snake.
The second day we did the hike again. This time we brought a towel and went for a dip in the icy cold mountain lake – no bathing suits necessary because there’s no one around!
Campbell River was more than just a provisioning stop to us, it’s also a pivotal turning point – it marks the point where we’re leaving the relatively easy cruising grounds of the San Juans, Gulf Islands and Strait of Georgia and heading north to areas that are less populated, often don’t have cellular service, and fewer marine services.
It’s somewhat bittersweet leaving the Octopus Islands, because we know we’ll have tougher days ahead of us in Johnstone Strait, but this is what we came here for – adventure. Cruising is often about saying goodbye to places you like in order to discover new places ahead.