A couple of weeks ago Robert Gunn and I took a little day trip in kayaks down to the estuary of Cous Creek five kilometres down the Alberni Inlet. The weather promised sun. But this was February and the inlet is notorious for lingering fog.
I had planned to catch the high tide expected around 12:40 so that we could paddle up the creek as far as possible. I figured it would be a leisurely two-hour paddle.
We left from Canal Beach around 10:30 a.m. in the fog and followed the shore past Polly’s Point and Coulson’s mill. Before we knew it, we were at the narrows across from the creek, and it was only 11 a.m. Although the tide was against us, the light breeze was behind us and made our progress quick and easy.
As we made the crossing, the fog started lifting and a brilliant day greeted us. We were astonished to see four women and a dog on the shore as we approached the delta. It turned out to be the Ladies Tuesday Hikers group. They had hiked down from the Arbutus summit on a little known trail. The tide was so high that we were concerned that they might get wet feet if they didn’t leave soon. I’m happy to report they were fine.
We went on up the creek and enjoyed the flat, calm water in the narrow confines of the creek mouth. It was so clear you could see the pebbles on the bottom beaneath us as we passed by. We watched an American Dipper swimming below the place where the creek met the inlet. This was pretty unusual for a perching bird. Later, we listened to its loud wonderful song as it perched on a log a few feet away.
The way back was along the shore opposite to the way we arrived. The wind had come up a bit and there were a few waves. So the trip back was a little exercise and it took a couple of hours to arrive at Canal Beach. But by 3:30 p.m. we were looking for a latté at SteamPunk Café.
It occurs to me that until lately there has been very little infrastructure for this kind of activity around the end of the Alberni Inlet. If you wanted to kayak, you had to use the boat ramp either at Clutesi Haven or at Harbour Quay. But the latter one is very steep, making a launch from there very difficult for most people. And in both cases you potentially have to work around motor boats launching. So Canal Beach being more spacious, having a gentler slope and being away from other boats is ideal.
And I was happy to see, later that day in the Alberni Valley News, that the Harbour Authority is planning to improve the road to China Creek and to China Creek Marina itself. This is great because it is a lovely place and I think that the condition of the gravel road does put people off from visiting.
The beach there is also highly suitable for launching kayaks. There are at least three interesting locations to visit within an easy paddle of China Creek Marina, too. Cous Creek, MacTush Creek and Franklin River are all within 6 km of the beach there. This offers multiple options for pleasant day or overnight trips in the area.
Going any further is a little problematic because the next suitable landing spots are unknown to me. And it is still 30 km to the end of the inlet and the prime paddling locations of the Deer Group and the Broken Islands. That’s a long paddle to do in a day. If the community is serious about attracting this activity to the area, a better idea of where the camping and haul-out spots are between China Creek Marina and the more open waters of Barkley Sound is needed. And these spots need to become more generally known.
Finally, if you go for a paddle on the inlet in the summer, make sure you take the afternoon winds into account. Paddling into a stiff outflow wind is very good exercise—let’s just say that!