On a bright August morning, six of us set out from the Nanaimo harbor in 3-double kayaks, guided by JD Girard of Brackish Adventures. Our skilled teacher and guide lead the way towards Saysutshun, previously known as Newcastle Island. As we maneuvered through the sailboats moored in the channel, their residents waved, returning to their morning coffee soon afterwards. We were directed to a sheltered cove on Saysutshun, where we could survey the whole channel and harbor.

Taking a moment to just lower my camera and admire the view of the Nanaimo shoreline, I was filled with a sense of gratitude for this beautiful place that I call home. As my gaze moved across the still water, woodsmoke from a cabin on nearby Protection Island drifted across the narrow channel separating the two islands, and a seal’s head was visible above the water for a few seconds before it slid back beneath the surface. This was just the start to our day on the water.

Once back on shore, we made our way to Mon Petit Choux, a charming French-style café nestled in the heart of downtown Nanaimo. Here we were warmly greeted by the owner, Linda, who provided us with lunch. This haunt has locals swearing they know which meal is best; the BLT, the eggs benedict, and the soup all have their loyal followings. Rejuvenated and energized from a great lunch and some coffee, it was soon time for us to head to our next event.

I’ve been whale watching before, but that experience paled in comparison to our trip with Vancouver Island Whale Watch. Once we had boarded their bright-orange, open-top zodiac, we sailed through Dodd’s Narrows, the beautiful Gulf Islands, Active Pass, and over to East Point of Saturna Island. The incredible sights alone are enough to satisfy anyone riding in the zodiac, but it wasn’t long before we encountered our first pod of orca.

As we approached the spot where the whales were reported to be, we were not the only boat converging on this point; there were about 5 or 6 other whale-watching boats in the area and it wasn’t long before we were able to pick out what the other boats were observing, as the mist of a whale blow soon became visible between our boat and the Saturna Island shoreline. We followed the pod from a safe distance, and watched in awe with every curved ascent of the orca dorsal fins. Our guide Alanna moved between the benches of the boat, sharing facts about the animals we were watching and the ecosystem around us. Did you know that you can distinguish species of orca by the shape of their dorsal?

After observing the first pod for a while, we heard a call over the radio about another pod to the northwest, so we left the open water of the Georgia Strait and headed back into the Gulf Islands. When we began to near the second pod’s location, Alanna dropped a microphone into the water, and we could all hear whistle and calls of the whales beneath the waves. This was an incredible experience, as the whales were surfacing about 250 meters away from us, but their calls were so clear that it sounded as though they were right below us. Hearing these amazing creatures communicating with each other and wondering what they were doing beneath the waves was epic in and of itself; having the expertise and knowledge of a professional guide to shed some light on what activities these creatures might be performing only made the experience even better. All too soon it was time for us to call it a day and head back to Nanaimo.

Jonah Ferguson is a local Nanaimo resident, keen on exploring its outdoor beauty and sharing it with the world through his photography. To follow the Adventure 360 team in action, follow @TourismNanaimo and check out the team Instagram accounts: @jonahswferguson, @stasher_bc, @jesse.hm, and @therichardkelly.