Steeped in history and surrounded by the natural beauty of the west coast of Vancouver Island, Nootka Sound is a paradise for sport anglers and outdoor adventurers seeking to explore and enjoy the magnificent wilderness surroundings.
The mountains and islands of north and central Vancouver Island have a mysterious sense about them, as if they’re always trying to hide some secret, and you do have to travel farther afield here in order to penetrate its cloud-laced valleys, coastal rain forest, and the open ocean waters of its two sounds, Nootka Sound and Kyuquot Sound.
In March 1778, Captain James Cook of the Royal Navy became the first European to set foot on British Columbian soil when he visited Friendly Cove on Nootka Island. While anchoring in Resolution Cove on Bligh Island, across from Friendly Cove, the natives hollered “itchme nutka, itchme nutka”, meaning “go around” (to Yuquot), but Cook misinterpreted their calls, believing the name of the area to be Nootka.
Yuquot, also known as Friendly Cove, was the summer home of Chief Maquinna and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people for millennia, and retains historic significance today as the site of the first contact between Europeans and First Nations people in British Columbia.
A Spanish trading post, Santa Cruz de Nutka, was maintained here between 1789 and 1795, with Nootka becoming an important focal point for English, Spanish and American traders and explorers. The Canadian government declared Friendly Cove a National Historic Site in 1923, with recognition of the significance of the First Nations history following in 1997.
Nootka Sound and the community of Gold River received tremendous media coverage worldwide in July 2001 when Luna the Killer Whale became a media sensation when he turned up in Nootka Sound after being separated from his pod in Puget Sound in Washington. Attempts to reunite Luna (L98) with his family were suspended, as the Mowachaht and Muchalaht First Nations believed Luna, or Tsuxit, embodied the spirit of Chief Ambrose Maquinna, who had died just days before the whale was first seen in the area. The orca loved to play around boats, and sadly this ultimately led to his death in March 2006, when Luna got too close to the propellers of a tug boat in Mooyah Bay, one of Luna’s favourite places in winter.
Location: Nootka Sound is located on the west coast of North Vancouver Island, approximately 45 miles (70 km) north of Tofino. From Gold River and Tahsis you can travel to points in Nootka Sound and neighbouring Kyuquot Sound to the north on the MV Uchuck lll, a converted minesweeper that carries passengers, freight and kayakers into the sound. The Gold River Hwy 28 runs the width of central Vancouver Island, linking Campbell River on the east coast with Gold River and Nootka Sound on the rugged and windswept Pacific coast.
Yuquot (Friendly Cove): Located in Nootka Sound is the birthplace of British Columbia; the small community of Yuquot, also known as Friendly Cove. Historical Friendly Cove was the site of the first contact between Europeans and First Nations people in British Columbia. First Nations people came to magnificent Yuquot over 4,000 years ago, drawn by the rich sea life and natural resources, the mild climate, and the beautiful surroundings. Those same qualities still draw visitors to this magical place today, as there is so much to see and experience.
Visit the Yatz-mahs “walk around” trail that weaves through forests and along beaches toward the lagoon Tsa’tsil, “where the tide comes up and goes into the lagoon”. The more strenuous section leads you through old-growth forest and up to Aa-aak-quaksius Lake.
The Captain Cook Monument, a brass plaque set in concrete, is said to mark the exact location of the cannon at the old Spanish fort of San Miguel.
The Nootka Lighthouse, built in 1911, is one of the few remaining manned lighthouses on the coast of British Columbia.
Kayaking: Nootka Sound is truly a paradise for paddlers. So many places in the sound can only be explored and truly appreciated by kayak; small islands, sheltered coves, rocky coastlines, remote sandy beaches and dense rainforest. The waters are rich with wildlife, including gray whales and orca whales, sea otters, seals and sea lions, eagles, wolves, cougars, and bears. Guided sea kayaking tours to historical Nootka Sound can be arranged from most centres on Vancouver Island. Expert guides know the area, the currents, the winds, and of course the best camping spots!
Hiking: The Nootka Island Trail rambles between Louie Bay on the north side of Nootka Island and Yuquot (Friendly Cove) on the south. Along the way, the trail crosses exquisite beaches and tidal shelves, as well as leading inland to bypass rocky headlands and deep river mouths. This 35-km trail is gradually becoming a choice hiking destination, however, the trail is poorly marked and infrequently maintained. Be prepared to bushwhack around fallen trees brought down by the frequent, savage winter storms that pound this section of coast.
Fishing: Nootka Sound offers great fishing for salmon and bottomfish, including halibut, cod, and red snapper. Fishing for salmon is best in July, August and September, and April to September for halibut, rockfish and snapper. Nootka Sound area has 7 wild salmon rivers and three hatcheries, including the large federal salmon hatchery on the Conuma River, between Tahsis and Gold River. Halibut are plentiful and generally range from 15 to 50 pounds, although halibut in the 175-pound range have been caught in the area. Access to fishing camps in Nootka Sound is either by boat or floatplane.
Muchalat Inlet: The sheltered waters of Muchalat Inlet run like a long corridor through steep-sided fjords. Landing places are few. Once in Nootka Sound, however, a much more weather-beaten landscape begins to reveal itself. Bligh Island Marine Provincial Park sits at the mouth of Muchalat Inlet. There’s much to explore in this group of six islands, scattered where Muchalat Inlet converges with two adjacent inlets and their channels. The waters in this region can get choppy, so small craft must cross with care.
MV Uchuck 111: Explore the historic waters and stunning scenery of Nootka Sound from Gold River aboard the MV Uchuck 111, a converted minesweeper that carries 100 passengers and up to 100 tons of freight. With a comfortable wood finished lounge, coffee shop and upper deck seating, it is the perfect way to spend a relaxing day on the West Coast. Arrangements can be made to wet launch kayakers in a convenient location along the route. Day trips operate from Gold River to Yuquot (Friendly Cove) on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer (June to September).