Sandy and north Denman Islands - Trip Description
Total trip distance: 53 km
Minimum (day-trip) distance: less than 10km (return trip from Union Bay)
- No. 3527
Canadian Topographic Maps:
Set apart from most other Vancouver Island paddling destinations, Sandy Island is an ideal paddling area for birdwatchers and those with a genuine love of the outdoors. Located immediately north of Denman Island, Sandy Island is a short 5km paddle from any number of launching spots along Vancouver Island's east coast, or a slightly longer trip from the Courtenay / Comox area. Known by the locals as Tree Island, it can also be accessed by foot at low tide from Longbeak Point on the northern tip of Denman Island (which is serviced by BC Ferries from Fanny Bay). It features beautiful sandy beaches around its entire perimeter - in actuality, the island is primarily one big sand bar! The area is quite sheltered and there are a number of great camping spots out in the open or under the canopy.
There are a few narrow paths across and around the island, allowing visitors an easy, picturesque walk around the island with excellent photography and birdwatching. There is a very wide variety of wildlife, including teems of birds and sea life.
The campground is located on the west side of the island, overlooking Vancouver Island. There do not appear to be designated camping sites; campers may set up in a large cleared area just up from the beach, or in any number of more secluded spots along the southwest shore. There is no fresh water on the island, and facilities are limited to a few pit toilets in various spots around the small island.
My trip also included a day trip of about 25km, taking me about 1/2 way down the east coast of Denman Island to Fillingley Provincial Park. Camping is also permitted in this park, which features numerous sites for drive-in camping. The journey down this side of Denman introduced me to dozens of types of birds, including White-winged Scoters, Loons, Harlequin Ducks and teem of sea gulls, not to mention a staggering number of Bald Eagles. There was also an alarming number of seals and more California and Stellar Sea Lions than I would have preferred, having heard some (probably untrue) horror stories of encounters with other paddlers. On the return trip from Comox Harbour (a slight detour to extend my paddle back to Union Bay), I was able to get quite close to these huge beasts without incident, which, along with the help of a few paddlers I met earlier on Sandy Island, helped cure my phobia.
For more information about Sandy Island and the neighbouring islands of Denman and Hornby, see the BC Parks website for Sandy Island.
There are several locations from which to begin your journey to Sandy Island; the nearest and most direct would be from a boat launch at Union Bay. There are also numerous spots along the shore near Royston, but parking in these residential areas can be limited. If departing from Comox Harbour, paddlers should be aware of tides in that area that may mix with currents from the Courtenay River to create some unfavourable conditions.
For this trip, I launched at Union Bay, which features ample parking and a wide gravel / cement 'beach' which enables kayakers to load their boats without getting in the way of the signifcant amount of power boat traffic that passes through. Union Bay is well signposted from the Old Island Highway and the Inland Island Highway.
Trip Date: February 25 - 27, 2005
Weather: Foggy, calm, cool at night
Water condition: Calm
Tides/currents: Minimal current
Submitted by: Mark Schilling
Images copyright: Mark Schilling