Portland Island - Trip description
Circumnavigation of island: 7 km (4.35 miles)
Distance to Arbutus Point Campsite (from Swartz Bay): 7 km (4.35 miles)
Distance to Shell Beach Campsite (from Swartz Bay): 4.5 km (2.8 miles)
Distance to Princess Bay Campsite (from Swartz Bay): 4.5 km (2.8 miles)
Coordinates (WGS 84):
N48 41.224 W123 24.458 - Swartz Bay: Put-in location
N48 44.093 W123 21.978 - Arbutus Point Campsite
N48 43.312 W123 23.046 - Shell Beach Campsite
N48 43.141 W123 22.285 - Princess Bay Campsite
- No. 3313 Small-Craft Charts: Gulf Islands (various scales)
- No. 3476 (1/10,000)
Canadian Topographic Maps:
A favourite spot in the Gulf Islands for paddlers, Portland Island is a great destination for a day trip or multi-day camping adventures. If you're coming from the mainland and have a kayak cart, you might choose to walk on the ferry in Tsawwassen since there is public access near the Swartz Bay ferry terminal where you can put in.
The entire island is a park known as Princess Margaret Marine Park. In 1958 the island was given as a gift to Princess Margaret to commemorate her visit to the province. She returned the island to the province of British Columbia in 1967 to be used as a park. Prior to this, the park was inhabited by Kanaka (Hawaiian) immigrants and was used primarily for agricultural purposes. First Nations people utilized the island going back over 3,000 years as is evidenced by the middens that can be found on the island. These middens are classified as archaeological sites and are protected by law and as such should not be disturbed.
Only 4.5 km from Swartz Bay access is fairly easy but you must be mindful of currents and waves in Shute Passage, although it's not a very large crossing, it can sometimes get quite rough during poor weather conditions.
Shell Beach Campsite is located on a gorgeous shell beach directly across from Brackman Island (Brackman Island is an ecological reserve and as such, access is not permitted). The gradual beach is partially sheltered by Brackman Island and doesn't get hit directly by ferry wakes, making easy access for novice paddlers.
Arbutus Point Campsite is located on a very nice little peninsula on the northeast end of the island that offers terrific views of the surrounding islands. The beach for the campsite is located on the north side of the peninsula. You'll need to stay aware of ferry wakes when landing or putting-in from this location -- there are a lot of ferries going past in Satellite Channel.
Princess Bay campsite is located above the bay. Exit from your kayak at the dock and walk up the gangway to the trail that leads to the campsite. There once was a fresh water pump near this location that has since been capped by Parks Canada as the water was not suitable for human consumption.
Pit toilets are located at each of the campsites on Portland Island.
Parks Canada collects camping fees from March 15 to September 30. From October 1, the park is open with no services and no fees.
There are lots of racoons on the island so you'll need to secure your food at night. There are also river otters, mink, and deer on the island as well as many species of birds. There is a lot of marine life to be found in tide pools.
A circumnavigation of the island is about 7 kilometres and is well worth doing. There are lots of places to explore and an abundance of marine life to watch out for. Keep an eye open for seals on the east side of the island around Turnbull Reef -- it's a favourite sunning spot.
If you're into hiking, there is an extensive network of trails on the island.
The very first artificial scuba diving reef in British Columbia is located off the southeast shore of Portland Island near Pellow Islets. The reef was creating by sinking the freighter G.B.Church and is now home to many marine lifeforms. You probably won't be able to see the reef from the surface, but you can see the four buoys about .5 kilometres from the shore of the island that mark it's position.
Note: There is no fresh water available on the island.
Put-in/parking location (Swartz Bay)
From the ferry terminal (walking):
Exit from the ferry and stay to the left as you head up the incline towards the terminal building. There is a BC Ferries employee parking lot at the base of the main holding area where vehicles line up for the ferries. Go through the gate and walk south through the parking lot to the street access at Dolphin Road. Turn left and follow Dolphin Road before turning another left on Barnacle Road. You'll see the government dock at the end of this short road. The walk from the ferry to the put-in is about 600 metres.
From the Island:
As you approach the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, exit at Lands End Road and head along Dolphin Road for about a half kilometre. Turn left on Barnacle Road. You'll see the government dock at the end of this short road. You will need to find parking on the street.
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada
Trip date: July 22-25, 2005
Water condition: Calm to rippled seas
Submitted by: Dan Millsip
Images copyright: Dan Millsip