The distinctive thing about secret spots is…well – that they are a secret. And everybody who knows about a secret spot usually wants it to stay that way. On the other hand, a secret spot is only fun when you can share it with your friends – these places feel just too beautiful and magical to keep them to yourself!
Raft Cove on Vancouver Island (this is in the Canada by the way) absolutely is all of the above….
First of all, I’ll do my best to add to the kind of repellent anti-PR that’s out there about the North of Vancouver Island, Port Hardy, Cape Scott Provincial Park and especially Raft Cove: Awful long drive up there, the worst road conditions ever! And the locals! Bad company, so unfriendly. Oh, and gazillions of bugs, dangerous, wild animals and absolutely nothing to do. Nothing! Raft Cove just sucks. Don’t go there!
Alright. If you’ve made it this far, I’ll have to be a little more honest with you. This is a personal blog after all and I’m doing my best to only write what I really think. I had visited north of Vancouver Island only once before, in 2012. I got stuck in Port Hardy for a couple of days to wait for the ferry to Prince Rupert in the mid of February. Almost no daylight, everything gloomy, dead empty and to be honest, a little creepy. So I had not been too interested in traveling beyond the Comox Valley any time soon. How could I have been so mistaken!
It’s never to late to correct first impressions
After falling in love with the South Island and the Pacific Rim National Park on its West Coast (Tofino and Ucee), I pretty much thought: Wow, this is it! No need to go anywhere else. My trip to Cape Scott Provincial Park this May, however, taught me a lesson or two about love at second sight. While VanIsland’s south is sweet as peaches, with its the mild climate and gorgeous country sunsets in the Cowichan Valley, the groomed streets of Victoria and the more and more civilized rhythm around Tofino, the North Island is its wilder twin. Maybe a little mischievous and inconvenient, the North’s beauty is raw and intense and probably not for the faint of heart.
You might have guessed already that there is at least a little truth in my initial warning against a trip to Raft Cove. It still is a remote place and you better come prepared! Just to give you the basic facts about the area we’re talking about: The so-called Vancouver Island North boasts about 12.000 inhabitants on about a third of Vancouver Islands territory with the two largest communities being Port Hardy (3,800) and Port McNeill (2,600). All of Vancouver Island has a little less than 800.000 inhabitants with about half of them living the wider Victoria area. So the Island’s north is clearly not a people place. It’s where the wild, the untamed resides and the locals live with nature, not the other way around. Around here, you might actually be able to guess how all of Vancouver Island must have looked like before the big logging began in the south.
Victoria to Cape Scott – it actually IS quite a trip
The drive from Victoria to the put-in for your canoe or kayak takes between eight and nine hours, the last leg about two hours on gravel. You don’t need a four-wheel drive to get there, but little smart cars might be a bit challenged with the odd pothole and imminent danger of flooding. The town of Port Hardy is your last stop with cell reception and to fill up on gas. (But don’t you worry – there is still the Ibis Pub, the last outpost of in Holberg, a logging community about 200 people are calling their home!) For your trip to Raft Cove you’ll have to bring all your food and water. However, there is a fresh water source on the other side of the bay. (only accessible if you have a canoe or kayak with you. A SUP might work, too.)
After you’ve gotten your last-minute supplies and maybe enjoyed a root beer and Yam Fries at A&W (that’s what we did…), you head out of Port Hardy South-East bound at first, then go south towards Holberg. Depending on your vehicle, you should arrive at the put-in after about one-and-a-half hours. You want to make sure to arrive there shortly before high tide, because at low tide you won’t be able to get all the way down to the ocean and might have to portage your boat and gear – neither fun nor a good idea with all the wildlife around. To make sure, you’ll get there early enough, you might want to stay at one of the rec sites closer to the put in – that’s what we did anyways.
How do I find out about the tides?
In this particular spot you want to be on the river around high tide which is twice a day. Check the tide forecast for Cape Scott right here.
How to get to the Put-In at Mac Jack River
Just follow Top Knot Road to its very end and you’ll see a brand-new gravel parking lot – a very recent addition to Raft Cove’s infrastructure and all built by local surfers and nature lovers. Right where the road extends to the parking lot, you’ll find a little path on your right, winding its way down to the bank of the MacJack River. Built a couple of years ago, most of the boardwalk has fallen apart and you might just keep your flipflops in your backpack while shuttling your gear down to the water: Trainers or boots are the better choice to navigate the muddy puddles and nail-ridden planks. The walk is short enough, about 600 meters, but carrying the canoe, surfboards and gear is still a bit tricky. At the end of the path you’ll get to a steep back leading down to a small sandy beach (after high tide) oder getting you right to the water (high tide). Make sure you tie your canoe/kayak while loading from up top!
Be prepared for the unexpected: Canoeing and Camping in Bear Country
For those among you who have not been in a canoe in bear country: A big pack of zip-lock bags and a couple of dry bags are a must for your trip. First of all, you want to keep your sleeping bag and clothes dry on your way out. Even though Mac Jack river is easy to navigate and as calm as a swimming pool, there is always a possibility of a wrong move or bad weather. And regarding food, drinks, dishes, cosmetics – everything that might give off an “interesting” smell – put it in two layers of zip-locks and a sealed container. Also, always wash your hands and pocket knife thoroughly after preparing food.
Pure alcohol is among the best options for cleaning as opposed to any cleaning products with “spring flower” fragrance. Always store away your food at night and possibly during the day as well. (At Raft Cove you’ll find bear caches, metal storage boxes where you lock away all your food, dishes and toiletries at night. Otherwise pull up your food in a tree as high as possible.) All wildlife is attracted by smell and while curious raccoons and rats taking apart your camp at night might be a mere nuisance, black bears and wolves are certainly less impressed by being shooed away!
If you’re new to camping in proximity to wildlife, do your research beforehand and, if possible, find someone who’s more experienced to go with you. In any case, don’t venture out alone, no matter how physically fit you might be or how many Jack London novels you might have read. Nature out there sure is beautiful and welcoming in the sunshine. But all of us usually live sheltered from cold, heat, storm and especially predators. Be prepared for the unexpected!
Your own Tom Sawyer Adventure: Discover Mac Jack River
When you’ve loaded your canoe, you’re all good to go (don’t forget to secure your load to the canoe and make sure the weight is evenly distributed). The haul down to the put-in is the most strenuous part of your journey. Now you can just enjoy the two hours of relaxed paddling ahead of you and watch the river’s inhabitants living a peaceful life out here: River Otters, Raccoons, fish and many different kinds of birds call this place home. And maybe you’re even lucky enough to spot a black bear from the (almost) safety of your boat!
Just keep your eyes open for shallow sections and avoid slanted trees and long-hanging branches! Also, you might want to bring your map: There are some dead arms along the way. When you’re getting close to the landing, you’ll see a small sandy peninsula on your left. After you’re past it, keep left and do the little detour in the bay, as the right channel and direct way to the beach landing is extremely shallow (don’t worry about any of this when in a kayak). Then, you can just land right there on the beach. You made it!
You made it! Raft Cove – this so much doesn’t suck!
Now all you have to do is to find a nice spot in the trees or on the other side facing the ocean to set up your tent. No extra charge for ocean view here! Don’t forget: Out here, you are the guest: “Leave no trace” means exactly that. Treat the place with respect and care – there are not many accessible spots like this left that still truly belong to nature and wildlife. During the week you will find this place empty, a paradise just for yourself. And the best part of it: There is surf! You may just tie your surfboard behind the canoe to get it here and you’ll be able to head out with your board in this sandy bay. But maybe you’d rather enjoy this secret spot together with other people – It’s just too beautiful to not be shared.
More Canoe Trips with Bears? Read “B(e)ar View” at Clearwater Lake
More Surfing on Vancouver Island? Read Winter surfing in Tofino and Ucee!
What is this blog about? Find out here…
Wanna read more content in English? This is where you’ll find it!