I’ve been coming to Nitinat Lake on Vancouver Island, B.C., for the past three summers, and can easily say it’s no ordinary kite spot. Sure, it boasts the most consistent 20-plus knot winds in North America, but that’s not what makes the area so special.
For me, a photographer always looking for some different angle on a place, Nitinat is a gold mine. For starters, the only way in is on highly active, pothole-infested logging roads, overrun by rampaging, giant logging trucks. Then there’s the fact that Nitinat Lake is on native-owned land, and apart from a small native village (Dididat) on the south shore of the lake, there are no other urban amenities or luxuries anywhere near the place. There are designated camping spots, but most people perch their tents amongst the giant, deformed, old-growth driftwood that gets washed up on the beach, or which sometimes ends up mysteriously erect in the water, providing for wild scenery and even wilder obstacles.
On any given day the perpetual fire-pit fiesta on the beach starts with the first wind and slowly builds up during the day into a full-blown beach party by nightfall, with its multiple guitar heroes and circulating peace pipes. Then there’s the hand-built sauna that rises from the ashes year after year, or the bashed-in bottle cap collection on the face of an extra-large pizza size chunk of old-growth tree stump that was made by a local older dude who’s spent the entire season on his artwork.
Nitinat is unique to say the least. It’s far removed from reality and the real world. It is its own secluded, bare-bones kite paradise, where kite hippies, kite yuppies, pros, a couple of kite schools, windsurfers, the local natives, and just plain strange people coexist in organic harmony.
Closest airport: YYJ
Best wind: July and August
Average kite size: 7—10m
Cost factor: Low
Local shop: Nitinat Visitors Centre – Has basic groceries, a gas station, kite supplies (North and Dakine), a phone, and a café.
Wind and surf forecast resources: Environment Canada Website – Look at temperature gradients from the West Coast of Vancouver Island to the inland. Also check out www.wunderground.com/global/stations/71483.html .
Getting There: There are two ways in, depending on where you’re coming from. If you come from Victoria, drive north on the Trans-Canada Hwy One about one hour from Victoria, make a left on Cowichan Valley Hwy 18. From Lake Cowichan take the North Shore Road through Youbou. From Youbou it’s another 52 km on rough, active logging roads. Follow Nitinat Main Logging road.
If you take the ferry to Nanaimo the route is through Port Alberni. From Port Alberni it’s 70 km away by taking the road to Bamfield, then turn off at Franklin River and follow the Little Nitinat River to Nitinat. Follow Bamfield Road and South Main.
Prices: Ferries from Vancouver are about $72 for one person and vehicle and an extra $10/person.
The Nitinat Lake Recreation Site is $10/person per night.
The Nitinat Motel is $80/night for a kitchenette and $60 for a standard room.
Checklists of things to take: All your kite gear, full camping gear (stove, fuel, water, food, and beer). Nitinat Lake Campsite is classified as “Primitive.” That means there are no amenities besides an outhouse and flat spots to lay your tent.
Gear transport and local rental options: Wake up, grab your board and kite, and walk 20 feet… enough said. Speak with Marie at Elevation Kiteboarding (604-848-5197) about rentals, lessons, and assisted downwinders (she has a Jetski).
The wind and how it works: The consistent thermal westerly wind turns on around 10 a.m. and shuts down around 4 p.m. everyday, all summer long. If you see a fog bank at the west end of the lake, you know it’s gonna howl.
Ten must dos:
1. Take a sauna on the beach, built by locals every year. After the sauna take swim in the lake, and check out the phosphorescence in the lake… they make your body glow.
2. Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park—created to protect the ancient and massive trees of old-growth forest in this region. Home to some of the largest spruce trees in the world including the Carmanah Giant at 95 metres.
3. Pick up some Dungeness crab and salmon from the local fishermen if you can find them in the village.
4. Nitinaht Windfest in mid-August. This is likely B.C.’s biggest and best kite and windsurf extravaganza, party, and competition. Lasts all weekend.
5. Join in on the local jam nights by the nightly bonfire on the beach
6. Canoe Route. Nitinat Triangle is one of the most scenic and remote canoe routes on Vancouver Island. West of Nitinat Lake in Pacific Rim National Park. 38 km and four-five days to complete with only 18 km on the water.
7. Fishing on the Nitinat River and Nitinat Lake.
8. Nitinat River swimming holes. About six kilometres from Nitinat Lake one is called Red Rock and the other is called The Bridge and both close to the fish hatchery
9. Nitinat River Hatchery. Take a tour through the hatchery.
10. Check out the nearby caves in the canyon.
Don’ts: Don’t leave food out anywhere, anytime, or you’ll be wrestling black bears, Don’t litter. Pack out what you pack in. Don’t try to catch a ferry without a reservation on the weekend. Don’t play chicken with the oversized logging trucks. If you see one, pull over and give them room.
Accommodations: Camping or the Nitinaht Lake Motel, 250-745-3844.
Car Rental: Get the extra insurance, and know how to change a flat. The road in is on highly active gravel logging roads. Flats are common, and watch out for the oversized logging trucks.
Access Issues: Aside from crowded campsites, ferries to the island are very busy during weekend. Make a reservation.
Local Hazards: Extra large driftwood, which tends to sprout up out of the water on occasion. This driftwood can also be used as an advantage for natural jib sessions.
Ability Level: All
Top Places for Food: Your cooler, and the Nitinat General Store, which has a café. Treat yourself to breakfast at the café at least once.
Other Local Knowledge:
• You can take a shower at the Nitinaht Motel for $3.
• Make sure you know how to change a flat tire. Ask anyone who’s been there and chances are they’ll have had a flat at one time or another on the way in or way out.
• There is no sand on the beach, just rounded rocks, so either wear flip flops while launching or take special care and watch where you step.
• Since it’s a tidal saltwater lake, it can be a little chilly. Most people use shorty 4/3 wetsuits.
• The campsite can get pretty crowded close to the water, but the spots farther are usually quieter, and more private.
• Bring your bike to get around the site. There used to be some wild North Shore style mountain bike trails, but the stunts got destroyed by the windstorms of 2007.
• If the south end of the lake gets too busy, just make your way up the lake a little and enjoy the solitude. It’s a little less windy, but way more peaceful.