Mike Manson and Peter Woolgar see Twin Islands from the sea onboard Misty Isles.

Hidden treasures in the Strait of Georgia

Last weekend I got the chance to visit two of the Strait of Georgia’s more mysterious islands.

The first is between Hernando Island and Vancouver Island. When landing on the island boats are required to stick towards the middle of the beach so they don’t disturb nesting sea birds. Prickly pear cacti can be found growing on the rocks. Volunteer wardens inhabit the island during the summer months to keep watch because most of the island is restricted access as it is considered the largest seabird colony in the strait. Have you guessed it yet?

Mitlenatch Nature Provincial Park was a bucket list stop for a few of the people on the Misty Isles Adventure Tour. One of the couples were even descendants of the Manson family that owned the island in the late 1800s before it was purchased by the province.

Mitlenatch has been translated to mean different things in different First Nations languages. One has to do with calm waters and another means “it looks close but seems to move away as you approach it.” From what I saw, both names would be an accurate description.

The semi-arid climate on the island that allows for the cacti to grow is caused by a rain shadow. So even though we could see the rain coming in over Campbell River, I was regretting wearing my water proof jacket.

We rode in a Zodiac around the island to see the birds. There are around 1,000 pairs of Glaucous-winged gulls on the island, 173 pairs of Pelagic cormorants, 26 pairs of double-crested cormorants as well as crows, eagles, pigeon guillemots and black oystercatchers. We were lucky enough to see a few cranes in the distance as well.

Though not far from the shores of the surrounding islands, Mitlenatch felt isolated and distant, like travelling to another world.

When we disembarked on the beach, we hiked the small amount of island that is accessible to visitors. As our on island tour guide, Samantha Moore of Misty Isles Adventures, pointed out colourful flowers and nesting birds, the group discussed whether or not plants are native to the area if they have been introduced by birds.

When our afternoon of exploration was complete we helped Captain Mike Moore raise Misty’s sails and rode the breeze to our second stop.

Mysterious island number two is located between Hernando Island and Cortes Island. It is privately owned, completely off the grid and home to TwinComm, the local Internet service provider. You may not have guessed this one.

We landed on Twin Islands in the early evening on Saturday.

The nine bedroom log cabin lodge was built in the 1930s by an American industrialist who wanted to wait out the second World War in seclusion.

In the 1950s Margrav Maximillian Von Baden of Baden Baden, Germany, nephew of Queen Elizabeth, purchased the islands. The Queen herself stayed in the lodge twice.

Ownership of the islands has since changed hands a few times, but it remains closed to the public. Misty Isles Adventures was invited by the current owner, Mark Torrance, to bring a group of guests to spend the night and explore.

Torrance does not live on the island full time, he has caretakers as well as other staff to look after the lodge, animals and gardens.

It is a magical place.

Like entering a home, we were asked to remove our shoes before going into the expansive lodge. The main doors lead to a state of the art kitchen that manages to be welcoming instead of intimidating. The kitchen opens into the dining room, which opens into the living room. This was a more recent renovation as the lodge used to be divided into smaller rooms, as was the style when it was originally built.

The long dining table seats a large group of people and the living space hosts a giant fireplace and a recently built stage that are perfect for entertaining large groups of people, yet the open space leaves room for comfortable intimate gatherings, laughter bouncing instead of echoing in the grand room.

Down a long hallway off the kitchen are the bedrooms. At the far end of the hall is the master suite where Queen Elizabeth stayed. Each of the guest rooms beside it are pretty much identical. All but two have a queen bed and a twin bed. One central bathroom, with the original plumbing, is shared between two bedrooms. Each room has an animal carved plaque above the door. I stayed in the eagle room.

While the guest rooms were inviting and comfortable, the lodge is not a place to keep to one’s self. The grand living space is where the group gravitated after a day of sunshine and sailing.

Two of our hosts cooked us an amazing dinner. All of the veggies came from the island. We sat, we drank apple wine made from the apples grown on the island, and we shared stories about adventures, local mysteries and tourists landing on private beaches.

The next morning one of the water filters was blocked, meaning the toilets wouldn’t flush because they couldn’t refill. This is one of the reasons that the lodge isn’t open to the public. Though the filter was changed quickly and the toilets were up and running again by the time we came in for lunch, it is often hard for visitors to understand that in order for the lodge to sustain a visit, guests have to dial down their use of water and power. The water used at the lodge is collected from a wetland further in the island and there is a limited supply. Everything on the island is solar powered and though there is enough power different precautions need to be taken such as starting the dishwasher in the morning when the sun is out. The beautiful place is a delicate balance between the environment and civilization.

After a good night’s sleep and a breakfast in a sunlit room Mike gave us a tour of the island. We saw the intricate power and water systems that keep the place up and running. We hiked through the extensive property that houses chicken coops, work shops and best of all, an amazing garden.

The islands were left to grow in their natural state, with as little impact on them as possible, but then there are spots of development that work in harmony with the surroundings. By just walking up the hill to the garden hidden in the valley in the middle of the south island you can see Torrance and the caretakers’ love and respect for the environment.

Our walk turned into a hike the further away we got from the lodge; we ended up doing some bush whacking to get out to Iron point and some rock climbing to get back to the path that would lead us home. It was an island tour full of wonders and I feel lucky to have been invited to join the tour.

When all of our belongings were back on the boat we loitered on the dock, none of us wanting to leave the tranquil, suspended in time feeling that stepping on to the island creates.

I spent the last couple hours of our journey sitting in the sprit with my feet dangling over the water as we drove around Twin Islands, seeing the land we had explored as an outsider would see it.

As we pulled into Cortes Bay to disembark the magic ebbed, leaving only a desire to keep exploring the area that I have only recently begun to call my back yard.

Before catching the ferry back to Quadra, Lynn Jordan, president of the Cortes museum that put this trip on in partnership with Misty Isle Adventures and the lovely people on Twin Islands, gave me a quick tour of the island and the museum.

At the moment the museum is putting up a new display to do with a giant Douglas fir that was recently cut down  because it was rotting. A slice of the old tree is displayed outside the museum and they are currently running a ‘guess how old the tree is’ contest.

Though the museum’s display room is small, the amount of information they have on hand is impressive. If you were so inclined you could sit for hours and look through photo albums and archival information gathered about the island and the surrounding area. It is a window into life on Cortes Island and definitely worth a visit.

The next trip by Misty Isles Adventures and the Cortes Island museum is this Sunday for Father’s Day. They are taking a group to Okeover Inlet for dinner at the Laughing Oyster Restaurant. In July the duo is putting on a three day kayaking trip, with two nights at the Twin Islands Lodge as well as a day trip into Desolation Sound later in the month. In August there are two day trips, one to Maurelle Island and another to Desolation Sound as well as a final overnight trip to Cassel Lake and Twin Island. For more information or to register for the upcoming trips call 250-935-6340 or email cimas@twincomm.ca