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Canada/Saturna - In search of Whales

On the small Gulf Island Saturna, off the west coast of Canada, you can (with a bit of luck) watch whales from land. Here you will find everything else you can discover on the island.

Canada seaplane from above islands sea gulf
Saturna is not only geographically a bit out of the way - time also seems to avoid the easternmost of the Gulf Islands.

Although the journey by seaplane from Vancouver only takes 20 minutes, as I fly over green hills and deep blue seas, I feel far away from any hustle and bustle of the big city. As soon as the seaplane touchs down on the sea and the captain has brought us safely to the landing pier, the feeling of calm increases. Apart from one parked car, there is nothing here but nature.

Breakfast table strawberry muffins

Rick Graham, one of the 335! residents of Saturna, is waiting in front of the parked car - he has promised to show us “his Saturna island” today. Fortunately, he knows that guests with a full belly are automatically happy guests. We left Vancouver at the crack of dawn to make it to the airport in time. He takes us along a single-lane road to the Saturna General Store, the only store on the island that also serves as a post office, tourist information, kayak rental, shopping center and café.

In the lush garden, where vegetables are also grown, the table is lovingly and lavishly set with flowers and beautiful dishes, as you would expect in a chic restaurant in Vancouver. There are freshly baked coconut muffins, strawberries and homemade quiche with green asparagus. Love (also) goes through the stomach:

We've only been on Saturna for 15 minutes and have already fallen in love with the island.
Canada Saturna Whales Whale trail

But Rick has more aces up his sleeve.

We came to Canada (also) to see whales, and apparently Saturna Island is the perfect place for that.

Whale Trail - Here you can (with a bit of luck) see whales from land

One of the most beautiful roads in the world leads to the easternmost tip of the island: Shallow sandstone reefs gently slope down to the sea, tall, ancient Douglas firs and Garry oaks line the path. A long time ago, the native people who live here, the Coast Salish, created natural pools with stones on the shore in order to catch fish at low tide.

The sun flashes through the coniferous trees, a bald eagle soars into the sky and we walk east along a narrow path along the cliffs.

Canada Saturna Whale trail information board

East Point is located in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, founded in 2003, and protrudes like a narrow nose from the coastline. Although there is no wind, the sea is boiling in front of the rocks.

Canada Saturna whales sea mountains
“Here is a cliff under water, about as high as Niagara Falls, and at high tide enormous amounts of water flow over it.”

Rick explains to us as we walk along the coast. “This water movement causes plankton to be stirred up from the depths. The plankton feeds the fish, which in turn attract birds and marine mammals. The result: a fantastic place to watch whales!

The “Whale Trail” at Saturna's East Point is one of 100 locations on the west coast of North America where you have a good chance of seeing whales from land. The initiative, founded in 2008, aims to - among other things - have fewer boats pursue the almost extinct southern killer whales on whale watching tours, whose engine noise stresses the animals.

Moby Doll - the story of the first orca in captivity

Fog Alarm Building Canada Saturna David Museum Wal

One of the most photographed buildings in the park is the Fog Alarm Building, which was constructed in 1938 as part of the East Point Light Station. The little white and red house was restored and has since hosted a museum in the summer, run by community volunteers like Maureen and David, who we meet here. Both are committed whale protectors.

A huge whale head is on display in the museum and on the walls are newspaper articles about Moby Doll, whose story David tells us:

“In 1964, here at East Point, the young orca Moby Doll was shot with a harpoon, intended to kill him, but he survived. He was dragged 10 km to Vancouver on the harpoon rope and held prisoner there.

Moby Doll was the first whale to survive in captivity.

One positive aspect was that researchers were able to observe these animals for the first time. Their research results dispelled the bad image of “killer whales,” which had previously been decried as ruthless killers. The public was fascinated by the huge whale, and so it happened as it had to happen: Moby Doll began the long, sad history of whales in captivity, from which amusement parks like Sea World emerged. Unfortunately, Moby Doll died after just a few months.

Together we go to the easternmost tip and look at the boiling sea in the hope of seeing a whale.

Maureen also loves whales, she says: “Once you see them, you fall in love with them and want to protect them”. Southern killer whales, also called residents, pass East Point on their way to and from the mouth of the Fraser River. In recent years, the number of Chinook salmon, their preferred prey, has declined. Perhaps this is also the reason why southern killer whales are less often seen here.

There are two species of killer whales off the coast of Saturna: The "Residents", which feed primarily on salmon, and the larger "Transients" ;, also called "Bigg", who hunt dolphins and seals. These killer whales have been sighted more and more frequently in recent years. Humpback whales also return to these waters. For almost 100 years, few animals were seen here because whalers almost wiped them out. Today, with a bit of luck, visitors can spot a mother humpback whale bringing her calf to feed in the summer.

Mt Warburton Pike Canada Saturna

Hike to Mt Warburton Pike

Luck isn't on our side - we don't see a fluke or a whale's breath, but we do see seals and sea lions. Nevertheless, we are not unhappy, because we hike through purple foxgloves to Mt Warburton Pike, at 400 meters the highest point on the island. From the summit we have a wonderful view of Mount Baker in America. The path leads over a ridge through ancient Douglas firs. Wild goats live here and we observe them from a distance. The vineyards of the Sage Hayward Vineyards stretch below us. In the evening, the sandstone releases the heat it has stored during the day. Optimal conditions for a good wine.

Sage Hayward Vineyards Saturna Canada Winery
Sage Hayward Vineyards

Anne Hayward took over the winery during the pandemic with her husband Doug and his brother. “I knew nothing about viticulture - I was a museum consultant. But when the winery was up for sale, we knew we wanted to preserve it; we definitely didn't want to have investors here who had no connection to the land." The winery's old barn has been lovingly converted into a bistro. The residents of Saturna are grateful that the winery is being used again; they have partly helped with the restoration. In general, community is very important on the island.

Rick tells us:

"On Saturna it's completely normal that you go to the pub in the evening, leave your car unlocked and when you come out again in the evening you have a box of vegetables or a basket of apples in the passenger seat.

The German chef Hubertus Surm from Kappeln also likes this community and the quiet life. In Germany he would probably be a star chef, but he likes it better here: He also learned from the natives to use ingredients such as kelp, a type of sea weed that was not previously on his menu. The second reason is probably the vegetables in the passenger seat.

Sage Hayward Vineyards Saturna Canada Winery Chef Hubertus Surm

Or is it the view from his workplace? From the Feral Goat Bistro, which is part of the winery and for which he cooks, you have a clear view of rocks, vineyards, meadows and the sea. Who wants to voluntarily go back to rainy Kappeln in Germany?


On the page of Destination Canada you will find general information about the country and the activities you can do there.


There are several scheduled flights from Germany to Vancouver every day. To enter Canada, a electronic travel document (eTa) required.

A spectacular way to get from Vancouver to Saturna Island or the Gulf Islands is by seaplane. Flights from Vancouver to Saturna are available twice daily for €120.

If you want to explore Canada further, it's best to book a rental car. These are available, for example, at


Unfortunately I didn't stay on Saturna, but here is a list of all the accommodations on the island.

Saturna General Store Canada


The Saturna General Store is the only place to shop on the island; you can buy everything from shampoo to vegetables to newspapers here. On weekends it also serves as a restaurant.

Feral Goat Bistro is part of Sage Hayward Winery. Here Hubertus Surm cooks mainly with local ingredients.

32 Trueworthy Road, Saturna, V0N 2Y0, Tel: 250.791.0380 | 877.355.8909,

Once a year, on July 1st, Canada Day, the island becomes the venue for a huge event: the Saturna Lamb Barbeque.

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