I Sea a Plane! – Campbell River, BC

Only one route traverses north to south on Vancouver Island, so from our northernmost stop at Telegraph Cove we drove back on Highway 19.  This 120-mile journey back to Qualicum Beach was our longest drive while on the island.  Cedar Grove RV Park and Campground was our basecamp for a week of excursions and outdoor fun, the main one being from the sky.

My Honeybunch agreed to be the guest writer for this story, since he’s an aviation guy 🙂

We’d watched several seaplanes (technically floatplanes, but that didn’t work for the title) landing and taking off during our last few stops.  I had no doubt that we were going to take a flight while we were in this beautiful area, and I wanted to pick the one we’d most enjoy.  My introduction to floatplane flying happened at Homer, Alaska several years ago, but this would be Mona Liza’s first water aviation experience.

The flights we considered while on Vancouver Island were out of Nanaimo, Tofino and Victoria, but then I learned about a unique one at Campbell River with Corilair.  It was what they call their Historic Mail Flight, and we decided to give it a try.  It turned out to be the most awesome flying tour we’ve ever taken!

This is THE flight to take if you’re ever up this way.  The reasonable cost and multiple stops made it a winner!

The Discovery Islands are dotted with settlements, camps and lodges that depend on air service to bring people and freight in and out, and mail runs on scheduled and chartered flights.  This tour allows folks to tag along on their varying itinerary as the pilots make service calls to working locations in the region.

My all-day smile began as I watched Tom prepare our trusty steed – a very nice Cessna 205

Tom was our pilot and guide for the approximately 1.5 hour adventure, as we took off early one sunny morning from beautiful Tyee Spit at Campbell River.  Our mission?  Drop off a passenger at a nearby resort who boarded with us, and pick up another at our last stop and bring her back to Tyee Spit.  We would also be delivering mail at a couple of islands along the way.  Cool!

Here’s a guy who loves his job, and I love his job too!

This experience didn’t even feel like a tour, but more like flying with my pilot buddies all those years ago as Tom and I chatted about aviation while we cruised over the many small islands.  Besides getting his pilot’s license as a teenager, he also happens to be a certified A&P aircraft mechanic and performs turboprop engine upgrades in larger planes when he isn’t flying – very impressive!

Taxiing out for our first takeoff, Tom offered to let me do some flying but I was content to watch a pro and enjoy the amazing scenery
Off we go, into the VERY WILD blue yonder…

We ended up making four take-offs and landings on this flight, including stops at Stuart Island, Surge Narrows and Cortes Island.  Short flights, and we never got higher than 1,000′ – perfect for viewing the fantastic panoramas all around us:

This is how they store timber waiting to go to nearby lumber mills
A very wealthy CEO had this runway installed so he could land his jet for weekend getaways.  Really?

It was very cool that Tom took us on walks at a couple of our destinations, teaching us the history of the islands and people who have lived there off-grid and still do.  These folks know what roughing it is all about!

We took a couple of strolls and got a feel for what it would be like to live in these remote places
After we disgorged our first passenger, Mona Liza was able to jump back and forth to take all the pictures she wanted – yay!

As remote as they are, these tiny islands have post offices and one of Corilair’s services is to deliver the mail to them.  The office at Surge Narrows wasn’t open yet, so Tom left the mail under a jug of water so it wouldn’t blow away 🙂

Then we went on a short walk along a gravel road to the one-room school called Surge Narrows Elementary School.  It taught grades 1-7, and after that students could either board in Campbell River or take correspondence courses.  Parents brought kids here from other islands by boat (some up to 45 minutes away), the only mode of transportation in these isolated places.

Special delivery!
Surge Narrows Elementary School
I tried to take a video of one of our landings, but it didn’t come out so good
Tom avoided landing on whirlpools like this one
Mail delivered – back to the plane for our next stop!
With nobody to help him from the docks, Tom had to shut the plane down at just the right moment and then jump onto the dock to tie it off.  Amazing!

We flew over a maze of channels, narrows and passes between rugged islands and over resorts, coves and historic settlements dotting the shores of the Discovery Islands:

That’s us

Only planes and boats can access this exclusive public resort
Hole-In-The-Wall Channel
Pulling into the harbour at Cortes Island to pick up another passenger

Sadly, it was time to head home:

Approaching Campbell River
As you can see it was a fantastic day for flying, and what a trip it was!




  1. Wow! a wonderful adventure and so many awesome stories! Mona Liza’s smile looks like a little toddler who’s having so much fun at the playground! 🙂

  2. I sea what you did there! What a really fun thing for you to be able to do, especially with Steve’s aviation fascination. TBG’s folks did a week-long boat excursion like that, motoring around to all the stops, delivering mail, etc. Such a good way to experience how other people live and to reinforce that there are other lifestyles outside the “normal” box. I don’t think I would be able to relax and enjoy the time in a small plane, so it’s a good thing ML got such great pics to share!

    • We were amazed by those hardy folks who lived off-grid. I will only last there for a week, after that, I would go crazy with the solitude. I was too engrossed with the snapping of pictures that I forgot I was on a floatplane, I had a blast myself.

  3. Fabulous post Steve! I can see your joy from here. It must have been so much fun, enjoying the beautiful scenery from such a low altitude, all those take offs and landings (my personal favorites), and a kindred spirit to share the cockpit with. Sooooo great! Dave was drooling so much I had to wipe off the keyboard before I made this comment. He wants to know if you remembered to make the entry in your logbook?

    • I was glad he offered to write this post for I know his exuberance about our flight will be channeled through. Since he did not fly the plane, he did not have to add the hours of our flight.

  4. What a blast!! It’s so much fun to read about your adventure and to see your beautiful aerial photos of the islands. We hitched a ride on a mailboat that delivers mail to some remote settlements on Vancouver Island, but I didn’t realize that some folks get their mail delivered by seaplane. I’m glad you shared this with us! I’m trying to picture Tom landing the plane and jumping out onto the dock to tie it off. I’ll bet that took some practice! 😳

    • I did remember your mailboat excursion which I thought of doing also but as you know there is an aviation nut in the family. It was my first time on a float plane and it was really an exciting ride, thanks to the clear, windless day. You and Eric should try it one day 🙂

  5. Wow! What a great tour! Sounds like you flew with the right pilot. I might even think about this even though I would be scared to death. Beautiful photos!! It’s amazing how secluded some people live. Sure is spectacular this time of year. Thanks, Steve, for sharing your adventure.

    • I know that you had an inkling we would take a floatplane. I was just glad this he picked this unique tour of the remote islands. It was a perfect day and STeve was really happy!

  6. This is SO cool! Years ago, Kevin and I took a float plane from Seattle to the San Juan Islands for a sea kayaking trip. Honestly, the flight was one of the highlights of the entire trip! And taking off and landing are the best parts, so being able to go through that process multiple times in one tour is just fantastic. Plus, to stay below 1,000 feet would provide stellar views of that gorgeous scenery – as evidenced by your awesome photos! I am definitely making a note of this one. What an unforgettable experience!!!

    • For Steve, it was exciting as-is for me since that was my first ride on a floatplane. We were originally scheduled days before but we backed out when the weather was not good. So the clear gorgeous day with no winds enhanced our flying adventure.

  7. Wow! I’m not sure I’d be so brave to fly in one of those small planes. Your narrative, however just may entice me to sign up. Your excitement came through loud and clear. Photos, as usual are fabulous. I especially liked the plane and men on the dock in reflection.

    • Steve is always excited when it comes to aviation and this was no different. In the past, I was nervous about flying with him on a small plane but later on found it to be exciting. Flying on a floatplane was yet another great experience.

  8. What an awesome trip! I love the scenery. My honey is also an aviator and would love this sort of “tour.”

  9. What a cool thing to do, just wish we could but Dave’s motion sickness issues doesn’t allow us adventures like this.

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