Friday Harbour? No. San Juan Island? No. Somewhere Northwest of Seattle and South of the Canadian border? Oh! ye-no.
This was the reaction I got when I told people that I would be visiting Friday Harbour on San Juan Island. No one seemed to know where it was, neither did I.
Only when a google search ‘Where to see Orcas in the wild’ led me to the San Juan Islands. The San Juan Island is a photographers paradise, thriving with wildlife and transcendent landscapes; it should certainly be on any photographers bucket list.
Where is Friday Harbour?
Friday Harbour is on San Juan Island located in Washington State. San Juan Island is one of the islands that make up the San Juan Islands, a collection of islands located between Washington State and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.
Travelling to Friday Harbour is part of the fun! I highly recommend the San Juan Clipper by Clipper Vacations directly from Seattle, which took around 3 hours 45 minutes. Why? It’s the most scenic route!
You can also go via Anacortes by Car or Foot but if you’re like me and prefer the path of least resistance… Then I would recommend the Seattle Clipper, it’s perfect for a budget backpacker!
I had a blast on this boat ride! I happened upon a lady originally from Cuba, now living in New Jersey, scouting Wedding receptions for her daughter. I noticed she had a Canon grasped in her hands as I went to pull out my equipment. “Wow, you’re prepared” she said as I attached my Canon 70-200mm lens to my 5D mark IV. I got to talking with this Cuban turned New Jerseyan and somehow ended up becoming her photography tutor for the majority of the Ferry ride and in return she bought me lunch for teaching her some basic photography tips.
This Ferry is a photography tour in itself, with a Naturalist on board and access to the outdoor decks, you can shoot for your whole trip! Here are some of my photos from the San Juan Clipper deck.
I arrived in Friday Harbour at around 12pm on a Saturday, I hauled my luggage off the Clipper and onto the harbour. I took a moment to take in my surroundings and accept that I was in one of the most beautiful places I had ever been and knowing what kind of wildlife that resides around San Juan filled me with excitement.
Walking up to my Hostel, I tell myself, I’m going on an adventure! I was booked in to stay at a small island Hostel, the only Hostel on the island now that I think of it; mainly filled with Island residents who can’t afford a home on the Island so they live in a shared dorm room whilst decorating beach houses for a living. I wasn’t overly impressed with the Hostel but I didn’t let that bother me. I had 24 hours on San Juan Island and I was going to make sure that I enjoy it!
Plan A: Walk everywhere by foot and dance with the trees whilst my feet glide through the sand…
Outcome: My fantasies were crushed, San Juan Island is big. Really big. You need a Car or a Bike.
Plan B: Message a stranger online and ask him to drive me around.
Outcome: Probably not the safest way to do it but hey, an experience is an experience. The late afternoon of my arrival I was picked up by a guy who appeared a little bit timid with a 60s hippy vibe going on and a cliche camper van.
Fun Fact: San Juan Island actually encourages Hitch Hiking
Head to Cattle Point Light and South Beach to shoot their beautiful beaches covered in Driftwood. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to bring my Tripod for this trip but if you can, I’m sure you could get some great long exposure shots of the water hitting the Driftwood!
San Juan Wildlife
Right, the main reason for this whole trip… The resident Orca’s! It is known that San Juan Island is home to a Pod of Orca’s. How awesome, right? Considering this was where some scenes from ‘Free Willy’ were filmed, It was like I was a child again. I decided to book a Whale Watching Tour with San Juan Safaris, I chose the adventure vessel which meant we would go at a faster speed. There was one thing I didn’t plan for though… Rain. I panicked that my camera and equipment would get soaked and I would be lifeless and jobless, so I brought out the DIY from within and I built myself a rain cover.
Yes, a black sack and 4 rubber bands kept this bad-boy safe and dry the entire trip.
We started boarding our boat named ‘Kestrel’ and off on an adventure we went!
San Juan Island has an abundance of marine mammals that pass through the Salish Sea including Porpoises, Harbour Seals, Humpback Whales, Orcas, Steller Sea Lions, Minke Whales and occasionaly Gray Whales. As we set off, every person on our boat kept their eyes peeled for signs of marine mammals.
We spotted 3 Humpback Whales spouting water from it’s blowhole and as we got closer I thought to myself…. Damn, I’m gonna need a bigger lens.
Goats & Black-Tail Deer
As my boat tour was coming to an end, I was told the Resident Orcas haven’t been seen for a few days and I came to realise that I may not see them too, but that’s okay- I’m a traveller. I’ll just travel to Alaska to see them and this time, I’m gonna take a bigger lens.
- I had a 70-200, take a longer lens if you can
- Fast shutter speed, these guys are moving real fast
- Prepare for bad weather (not like me)
- Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get the shot you wanted, I didn’t this time… but I know there’ll be a next time.