My eureka moment came on the speedboat when I realised I was contentedly smiling to myself. It happened as we zoomed ever faster on our 20-mile sightseeing trip across cloudy green water from Glendale Cove to Glacier Bay, deep within British Columbia. Already Intoxicated by the sight of thunderous great mountains packed tightly with pine trees and fluffy white waterfalls cascading down dark black rocks, the excitement of being a thirty-minute floatplane flight away from the nearest town left me with a feeling of contentment. I realised this city-loving (and firmly countryside-averse) boy had been converted to the wilderness.
My trip to Knight Inlet lodge, deep within the Great Bear Rainforest, proved to be more than just another destination to add to the list I have visited. It proved to be a revelation. On previous visits to the countryside, I have been within a reasonable commute to civilisation, and inevitably encountered many other people. But flying deep into the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, with only 50 people around (40 guests and 10 staff) surrounded by grizzly and black bears, bald eagles and the occasional passing dolphins, humpback whale and sea lions, proved life changing for me. It was a totally different thing for a city lover like me to do and influenced where I want to explore.
The Seaplane Experience
It all began with the Seaplane flight from Campbell River to Knight Inlet Lodge with Vancouver Island Air. Within minutes of taking off we were soaring above a breath-taking landscape. On both sides were lush green hills, lakes and the calm river twisting through them. Occasionally I could see areas flattened by forestry teams moving vast trunks along dust roads to the water to form huge wood floats to drag to the processing mills miles away.
The plane finally landed with a gentle splash onto the smooth waters of Glendale Cove, and I could see the floating Knight Inlet Lodge nestled at the base of the hill. We worked our way towards it. The wooden buildings with green roofs looking small and insignificant against the huge lumbering hills all round. The team used grappling hooks to pull our floatplane to the dock and I excitedly stepped off.
The Knight Inlet Experience
After a warm welcome and quick briefing from Brian, the manager, I was directed to the kit room to gear up for the first excursion while they took care of my bags. The room was packed with bright red waterproof overalls, trousers, jackets and wellington boots of every conceivable size, from dinky small ones for young children to generous plus sized. By 11am, less than half an hour after landing, groups of 6 of us boarded the small flat bottom boats for our first trip out to view bears.
Knight Inlet Lodge has been operating on the same site in Glendale Cove since 1979 when its founder, Blair McLean, dragged his fast-growing salmon fishing lodge on a series of floats to the spot from Hoaya Sound many miles away. This remote area had been uninhabited since the small 150-employee self-contained Glendale salmon canning plant closed in the 1940s. The lodge became focused on bear viewing after the Wyatt family bought it in 1996. It now hosts 2,000 guests a year, mostly from Europe, Australia and New Zealand, during the season that runs from end-May to November. The family set themselves a mission to protect the environment and the bears, by providing “Grizzly bear viewing and stewardship”. Their activities include a “Stop The Hunt” campaign and purchasing the annual licence granted to hunt bears in the region since 2006. That fee is at least $30,000 a year and guests support this by buying various Knight Inlet merchandise, like aluminium water bottles and rubber wristbands. They also host and support university researchers studying bears.
Accommodation at the lodge is comfortable and the food excellent, with a wide choice at every meal. For more on the experience watch my over video that covers that main facilities and rooms:
The Bear Viewing Experience
I benefited from their beliefs by being able to view the magnificent beasts up fairly close, as the animals have come to learn that the human presence is not a threat and largely ignored us. I went on four excursions each day starting at 7:30am, with at least two of them being bear viewing. In spring, which is when I was visiting, the bears are coming out of hibernation and heading back down from their dens high in the hills. As their main food sources in spring are the grassy Sedge along the waterfront, Salmon Berries and the bugs and muscles left exposed at low tide, we viewed the bears from small boats. Usually drifting quietly to around 50 metres away at times.
As the mating season runs until July, mothers with new cubs do not come down until this has passed. So while I was there I saw a number of three-year old bears that had now been chased off by their mothers to fend for themselves as she was ready to mate again, a nine-year old adult female bear, called Bella who had featured in the 2014 Disney documentary-style film called “Bears”, and the male bear pursuing her. These follow females around for days until she eventually allows them to approach and perform their deed. Later in the year when the salmon are heading up the river, bear viewing is done from platforms overlooking the spectacle as they gorge on the unlimited food supply to build themselves up for hibernation.
The other activities available to us included the memorable speedboat excursion, a bear-tracking walk where we headed deep into the forest and followed their paths and saw trees they mark and scratch and the “Walk Above The Clouds”. This is a walking platform high up one of the mountains with views of Glendale Cove, Knight Inlet and into a Bald Eagle’s nest. Each evening before dinner you sit down with Brian and agree your four activities for the next day.
After dinner, which is served buffet-style and eaten at long tables with fellow guests sharing experiences, a guide hosts a half-hour talk about the region and various aspects of bears. My favourite talk was by Tamara who shared the process of bear mating and cub raising, starting the talk saying there is “nothing better than talking about sex and looking at pictures of cute cubs”! In the talk I learnt that bears can have cubs from different fathers and that, even after they have been fertilised, the development only commences once they are fattened up and head for hibernation, having the cubs after 12 weeks. Cubs are born weighing about 1.5 pounds, blind and deaf and their mother’s cuddle them to keep them warm and they suckle until the spring.
On one of my excursions Perry, a retired military man who has become a guide at the lodge, remarked that their job was to make us forget the rest of the world exists. After two nights at the lodge, filled with memories of seeing bears up close and the feeling of contentment from being immersed in the beauty of the remoteness, I boarded the floatplane to head back to Campbell River thinking about how successful they had been. As we lifted off and turned around over the cove and headed upwards to fly over the sturdy lush hills, I also pondered my new-found passion for the wilderness – plotting out when I could return to the place that had made me challenge my ruthless pursuit of exploring and visiting more and more cities. The spark has ignited and the need for more wildlife and wilderness is starting to engulf me. I must return.
Inspired to find out more about bear watching and Knight Inlet Lodge in British Columbia Canada? Visit http://ExploreCanada.Travel now.
I visited Knight Inlet as a guest of Destination Canada on the Explore Canada Spring Watch campaign in partnership with Travelator Media.