We challenged product manager, Gary Worthington, our Canada expert behind the scenes and wanna-be David Bailey, to find some of Canada’s varied and much loved wildlife, including the magnificent Grizzly Bear!
Viewing wildlife in their natural environment is one of the main reasons we love to travel far and wide over this little blue dot we call home. From watching the majestic migration of wildebeest on the Serengeti to cage-diving with Great Whites in the waters around Cape Town, I love to see animals in their own homes. And I’m lucky; this is the second trip I have taken under the guise of ‘work’! Even compared to a safari in South Africa, seeing grizzly bears (and a couple of black bears too) walking freely around their own backyard in British Columbia, Canada, is an experience I will never forget.
The trip started with an Air Canada flight from Heathrow to Vancouver. I have visited Vancouver in the past and it is a beautiful city, surrounded on three sides by water with stunning coastal mountains to the north, still snow-capped in early June! There is so much to see in the city, a 1 or 2 night stop before heading north to Campbell River probably isn’t enough. Stanley Park, Coal Harbour, English Bay and Canada Place are just some of the parts of the city to see and attractions such as sightseeing floatplane flights from the harbour and the wonderful Fly-Over Canada at Canada place are another couple of must-dos in this friendly, cosmopolitan city.
The Bear Viewing Package - Day 1
The trip to view the bears at Knight Inlet Lodge started with a night in Campbell River. Vancouver is located on the south west corner of Canada’s mainland and the departure point for Knight Inlet is on Vancouver Island, about 110 miles north west of the city. So I took a 10.15 Pacific Coastal Airlines flight (just 30 minutes) from Vancouver Airport to Campbell River, on the east coast of Vancouver Island.
Upon arrival in Campbell River, Grizzly Tours transferred us to the hotel for an overnight stop and some leisure time in this little coastal town. If you are there at the weekend – we were there on a Friday night - look out for cruise ships passing on the Inside Passage, travelling between Alaska and the Pacific coast ports of Vancouver and Seattle, it can be quite a sight!
Day 2 - Morning
The second day started with another early start – you do get used to them! Grizzly Tours again picked us up and transferred us to Campbell River’s floatplane station where we checked in with Vancouver Island Air for a short flight to Glendale Cove, a little secluded location off the massive Knight Inlet. For anyone with an aversion to going without technology for any period of time, stock up at Campbell River as the WiFi around Vancouver Island Air’s little lounge is the last connection you will have to the outside world – we were truly venturing into the unknown; 48 hours without Wifi, mobile signal or TV!
I travelled by floatplane, over the islands and waterways, between Campbell River and the lodge, located just off the mainland – absolutely spectacular. The high peaks in the distance looked fantastic and the water and forests below stretched for miles; the descent onto the cove was just a taster of what was instore for me over the next two days!
There was no time to rest on our first day at the lodge. Orientation of the lodge – which is actually located on a floating deck – was quickly followed by suiting up in your life jackets or floatation suits and coats (offering a little more protection from the elements.) Our first adventure on the water, stuck close to the edges of the cove, looking for bears who may be venturing to the shoreline to eat the barnacles attached to the rocks. Not in luck this time but with plenty of birds including majestic bald eagles, the day was still amazing!
After a hearty lunch with our fellow bear-watching guests, we ventured out for a tour of Knight Inlet, with Canadian guide Jason. Travelling along aquamarine waters, the scenery all around is stunning, with high sided cliffs to the water’s edge, climbing high to snow-capped peaks and powerful cascading waterfalls, fuelled by glacial melt-water. We also saw dolphins swimming close to the boat and plenty more eagles.
Early evening – we strike lucky
After a short break observing hummingbirds zip around the deck we hit the cove again – bald eagles were becoming a regular sight however a pair chasing down and catching a young gull was not a spectacle I had expected to see. This is nature in raw action and although not ‘pleasant’ it was truly fascinating to see how the two eagles work together.
In long grass further down the cove, a brown smudge was spotted, we approached slowly and quietly and saw the first bear of our trip - a young female, known as Amber, feeding in abundant marshlands where the river meets the sea. On the opposite bank we came across the real star of the show – Bella. She is a regular mother around the cove and this year she has triplets! We found all four on the edge of the water, foraging in the rocks and grass with Bella feeding heavily to give her the strength to nurse and protect her demanding brood. What a remarkable scene!
The sun set, stars appeared and the lodge was pretty much deserted by 10pm; peaceful, relaxed, with a great day behind us and the prospect of more tomorrow, who needs Facebook?
Day 3 Morning
Despite a choice on day 3, the whole group opted for more bear-searching. Heading out early at low tide rewarded us with another sighting of bears foraging in the coastal rocks for barnacles and molasses. Bella and the triplets were still close, only venturing in and out of the trees for a bit of sleep!
We took a guided sea kayaking trip which gave us a different perspective; being closer to the water and without engine noise and we had a great view of the marine life and were treated to yet another view of bears, this time two black bears in the long grass close by the seaplane dock.
Best season to visit
We also got a guided tour of what to expect in summer and fall. Travelling in early June it is the start of the bear viewing season and they pretty much stay around the edges of the cove to forage for food at low tide. For the ultimate experience, travel after 25th August when thousands of salmon return to the spawning channels and the bears can feast, preparing to hibernate as winter is coming!
The pinnacle of our whole tour fell like dream on day 4. We spotted an unbelievable, eight individual bears! They included Bella and her young cubs, her older child, Frank, with another unidentified adolescent male plus a famous, regular mother called Lenore with her yearling Stella. Unlike Bella’s youngsters, Stella is already feeding herself and between them, Lenore and her offspring were tearing up logs and massive rocks like they were twigs and tiny stones. I found the strength and power of these adorable animals is absolutely astounding!
Time to leave
And all too soon it was time to board the floatplane back to Campbell River and reality/society. A memorable trip in all senses from beginning to end.
A final night was spent in the beautiful mountain village of Whistler, famous as a winter-ski destination. I cannot recommend this wonderful place highly enough for a summer stay - the village has a vibrancy and easy going feel to it that can’t help but put a smile on your face. It is surrounded by small lakes, some already warm enough for swimming. The mountain gondolas are operational so you can head up Whistler Mountain and take the Peak2Peak trip to Blackcomb; more wonderful sites to behold, Canada just doesn’t give up!