Kayaker grows wings when bears go fishing in majestic fjord
IHAVE never considered myself a particularly manly kayaker. I tire fairly easily and after half a day on the water my shoulders feel like someone has injected hot lead into them. Maybe I amnot trying hard enough. Maybe all I need is a bit of encouragement, like a fully-grown grizzly bear thrashing towards me through the shallows at 40km/h, baring its teeth.
If ever the Australian kayak team is a man down, they now know who to call.
My unscripted Olympics record sprint happens on the black, chill waters of Glendale Cove, an anchorage in Knight Inlet, the longest fjord in British Columbia.
The waters claim my small digital camera but it is either that or the bear claiming me for lunch, and on reflection it is a good trade.
Had I done as my guide told me and kept downwind of the grizzly and her two small cubs grazing along the shoreline, I would never have realised my inner kayaker. And my fellow guests would have nothing to tease me about that night over delicious sockeye salmon and Russian River pinot noir at the Knight Inlet Lodge.
The ribbing is good-natured because the Knight Inlet Lodge is a good-natured sort of place. It’s about as wild as you can get (accessible only by seaplane) so there is a camaraderie here that you really only find in the wilderness.
The stories around the dining table each evening are full of the wonders of the natural world: ‘‘ The eagles flew with us as we came in today on the plane . . . it looked like they were escorting us.’’ Or ‘‘ We spent the entire afternoon out with the sea lions.’’ And ‘‘ I got one great shot of a grizzly — full frame, just as it lifted its head.’’
There is a sense you are jointly witnessing extraordinary things every day.
The lodge is the reincarnation of a 1940s logging camp, but now with lounges, hot showers, log fires and chefs who create culinary magic with local crab, salmon and prawns. Guests sleep in cosy cedar- panelled cabins secured to floating logs on the waters of the fjord. Each has an ensuite bathroom and there’s an outdoor hot tub.
Glendale Cove is home to one of the largest concentrations of grizzly bears in British Columbia. In the peak autumn season (September and October) there can be as many as 50 bears within 10km of the lodge, congregating to gorge themselves on salmon as the fish return to the inlet after spawning.
Spring is good bear-viewing time, too: from late April they emerge from hibernation, the cubs gambolling along the shorelines and their protective mothers keeping watch and chasing off the occasional kayaker. This is also high season for seals, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins and even minke and orca whales which puff and blow their way up the fjord.
The lodge’s superb tour packages (anything from 2-8 days) include return seaplane fares from Campbell River on Vancouver Island and transfers, all food and house wine, use of kayaks, bearviewing tours, interpretative rainforest walks and boat cruises.
Another excellent reason for visiting the lodge is that it is a founding member of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of British Columbia, which is committed to ensuring a sustainable grizzly bear-viewing industry that respects the animals and their ecosystems. The lodge’s owners, Dean and Kathy Wyatt, are also campaigning to get legal trophy hunting of grizzly bears banned in British Columbia. I amall for saving the bears; after all, how else am I going to get my Olympic kayak sprint training?
Knight Inlet Lodge, 8841 Driftwood Rd, Black Creek, British Columbia. Phone: +250 337 1953; www.grizzlytours.com. Tariff: From $C920 ($1012) a person twin-share for a two-day tour package in low season to $C5310 for an eight-day tour package in high season. Getting there: Ferry to Vancouver Island, drive to Campbell River, seaplane to the lodge. Checking in: Wildlife fanatics, big-city escapees, manly kayakers. Bedtime reading: TheTrueAdventuresof GrizzlyAdams:ABiography by Robert M. McClung. Stepping out: Kayaking is the best way to see bears but do stay downwind. Or join an interpretative walk to explore the magical rainforests, go spotting for eagles, or get out on the water to look for orca. Brickbats: Rooms are out on log floats over the water so there is some slight movement, which can be uncomfortable if you are susceptible to seasickness. Bouquets: Delicious food, serene scenery, a strong eco-ethic, and (almost) ondemand grizzlies.
Logging on: Knight Inlet Lodge is the perfect base for kayakers and wildlife fanatics