Kayaker grows wings when bears go fish­ing in ma­jes­tic fjord

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Canada & Alaska - Matthew Brace

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?

Check­list

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

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