On a recent June afternoon, my wife, Helen, and I wandered along spongy game trails in the Great Bear Rainforest, getting a hands-on botany lesson from our guide and playing hide-and-seek with a motherly black bear and her curious cub.
Not too far away, fishing in the coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean, Murray Zedeck was hauling in a 29-pound chinook salmon, which would later be filleted, vacuum-packed and frozen for his trip home.
Back at home base, Patricia Kreisler and her daughter, Elizabeth, were unwinding with hot stone massages after a morning of kayaking and hiking.
And a few miles to the north, Beaky Allesch and Sally Evetts were fly-fishing for trout in mountain streams o after being flown there by helicopter.
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"Absolutely one of the best 10 days of my life," said Allesch, who was visiting from London.
That is the essence of King Pacific Lodge, a luxury resort/wildlife outpost on a barge on the west coast of British Columbia, about 680 miles north of Vancouver. From May through September, the lodge is tucked away in an island harbor in the 4.4 million-acre Great Bear Rainforest. In the off-season, the barge is towed to Prince Rupert, a coastal city about 75 miles to the north.
The lodge is rustic and cozy _ guests sleep with their windows open and wander downstairs in bathrobes for a cup of coffee in the morning. Staff members are smart, energetic and detail-oriented.
It is a wonderfully remote place, reachable only by seaplane or boat. The number of bars on your cell phone? Zero. Cable television stations? None. Also missing are talk radio, rush-hour traffic and dirty air. It's life unplugged.
If that's not enough reason to go, here's more:
Beginning in mid-June, the waters that surround Princess Royal Island are home to chinook salmon, big healthy fish that draw bunches of anglers.
With many of the fishing outfitters in the region, it's about catching and taking home as many fish as possible. Guides often have guests on the water by 4:30 a.m. and stay out till 10, if necessary.
But at King Pacific Lodge, the emphasis is on catching and releasing, keeping only one or two.
"Our guides are not measured by the number of fish you catch," said general manager Robert Penman. "We encourage them to talk to the guests about why it's important to release some fish."
That's the main reason that Jessel Bolton works at King Pacific as a guide. He is a member of the Gitga'at First Nation people who have lived, hunted and fished in the area for centuries.
"I like what they're trying to do," said Bolton, who previously worked for a fishing-only lodge.
Many of the guests on this trip caught chinook and took them home. Two halibut (30 and 47 pounds) were also reeled in.
I wanted to bring home a 20- to 25-pound chinook. Badly.
And on the final day of fishing, I was close. Under the stare of a bald eagle, a 20-pound chinook took the bait from my line and ran. For five minutes, I played the fish, let it run, reeled it in. As the salmon began to tire, I brought it closer to the boat. The guide slowly moved the net under the fish, and then o like a bar of soap slipping out of my hand o the salmon was off the hook.
Call it my catch and unintentional release.
Trip tips: Guests can fish daily with guides, who are given assignments the night before. Depending on the time of year, there's fly-fishing for trout (catch-and-release only) in the surrounding mountains via helicopter, and saltwater fishing for halibut and lingcod, and chinook, coho and pink salmon. The lodge provides each guest with a fishing license, top-of-the-line equipment and a much-appreciated rain suit. Guides fillet, freeze and pack fish for those wanting to take home their catch.
Marlene Berg digs bears, which explains why she was almost giddy as we got out of our kayaks to begin our hike. About 300 yards in front of us, a black bear and her cub were playing.
Marlene, Helen and I watched them as they rolled around in the high grass before we entered the Great Bear Rainforest.
Once we broke through the brush, we were surrounded by huge trees draped in moss. The ground, covered with years of fallen leaves, was a like spongy carpet that supported a mind-boggling assortment of plants.
Marlene, the head adventure guide for King Pacific Lodge, would stop as we walked, telling us about the various plants: sword ferns, skunk cabbage, dwarf dogwood and Indian hellebore, which we learned can be fatal if swallowed. "Coma in 20 minutes," Marlene said.
Then we stumbled upon the bears again, about 25 yards in front of us. The mother bear _ she had to weigh 300 pounds o turned her head, grunted, then lumbered along, across a stream and into the woods.
We continued our hike, ducking under tree limbs, wading through streams and swatting bugs. I expected a Hobbit to appear at any time.
About an hour later, as we headed back to our kayaks, the bears appeared o directly in front of us o and Mother was not amused. She was about 35 yards away, facing us.
Helen and Marlene immediately began snapping photos. The mom headed into the brush, leaving the cub behind. Thirty seconds later the mother made a surprise appearance, about 20 yards behind Helen and Marlene.
I got Marlene's attention, pointed to the bear, and we moved quickly in the opposite direction, toward the kayaks.
Luckily, the bear chose not to pursue.
Trip tips: One of the most popular hikes is at Wolftrack Beach on Campania Island about an hour from the lodge via boat. Many of the best hiking spots are reachable by kayak. Helicopter hikes are available for an extra fee.
Wildlife is abundant around Royal Princess Island. Bald eagles. Porpoises. Seals. Sea lions. Minks. Wolves.
But no creatures are more popular than the orca and humpback whales that live in the coastal waters.
Of the 22 guests at the lodge June 15-19, at least 18 saw orcas (better known as killer whales) or humpbacks. I did not.
But I still got my fix _ viewing slide shows and listening to tapes of singing whales.
Janie Wray and her husband, Hermann Meuter, operate a whale-research lab about 15 minutes from King Pacific Lodge. They've lived there with their dog for the past five years, documenting all things whale.
Wray gave a presentation one evening at the lodge, explaining that there are 250 resident orcas on the coast of British Columbia. Many orcas move into their region this time of year _ they love chinook _ and are spotted regularly.
Wray and Meuter have set up hydrophones in the water, so they can listen and tape the orcas and humpbacks.
"Every family has their own dialect," Wray said.
They've been able to identify three clans of resident orcas and also some transient orcas. The two groups don't interact.
While resident orcas feed primarily on chinook, transient orcas prefer large sea mammals, such as seals and sea lions. Most humans may not be able to tell the orcas apart, but "the sea lions know, and when they see transients, they get up on the rocks," Wray said.
For more information about the lab, go to www.whaleresearch.ca.
Trip tips: In September, guests at King Pacific Lodge get the chance to see a Kermode, a black bear that has a creamy, white fur. The rare bear _ also called the Spirit Bear _ is unique to the region. Sea lion rock is usually covered with _ you guessed it _ sea lions. A resident seal lives in the waters behind the lodge, and bald eagles are everywhere.
It starts on the charter flight from Vancouver, B.C., with a box lunch of a goat cheese and cherry tomato tart; chickpeas tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, parsley and rosemary; fresh fruit; and a chocolate macaroon.
Not your average airline fare.
Once at the lodge, under the direction of chef Maxim Ridorossi, the quality of the food only gets better. The focus is on creating sophisticated, regional fare with an international twist.
The kitchen staff did not disappoint us.
Check out some of the breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings:
Smoked tuna with a fried quail egg; sablefish with asparagus fritters; bison steak with scrambled eggs; wild spring salmon tartare; lobster mushroom-crusted snapper, with couscous, arugula pesto and wilted kale; seared beef tenderloin with toasted-hazelnut mashed potatoes; spring salmon burgers; sauteed halibut cheeks in cauliflower puree; seared wild salmon; spinach and smoked-salmon frittata; roasted duck; blueberry waffles; and white-chocolate spring rolls with sweet sake dipping sauce.
Meals are served with wines from the region.
Trip tips: A continental breakfast is served at 6 a.m. with hot breakfast options available at 7:30 a.m.; lunch is served at noon or 12:30 and dinner at 7:30. Sack lunches o our favorite was a tasty turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce o are packed if you're going to be gone from the lodge all day. Homemade cookies are available all day and night. Dinner dress is casual.
IF YOU GO:
King Pacific Lodge sits on a barge on Banard Harbour, Princess Royal Island on the west coast of British Columbia, about 680 miles northwest of Vancouver.
Guests are expected to get to Vancouver on their own. We chose to fly to Seattle, then drive the 120 miles north to Vancouver. Flights from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to Seattle run about $240 per person. The drive was beautiful; waiting in line for more than an hour to cross the border was not. once in Vancouver, guests meet at the Airport Fairmont Hotel and are flown on a private charter to an airstrip in a small community called Bella Bella. From there, they are loaded on to seaplanes called Grumman Gooses for an hourlong flight to the lodge. Landing (and taking off) in the water is better than an amusement-park ride.
WHAT TO TAKE
Fleece, jeans, waterproof pants and shorts, sandals, hiking boots. Digital cameras are a must. Luggage is limited to 30 pounds per guest. Temperatures range from 50 to 60 degrees at night to 70 to 80 degrees during the day, with occasional afternoon showers.
The lodge is built of native pine, fir, cedar and stone. Very rustic and understated, it features 17 rooms and suites, ranging from 450 to 1,400 square feet.
During our three-night stay, there were 22 guests and 32 staff members.
There are packages for three nights, four nights and seven nights (starting at $4,200 per person for three nights.) Packages include the charter flights to and from the lodge; all meals, including beverages; open bar; and a variety of guided activities (fishing, kayaking, hiking and wildlife viewing).
Helicopter tours (starting at $1,200 per person for fishing or hiking trips); spa service (starting at $120) and conservation fee ($225 per person).
Guests are treated to a champagne reception upon arrival. Each guest has a locker with boots, rain suit and hat. The staff downloads digital photos at the end of the trip and puts them on CDs.
The lodge has a working relationship with the Gitga'at First Nation people who live in nearby Hartley Bay. Guests can visit Cornwall Inlet, a special place to the Gitga'at that is home to colorful burial boxes; go to old Town, where you can tour a sacred site of the Gitga'at's first settlement; and fish near a camp where seaweed and halibut are harvested. Youth from Hartley Bay participate in a mentoring program at the lodge, and many end up working there. "We acknowledge that this is their territory," said general manager Robert Penman.
This year, the lodge replaced its electric kitchen with propane, which cuts down on generator use (and gas emissions). At the end of the season, the lodge and all of its waste are towed away to the coastal city of Prince Rupert, about 75 miles to the north. Next year, the lodge plans to install solar panels to further reduce fuel consumption.
The Morita family of Japan. The lodge is managed by Rosewood Hotels & Resorts (www.rosewoodhotels.com)