Great Bear is one of the last remaining tracts of temperate rainforest on the planet – it sprawls along the remote west coast of British Columbia, Canada, almost twice the size of Belgium. And though logging is permitted in some spots, there’s still plenty of virgin old growth forest around Smith Inlet, where you’ll find the Great Bear Lodge. This area is home to about 50 grizzlies, but as I visited in summer I didn’t expect to see any (peak seasons are spring and autumn). Instead, I was hoping to get a feel for their environment by exploring it on foot and by rowboat.
The lodge’s daily activities start at 8am, with a cruise led by biologist guide, Marcus Atkins. He steers us through the Nekite River’s tidal sloughs and remote backwaters, pointing out harbour seals, otters, bald eagles and belted kingfishers. But the real highlight here is the scenery. On each side of the mirrory river, dramatic ridges are cloaked in fog, and only the gentle splash of the oars breaks the silence.
Later, we head back to the lodge, grab lunch, then set off on a guided hike through the forest. While tree roots can make things a little ankle-twisty, the walk is an easy grade and the guide often stops to point out some of the bears’ nibblies, including thimble berries (they taste like a cross between strawberries and raspberries), red elderberries, salmonberries and even wild crab apples (super tarty, these were my fave). We also keep an eye out for signs of wolves, and though we don’t see anything furry, we do find their fresh scat – so they’ve probably seen us.
After a few days of exploring the wilderness, reality beckons – but not before one last paddle on the Nekite. And that’s when we find him – a young fella, about two years old, ambling along the bank in search of a feed. When he first smells us he watches, stock-still and intrigued, for just a few seconds, before slipping back into auto-forage mode like we were never even there. Magic.
Now you go…
Start in Vancouver then fly to Port Hardy (it takes about an hour with Pacific Coastal Airlines). From there, you can board the seaplane to the Great Bear Lodge (the 30-minute return flight is included in the lodge’s rates). Actually, all food, booze, lush accommodation and activities are all included in the tariff. Check it out here.
Don’t bother buying fancy outdoor gear for a trip to Great Bear Lodge. They supply everything you could possibly need – quilted camo onesies, wet-weather layers, boots, binoculars – and it’s all been tried, tested and proven to withstand the demands of the forest. In saying that, you’ll need to BYO bug net for your face – I used this one and found it comfortable. And for your camera gear, bring something water-resistant for the boat. I used these dry bags when the camera was on my lap, and carried it in this backpack, both on the boat and on the trail (FYI the Kaban’s seams aren’t waterproof, but its ballistic nylon body is light, comfortable, water-repellent and hella durable = winner).