Wilderness adventure doesn’t always mean roughing it, as a few days bear watching and salmon fishing at the luxury Sonora Resort shows.
I’m just outside Vancouver airport, where the runway is a section of the Fraser River, and I’m getting ready to catch a seaplane to Sonora Resort. Its remote position on an islet, halfway up Vancouver Island, near the settlement of Campbell River, means that the only way to get to it is by boat, helicopter or plane. That makes the journey something special and we take off, flying low over wooded hills, punctuated by lakes and rivers, against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. It’s about a two hour flight and as we touchdown on the water and taxi to the jetty, the hotel staff are there to welcome me.
Rooms are spacious, equipped with the sort of luxury you would expect from a five star Relais & Chateau resort, and the late afternoon light shimmers off the water outside. I like the slate floors in the bathrooms and the well-stocked mini-bar, all part of the all-inclusive package, which also includes the meals. Chef Terry Pichor is known for his food and I can see why when I sample his tasting menu. The beef risotto is excellent but special praise goes for the spring salmon, cooked sous-vide and served with clams, octopus, pancetta and green peas.
It’s up early the next morning for the grizzly bear tour. A boat takes me up the Bute Inlet, past harbour seals, sea lions and porpoises, to the mouth of the Orford River. There I’m handed over to a couple of Homalco First Nation guides and transferred to bus which takes me to a viewing tower at the side of the river bank. It’s October so the salmon are here to spawn in great numbers and they’re the big attraction for the grizzlies.
Right in front of us, a mother and two cubs are wading in the water, picking out choice specimens and chomping them down. We see other grizzlies, seemingly oblivious to our presence, all intent on gathering their breakfast. The poor salmon don’t stand a chance, although there are so many of them that it’ll take more than a few bears to dent their population. This really is the call of the wild taking place right in front of my eyes.
One of the other activities they offer at Sonora is a rafting trip where you go snorkelling with salmon, but unfortunately it’s too late in the year. Instead I opt for fishing, and am issued with a licence which allows me to catch a maximum of four fish, extremely unlikely given my previous experience. The Chinook, or Tyee, salmon is the largest species here, weighing in at over 30 lbs, and my guide “Tyee” Mike once caught thirteen in a single season. He steers the boat to his favourite spot and drops anchor. Salted anchovies are the bait and he sets the rods on the end of the boat and drops the hooks in the water.
Now it’s just a waiting game until the lines twitch – when that happens, he tells us, we must keep reeling and not to give up, come what may. After an hour, I’m wishing I was a grizzly, then I could just grab the fish from the water, rather than playing a waiting game. There are a couple of false alarms then suddenly Mike jumps into action. There’s a large salmon on the end of the line, so he starts reeling frantically, then passes the rod to me. I’m not fast enough on the uptake and it gets away, much to his disappointment. The second time there’s a twitch, Mike passes the rod to my companion and she’s determined to get her man. I can only watch her work until it suddenly appears out of the water, Mike grabs it in his net and drops it in the bottom of the boat. He’d said earlier that women were the luckiest sex when it came to fishing and this time he’s right.
Back at the resort, the salmon is filleted and packed in ice for my companion to take home. I’m slightly disappointed as I’d been imagining it making a hearty lunch for two. Instead I enjoy a colourful beet salad and fish and chips, featuring local halibut. After a deep massage in the Island Currents Spa, I’m back out on the water getting up close to the harbour seals, sea lions and a black bear that’s all on its own at the side of the inlet. Seeing all these creatures in the wild is a special experience, even more so when you can return to the resort for luxury pampering. You do need to be fit enough to climb in and out of boats and the bear viewing platforms have a fair number of steps, but otherwise this is a holiday for all ages.
- Sonora Resort can arrange transfers from Vancouver or Campbell River.
- You’ll probably need to overnight in Vancouver. The boutique Loden Hotel is right in the centre of downtown and also has an excellent French restaurant.
- Super Natural BC has information about the province.
- Destination Canada has information about the country.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Frontier Canada and there’s a free excursion for all bookings by Silver Travellers.