The steady whir of the helicopter’s rotor blades fades and I’m cocooned by the voice of Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins singing Flower Duet through my headphones. My eyes drink in the landscape of wavy mountains, lonely islands and isolated bays. The recipe of music and scenery is so seductive I want this moment to last forever.
Nimmo Bay Lodge
My reverie is interrupted as the helicopter flies around a river bend and Nimmo Bay Lodge appears, enticingly nestled in a bay at the head of McKenzie Sound with a lush forest backdrop of cedar, spruce, balsam and hemlock trees. If I had to describe heaven, this surely must be it.The location is pure wilderness with no other inhabitants within 16km of the lodge and the only access is by boat or helicopter.
Cottages are linked by a floating boardwalk to a floating bakery, kitchen and the main lodge, which has a dining room and lounge.
The cottages themselves are luxurious yet cosy with their timber walls and floors, mezzanine bedrooms, comfy sofas and throw rugs.Mine is right on the river, offering a ringside view of British Columbia’s wilderness, and judging by the guest list – Richard Branson, George Bush Snr, William Shatner – it has plenty of high-profile takers.
Its remote location means the lodge is an ecotourism venture by default: it has been recycling since 1981, has used a hydroxyl waste-water treatment system since 2000 and electricity comes from a water-driven turbine mounted at the base of a waterfall.
“We adhere to the theory that we don’t own the land; the land owns us. “We are lucky just to be here and act as stewards of this miraculous land that we live and work in,” says owner Craig Murray.I join the other guests on the jetty for a glass of chardonnay and fresh Fanny Bay oysters before gathering in the dining room for the evening’s meal. Afterwards, we huddle around the open fire outdoors and listen to our host tell wild tales about bear encounters and fishing adventures.
Salmon fishing adventure
The next morning, after being kitted out in chest-high waterproof waders and rubber boots, I climb into a helicopter along with four other guests.
We hover above 1000-year-old cedar trees and salmon-rich rivers in the Great Bear Forest. Stretching from Vancouver Island to the Alaskan border, it’s one of the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforests and is home to wolves, cougar, elk and moose.
Our pilot reels off place names as we fly over Salmon Arm, Long Lake and Smith Inlet – but he is vague about our actual destination. From a distance, we spot a huge grizzly bear feeding on salmon in a shallow river. When I ask if we can fly in for a closer look, he refuses.
He lands the helicopter on a rocky clearing by a fast-flowing river near muddy paw marks, which remind us we are trespassing in grizzly territory. We learn that the bear is only a few bends away and could reach us in no time at all, which is why the pilot keeps his 12-gauge shotgun close by.
Soon I’m standing in knee-deep water, learning to cast and spin in a river brimming with chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon. Our pilot is an expert at spin fishing and reels in salmon after salmon, talking to each fish like a new lover as he gently removes the hooks and releases them back into the clear water. When the fish stop biting, we pile back into the helicopter and fly to another fishing spot.
Lunch on a glacier
As lunchtime approaches we pack our fishing rods away once more – into the helicopter’s purpose-built hatch. We down at the lodge briefly to pick up the cool boxes then we take off again, this time towards the distant snow-capped mountains.Hundreds of glaciers sculpt the landscape of British Columbia. Sadly, like many glaciers in tropical and temperate zones, BC’s glaciers have been retreating for the last century due to climate change.
Helm Glacier in southwest BC and Illecillewaet Glacier in the interior of the province have both retreated by more than 1100m.
These changes in glacier run-off have major consequences for water supplies, hydroelectricity generation and fish populations. The reduced amount of cold water flowing into mountain streams and rivers during hot summer months may eventually threaten the salmon spawning cycle.
Our helicopter hovers above a small glacier, dwarfed by a vast slow-moving body of snow and ice. This glacier is one of many and doesn’t have a name.
Our pilot sets up a small square table and covers it with a white table cloth. He lays out a feast of thick-cut gourmet sandwiches, bottles of beer and wine from the Okanagan Valley.
I dangle my legs over a rocky ledge eating a sandwich and sipping red wine while I soak up the scenery. The contrast of the deep lush valley below and the towering mountain of blue ice and grey rock above is awe-inspiring. It’s a moment that to me is worth far more than dining in the flashiest restaurant in the most expensive city in the world.
Nimmo Bay’s motto (a clever play on Einstein’s famous equation): E2=MC means “expectations exceeded = memories created”. My expectations have been well and truly exceeded; definitely squared – maybe even cubed. I, for one, am totally hooked.
Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of Canadian Tourism Corporation and Nimmo Bay Lodge.
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