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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 11 Oct 2007

Location: Vancouver, Canada

MapTuesday 9th
After getting up at 5.30 and driving 30 minutes to Telegraph Cove, we learn that the tours had been cancelled due to “hurricane force winds” later in the day. Hmmm … bad luck, so we decided to start heading south (and back to Vancouver by Thursday), and try out another “Grizzly watching tour” at Campbell River, about two hours down the road, for tomorrow. Making Campbell River and booking the tour for tomorrow, we also decided to treat ourselves with a resort for two nights. We chose a fully self-contained cabin at the water’s edge at the Tsa-Kwa-Luten resort on Quadra Island, which is a ten minute ferry ride from Vancouver Island. The strange name for the resort comes from the original inhabitants of the area, also called First Nation, who have built the resort themselves on their own land, and allow us to stay. Sitting in our loungeroom, we watch the sun set while a seal plays in the water in front of us, with Campbell River just on the other side.

Wednesday 10th
What an amazing day … we’ve seen such scenery and wildlife today that it seems that the cancelled trip yesterday was fate for us to experience today. It starts with a bald eagle sitting on the jetty just in front of our cottage as we have breakfast. As it flys away, its huge wingspan on display, it’s a taste of things to come.
With a lucky dip at the weather (a good day) and $340 per head, we set out from Quadra Island marina with Gary on his boat. There are over 70 islands in the area that separate mainland Canada from Vancouver Island (called the Discovery Islands), and so many channels and inlets give rise to many regions of turbulent water where fast-running tides meet at the confluence of two or more channels. The result is some of the fastest and most dangerous rapids in the world, on a stretch of water over a kilometer across and hundreds of meters deep. We witnessed first hand huge whirlpools many meters across, and actual drops in water level where the tides create a fall of over a meter in no distance at all. In other areas the water looks like its boiling. At either side of the channels are hills and mountains covered in trees and mossy rocks. Bald eagles are easily spotted in the trees because of their white heads, and are often sitting in pairs. The female is easy to pick, as she is the larger of the two. Before long, the high mountains have snow-covered tops, the air takes a decided chill, and you know you’re heading for some serious Canadian wilderness.
We eventually arrive at Orford Bay, which is a busy logging port with log trucks, heavy machinery and huge logs of red cedar floating in the water. The strange thing is, this place is completely inaccessible by road, it is in utter wilderness. Everything is delivered by barge. There is a twin-rotor helicopter pulling freshly cut trees out of an incredibly steep slope and dropping them into the water, where the logs are stripped and prepared for transportation by barge to the mill downstream at Campbell River. It is cheaper to use a helicopter for logging than to build roads into this mountainous terrain, and the old-growth trees here make it profitable. Gary estimated two million dollars worth of red cedar just sitting in the water at Orford Bay.
We hop on a bus and drive four kilometers up a rough muddy track. Every kilometer there is a viewing platform that overlooks the river, and at each one we wait for up to half an hour for grizzlies. And we see them, lazily walking beside the river, not a care in the world and unaware or unperturbed that they’re being watched. The closest encounter happens when a big grizzly is spotted on the other side of a small tributary to the main river, and we stand on the opposite bank as this beautiful animal slowly sits on the river bank, looking around, then strolls into the water and finds a piece of dry land mid-stream where he lies down and has a nap. We watched him for over half an hour, from no more than ten meters away. To see such a wild animal in its natural habitat, so large and famous – it was worth traveling so far to see.
The journey back to Quadra Island was more mountains, trees, cliffs, bald eagles, sea lions and rapids, but the close encounter with the Big Griz was foremost in our minds.