Canada's great outdoors

Vicky bears all about her recent wildlife adventure in Canada's great outdoors hotspot, British Columbia...

"CAUTION: BEAR IN AREA” proclaims the yellow and blue sign on the jetty. The boat’s engine is cut. We drift full of anticipation. I am not the only one scanning the forest ahead, half expecting a family of bears as a reception committee.

Caution! Sign

A two-hour motor boat journey through the gunmetal Bute Inlet has brought us to the start of our Grizzly bear pilgrimage. A 4WD vehicle takes us to the heart of the valley, where a wooden observation platform stands on the shingle bank of the Orford River. From the tower there’s a clear view upstream: the shallow ice-blue water pitched against a backdrop of Giant Firs and towering mountains. In places the river seethes with the darting movements of salmon.

The boat The boat

Suddenly a Grizzly bear and her young cub appear. Scanning the scene she makes measured movements towards the edge of the river, her cub in tow. Once in the water, she’s swift and focused, pouncing to take a fish with one swipe of her paw. Her cub is much less dexterous. Poised on the bank of the river, he reaches in and dabs a salmon with his sharp claws, petting it and jumping back in surprise as it flaps in front of him. His playful demeanour and curiosity are infectious; the object of his game clearly fun not food! Although unaware at this young age, he is slowly honing his hunting skills.

Grizzly bear mama and cub Grizzly bear mama and cub

After half an hour at the table, bathroom and spa, the bears make their way upstream towards the cover of the forest. We wait patiently for them to reappear, registering every movement amongst the trees. Back on the boat we talk excitedly about how precious this wildlife encounter has been with a mother and cub. Our appetites have been whetted; we all want more…

Watching Orca whales from the boat Watching Orca whales from the boat

It’s not long before a call comes over the radio, alerting our captain to a pod of 11 Orca whales. Putting bears on hold we head south. Whilst whale watching two days previously we’d seen several Grey whales together and two Orcas, so a pod of 11 is headline news. As we round the inlet a huge spray shoots out from the water and is carried downwind, illuminated by the sunlight. Smaller clusters of spume shoot behind, like a domino effect in the water. The distinctive black and white markings are unescapably Orcas and they twist and turn, moving gracefully along the edge of the shoreline.  I find myself transfixed; in awe of nature for the second time that afternoon.

Orca Orca

How else could this boat ride finish than with some frolicking cetaceans? After the whales submerge, a huge group of Pacific white-sided dolphins swim shotgun to the boat, flaunting their streamlined bodies as they dance and jump in and out of the bow wave. This barely believable sight has a fairy-tale ending as the pod turns west, their acrobatics framed against a burnished sunset.

Whales & Bears of British Columbia

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