|THE HJ Heinz company uses 2,000,000 tonnes of tomatoes|
annually in its sauces, baked beans and other products. (HJHeinzCo)
March 23, 2015
March 19, 2015
They peer down from their perches high up totem poles, creatures with the features of bears and whales, eagles and wolves, beavers and ravens. For eons, British Columbia’s Aboriginal people have shared a strong spiritual bond with the menagerie thriving in the surrounding forests and waters. These days, adventurists from all walks of life are also longing to connect with the wilderness and the natural cycle of life unfolding with every season.
In BC it’s easy to experience Mother Nature’s grand scheme and not just in the province’s 13.9 million hectares (34.35 million acres) of parks and protected areas. With 1,100 wildlife species thriving in some of the most diverse ecosystems on earth, Bighorn sheep, bears and moose can be seen from highways; dolphins, sea lions and whales from the decks of scheduled ferries.
With more fauna than any other province, critters are sure to be somewhere nearby, whether you’re camping with the bare essentials or lounging in luxury. You just need to decide where best to commune with your own inner wild thing.
|A brown black bear cub near the Grizzly Bear Ranch in spring. Photo by Jim Lawrence. |
(Jim is a professional wildlife photographer and a regular guest at the ranch.
To see more of his photos go to his website: www.kootenayreflections.com)
Few wildlife encounters are more exhilarating than watching grizzly bears lumbering along a shoreline or cubs frolicking on a beach. Mid-May through mid-June, in the hungry early days of summer, is the best time to check in on the 60 or so who call remote Khutzeymateen/K’tzim-a-deen Grizzly Sanctuary home. The only access into Canada’s first grizzly protection zone northeast of Prince Rupert is via floatplane or boat operated by licensed outfitters privy to prime spying locations.
With more than half of Canada’s population of grizzlies — roughly 15,000 — as well as a quarter of the country’s black bears, BC is truly “bear central.” There’s even a unique creamy-white bruin native to a region within the Great Bear Rainforest, the world’s largest remaining temperate coastal rainforest, south of Khutzeymateen. The Kermode (or “Spirit”) bear is a genetic fluke, a startlingly white black bear that is BC’s official animal. The folks who best know the whereabouts of the approximately 400 elusive, mystical beasts are guides from the nearby First Nations village of Klemtu who enhance the Spirit bear search with traditional knowledge and tales.
Though the Great Bear Rainforest is a road-less wilderness twice the size of Belgium, two fly-in floating lodges — Knight Inlet and Great Bear — provide comfort in the heart of grizzly country. Day treks through lush rainforest follow “bear stomp” trails where muddy dens and day beds might be spotted; drift silently along estuaries, eavesdropping on mother bears and cubs munching fresh grass sedges while keeping an eye open for seals, bald eagles and water birds.
Other ways to get your share of bear viewing in BC include joining the crew aboard the Pacific Yellowfin, the tall ship Maple Leaf or one of Bluewater Adventures’ pampered wildlife-viewing cruises that delve deep into the rainforest. For a change of scenery, lavish outposts like the Discovery Islands’ Sonora Resort serve up five-star luxury that includes heli-sightseeing and gourmet cuisine along with your bears.
In BC’s Cariboo Chilcotin, adventure company ROAM recently launched a Bear-Camp — deluxe safari-style adventures including bear-peeping by canoe or kayak, or on foot. Though bears and tents might not sound like an ideal proposition, ROAM’s six waterfront suites are perched atop safe grizzly-viewing platforms overlooking Chilko Lake and the headwaters of the Chilko River, and include access to exquisite dining, daily yoga classes and an in-house massage therapist who makes tent calls. Looking to tweak your wildlife photography skills? Sign up for historic Tweedsmuir Park Lodge’s Wildlife and Grizzly Bear Photography Workshops in a 1929 wilderness lodge with a backdrop of the Bella Coola Valley’s glaciers and rugged peaks on 24 hectares (60 acres) of private land within BC’s biggest provincial park.
Bear-sighting expeditions need not be costly: Jamie’s Whaling Station in Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, offers two- to three-hour black bear tours for as little as $89, and you can spot grizzlies on full-day guided tours out of Campbell River or Telegraph Cove for about $300 from spring through October.
Tip: autumn is one of the most reliable and dramatic seasons to experience bears. Splashing through river shallows teeming with migrating salmon, bears swat fish from the water with a flick of their formidable paws almost as fast as they can devour them, teeth sinking into their feast with a satisfying crunch. Meanwhile, high up in mossy trees, bald eagles patiently wait their turn to swoop down and clean up the leftovers.
Few events in nature showcase the cycle of life more graphically than the annual migration of all five wild Pacific salmon species, September through November. It’s raw and moving to witness countless creatures live out their last days battling upstream to spawn in the same streams they were born, running a gauntlet of hungry bears and birdlife. Added bonus: salmon runs can even be experienced alongside cities at North Vancouver’s Capilano Salmon Hatchery or Goldstream Park outside Victoria.
Every four years a spectacular super migration takes place with millions of crimson-coloured sockeye salmon turning an 11-kilometre (seven-mile) stretch of the Adams River northeast of Kamloops red within protected Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park. The next “dominant” run peaks in October 2014 and it’s being celebrated — as it always is — with a month-long Salute to the Sockeye festival.
Want to see the world from a salmon’s perspective? Head to Destiny River Adventures in Campbell River or Bella Coola’s Kynoch Adventures, slip into a wetsuit and submerge within the upstream-swimming mass during a memorable snorkelling with salmon experience in summer and fall.
Set in the path of the Pacific Flyway — a major north-south migratory bird highway between Alaska and Patagonia — British Columbia’s geography provides year-round opportunities to bust out the cameras, particularly when numbers peak during spring and fall migrations.
To welcome 250 species of feathered friends, including great grey owls and colourful western tanagers, back to the Columbia River Basin in early May, the community of Invermere holds a week-long Wings Over the Rockies Festival complete with guided nature walks, canoe paddles, wildlife photography workshops and art exhibits for lovers of all things avian.
Grab binoculars and lace up your hiking boots anywhere in the province to see hundreds of two-winged species. The best way to view? Let local naturalists and savvy local birders lead the way. In central BC’s Cariboo Mountains, for example, Ecotours-BC knows how best to spot exotics that include calliope hummingbirds, three-toed woodpeckers and sandhill cranes. Early mornings and dusk are prime time to join Great Horned Owl Eco-Tours in the South Okanagan for a hush-hush prowl through a mosaic of marshes, pastures and Canada’s only patch of true desert in search of yellow-breasted chats, bobolinks and Williamson’s sapsuckers. And November is a special month just south of Vancouver in Delta’s George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, one of Canada’s top birdwatching sites, when the sky and landscape turn white with 30,000 to 80,000 lesser snow geese arriving from Siberia to spend the winter in BC.
Another winged wonder takes place mid-November through mid-February in Goldstream Provincial Park near Victoria and at Brackendale, south of Whistler. Drawn by the rushing buffet that is the annual salmon run, huge raptors perch like white-topped candles in riverside trees or scour riverbanks, gorging on fish. Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park boasts record-breaking numbers — from 650 to 1,000 birds can be spotted on a single January day from the Squamish River dyke trail or on a Cheakamus River raft float. A bonus: bears also frequent the yearly banquet.
Each year in March, an astonishing 20,000 Pacific grey whales appear off the west coast of Vancouver Island on the longest migration of any mammal, travelling approximately 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) from Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to summer feeding grounds off Eastern Russia. And there to greet them midway are Tofino and Ucluelet residents who throw a nine-day celebration, the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, rocking Vancouver Island’s west coast with music, art shows, chowder competitions and interpretive rainforest walks.
The annual fest is just one opportunity to view these mighty creatures that thrive throughout the year, with peak viewing season — May through October — promising an armada of zooming Zodiacs, comfortable cruisers with viewing decks, historic sailboats and flotillas of kayaks that set off from major cities and villages along the entire coastline from Victoria to Prince Rupert. Everyone’s quest is to cross paths with humpback, minke, Orca and grey whales with sightings of sea lions, seals, Pacific white-sided dolphins, herons and golden eagles the icing on the day’s cake.
Humpbacks fly clear out of the water, landing with whale-sized splashes; dozens of Orcas send misty fountains into the crisp morning air, and you can feel nature’s rhythm as pods of porpoises skim the surface in unison — it’s a wildlife waterpark out there.
Resident Orcas, or “killer whales,” live in BC waters year-round and can be seen on trips out of Victoria and Steveston, near Vancouver’s airport. A prime habitat is Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago off Vancouver Island's northeast coast, where roughly 250 Orcas reside in the summer. There they dine on salmon, socialize and — unique among Orcas — rub their bodies on the area’s smooth pebble beaches. Watch them from late spring through early fall from boats or kayaks out of Port McNeill, Alert Bay or Telegraph Cove, a historic fishing village on stilts at the ocean's edge with a Whale Interpretive Centre featuring sea-life skeletons.
Moose and Bison and Wolves — Oh My!
So many creatures; so little time — the roll call of wildlife in BC seems endless and they’re everywhere. From June to October, simply driving the Alaska Highway through the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area, dubbed the “Serengeti of the North,” can be a wildlife safari experience: Stone’s sheep hang out at mineral licks, bears and mule deer graze roadside meadows, herds of up to 50 bison are not uncommon, and summer through fall is the time to hit the brakes for moose and woodland caribou sightings. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a wolf.
If quiet calm is what you seek, take a cross-country ski glide through Wells Gray Provincial Park in the Thompson Okanagan region where, fingers crossed, you’ll come across moose, their tracks evident along the trail. Should you wish to pick up the pace, opt instead for a River Safari, and see how many creatures you can add to your photo library as you travel along scenic Mud River and Mud Lake, backed by rushing waterfalls and the peaks of the Monashee Mountains. With bears, moose, eagles and ospreys spotted along the way, it’s an on-the-water journey that happily embraces British Columbia’s wild side.
For more on British Columbia's destinations and travel information, visit HelloBC.com.
- Adams River Salmon Society: salmonsociety.com/home
- Bella Coola Mountain Lodge & Kynoch Adventures (Salmon Snorkeling): bcmountainlodge.com/site/wilderness_tours.html
- Bluewater Adventures: bluewateradventures.ca
- Brakendale Eagles Provincial Park: env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/brackendale_eagles
- Destiny River Adventures (Snorkel With Salmon): destinyriver.com
- Ecotours-BC (Birding in the Caiboo Mountains):ecotours-bc.com/birding-in-the-cariboo-mountains.html
- George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary: reifelbirdsanctuary.com
- Great Bear Lodge: greatbeartours.com
- Great Horned Owl Eco-Tours: birdingpenticton.com
- Goldstream Provincial Park: env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/goldstream
- Jamie’s: jamies.com
- Khutzeymateen Provincial Park (Grizzly Sanctuary): env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/khutzeymateen
- Knight Inlet Lodge: grizzlytours.com
- Maple Leaf Adventures: mapleleafadventures.com
- Pacific Rim Whale Festival: pacificrimwhalefestival.com
- Pacific Yellowfin Charters: pacificyellowfin.com
- River Safari: riversafari.com
- ROAM Bear-Camp: iroamtheworld.com
- Sonora Resort: sonoraresort.com
- Sunwolf: sunwolf.net
- Tweedsmuir Park Lodge: tweedsmuirparklodge.com
- Wells Gray Provincial Park: env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/wells_gry
- The Whale Interpretive Centre: killerwhalecentre.org
- Wings Over the Rockies Festival: wingsovertherockies.org
Story by Margo Pfeiff
Switzerland Tourism has announced that travellers to Zermatt in July this year will be in for a treat as celebrations for the Matterhorn's 150 years since the first ascent on 14 July 1865 will be in full swing with a multitude of activities taking place throughout July and August.
Director or Switzerland Tourism, Mark Wettstein, says Zermatt has lined up a series of highly enjoyable events to celebrate the occasion, including an the open-air theatre, possibly meeting Queen Elizabeth, village tours, hikes and the Zermatt Folklore Festival where they can get in and amongst the 1,200 participants from around the country dressed in folklore costumes.
To kick off the celebration, Zermatt's first open-air theatre at 2,600m above sea level on the Gornergrat will see 40 performers artistically deliver the "The Matterhorn Story". Documenting the dramatic and triumphant, yet tragic first ascent of the pyramidal summit, the theatre performance guarantees to take audiences on a gripping emotional roller coaster. It premiers on 9 July and concludes on 29 August.
During the jubilee week of 10-18 July, other events that will keep visitors occupied and entertained include the illuminating of the Matterhorn, a range of alpine excursions and the celebration of Italy Day where alpinists from Italy, France, the UK and Switzerland join famous alpinists such as Hervé Barmasse in Valtournenche in Italy to commemorate the Matterhorn.
To top it off, the much-anticipated celebration may even be graced with the presence of her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth of England, along with other international guests of honor during the Gala event.
According to Mark, more than 13,000 Australians visit Zermatt each year; and while most visits peak during winter for skiing and snowboarding, more and more Aussies are enjoying the region during the warmer months as well.
March 16, 2015
IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says security officers puzzled at the shape of an item in a woman's suitcase being screened before she flew out of New York's LaGuardia airport earlier this month, were surprised to open the case and find a tiny 7-year old and very much alive Chihuahua staring back at them.
They tracked the case's owner to an aircraft boarding lounge, and after getting over her initial shock she said that the pint-size pooch, that was so small it stood on a security officer's open palm, must have slipped into her bag and buried itself amongst her clothes while she was packing for a trip to Los Angeles.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers allowed the lady to go on her flight, while her husband came to collect and take their pet home – where it doubtless found itself in the Dog House.
FOOTNOTE: Plenty of other animals have been sprung after going aboard passenger planes without being declared, including in China a couple of years ago a tiny pet turtle that a male passenger said he couldn't bear to be separated from, and had tried to smuggle aboard a flight from Guangzhou to Beijing – hidden inside a KFC Chicken Burger.
PHOTO CAPTION: FOR the Dog House: this tiny Chihuahua stowed away in its owner's suitcase (also pictured) for a flight from New York to Los Angeles, but was noticed on-screen by eagle-eyed security officers. (Note how the pint-size pooch is so small, it fits on the palm of one of the security men.) Pic: USTSA
March 11, 2015
IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of the traveller, David Ellis says it's no mistake – the British government did put up this road sign showing the way to its Secret Nuclear Bunker.
But not until 1992, some 40 years after the bunker was buried into Kelvedon Hatch in Essex in the 1950s at the start of the Cold War era.
Initially an RAF Fighter Command control and command centre, it was later converted to one of 17 similar nuclear-bomb-proof "Regional Seats of Government" across England in which up to 600 senior civil and military personnel could live and work in the event of potential enemy attack on Britain. Each had sufficient facilities and supplies to see those inside able to run the country and all three defence forces without need to leave their bunkers for up to three months
Some 38m underground (125ft) the 3-storey Kelvedon Hatch Bunker was accessed through an innocuous-looking suburban-style bungalow directly above it.
And located within the bunker were electrical generators, an air-conditioning plant, a vast military communications system, mini-hospital, a water-supply with its own deep bore, a sewage treatment station, canteens, accommodation… and a complete BBC broadcast studio and adjacent transmission tower through which the Prime Minister, who could be safely housed in the bunker, could broadcast information and messages of encouragement to the populace.
The bunker was decommissioned in 1992 and is today a museum with tours of its original facilities and equipment. It's also used regularly in films and TV series.