January 22, 2011


David Ellis


"You take the bells, and I'll take the pepper spray and the rifle," says John 'Cowboy' Caton. "There's one-point-five bears to every square kilometre out there  – you're in wilderness country now."


We'd accepted Cowboy John's invitation to what we'd been assured would be a nice leisurely embrace with nature, not dodging grizzlies, in a timeless rainforest on the west coast of Canada's Vancouver Island.


And if we were going into "wilderness country," we'd like to know what it was that we were leaving: Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, our digs for the previous night, would have to be amongst the most remote we'd encountered in decades of searching.


Not that we were complaining – we'd be the first to put our hands up if an invitation came our way again – for the aptly-named Clayoquot (it means 'Calm Water') is for the serious seeker of communing with nature, strolls on k's of empty beaches, walks through cedar and rainforests, and a quiet so almost-cuttable you could target a pine needle hitting the water at a hundred paces.


Yet all this remoteness was coupled with shameless indulgence. For while Clayoquot is accessible only by boat from the nearest town, Tofino 15 minutes away or seaplane, there's no skimping on the necessities of life: good food, good wine and a good bed.


A crackling log fire on cooler nights greets travellers to The Great Room for recounting experiences at day's end, the bar's stocked to the rafters by obvious devotees for devotees, and just twenty cosey deluxe and luxury tents look out over the mirrored waters of Clayoquot Sound.


And from his kitchen, Chef Tim May treats guests to such salivating signature dishes as Grilled Clayoquot Sound Oyster Chowder and Prosciutto Wrapped Halibut Fillets, locally caught salmon or crab, freshest local beef, venison and farm vegetables… and afterwards delights like mountains of wild berries and cream, or summery cheesecakes….


"Wear the bells around your wrist," says the affable Cowboy from under an unlikely Akubra that's his constant companion.  "They let the bears know we're coming; they'll usually amble off and just watch us."


We have a look at a waterfall-fed lake that's great for summer swimming, and the stables from which resort guides take guests off on daytime trail rides or overnight trips to remote forest camps. And as we step out onto a pristine strip of beach, we sight our first bear – less than a cricket pitch length along the sand from us.


"He's around 70kg, I reckon," says Cowboy, a partner in the Resort after a major coronary attack put paid to an over-stressful life as a music talent scout and recording artist manager. "Solid little fellas aren't they?" he remarks of the black bear, that seems to be little more than waist height and as wide as he is high.


He gawks at us for a few minutes before losing interest in yet more boring tourists, and ambles off, leaving us to capture our Close Encounter in a myriad shaky photos of his disappearing back-side. 


We see a handful more bears during the afternoon, and by evening are feeling nonchalant and brave:  Hey, we've survived a day in Bear Country.


Then Cowboy brings us back to earth. "Folks think they can climb a tree to escape a cranky bear," he observes. "But the black ones climb up after you – and the grizzlies just shake the tree 'til you fall out….


"You know, we've only seen five today, so that means with 1.5 to the square kilometre, we need to run into a dozen more in the next fifteen minutes…"


We're off. That bar, Chef Tim's delights and our deluxe 'Outpost' style tent with its Queen Bed suddenly holds greater appeal than confirming Cowboy's mathematics.


Clayoquot Wilderness Resort is open May to September with package stays of 3-, 4- and 7-nights. Prices start from CAD$4750pp (approx AU$4778) twin-share for 3-nights and including return 50-minute seaplane from Vancouver, all meals, snacks, beverages (including alcoholic,) massage treatments, horseback riding, fishing, viewing bear, whale and marine life, ocean and river kayaking, a Wild Side First Nations Interpretive Walk, sailing, hiking, clay shooting, rock climbing, archery, swimming, mountain biking, zip-lining, and painting and cooking lessons.


Details Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays toll-free 1300 79 49 59.





[] DELUXE in the wilderness: queen bedded tents.


[] SPECTACULAR scenery amid an almost-cuttable quietness.


[] CLAYOQUOT's Healing Grounds for pampering body and soul.


[] RUSTIC Great Room for dining indulgence.


[] ONE of Chef Tim May's wondrous creations.


All photos courtesy of Clayoquot Wilderness Resort


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