January 26, 2012


David Ellis

"You take the bells, and I'll take the pepper spray and the rifle," said 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 thought would be a nice leisurely embrace with nature, not grappling 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 we were leaving: Clayoquot Wilderness Resort would have to be amongst the most remote we'd encountered in thirty years of searching.

Not that we were complaining, 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 we'd forgotten existed.

One 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 30 minutes away, or seaplane, there's no skimping on the necessities of life: good food, good wine and a good bed – just like the Great Camps of the 19th century.

A crackling fire on cooler nights greets travellers to The Great Room for recounting experiences at day's end, the bar's stocked to the gunnels by obvious devotees for devotees, and just twenty cosy deluxe tents look out over the mirrored waters of Clayoquot Sound… twelve of them with ensuites, the remainder with private facilities adjacent to each tent.

And from his kitchen, Chef Ryan Orr treats guests to signature dishes such as Grilled Clayoquot Sound Oyster Chowder and Prosciutto wrapped Halibut Fillets, locally caught salmon or crab, freshest local beef, venison and local farm vegetables… and afterwards mountainous wild berries and cream, or summery cheesecakes….

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

We have a look at one of the lakes the resort owns in its forest wilderness, a pool fed by a waterfall for summertime swimming, and the stables from which Cowboy and 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 from us.

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

He gawks at us for a few minutes before, as Cowboy predicts, ambling off, leaving us to capture our Close Encounter in a myriad jittery photos of his disappearing back-side.

We see a couple more during the afternoon, and by evening are feeling nonchalant and brave:  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. The grizzlies just shake the tree 'til you fall out….

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

We're off. That bar and our luxury 'Outpost' style tent with its Queen Bed suddenly holds greater appeal than confirming Cowboy's theory.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort is open May to September with package stays of 3-, 4- and 7-nights. Prices start from CAD$4750pp twin-share for 3-nights and including return 50-minute seaplane from Vancouver, all meals, snacks, beverages (including alcoholic,) a 1-hour massage service, horseback riding, fishing, and bear, whale and marine-life viewing, 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.

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



[] BEAR country – John 'Cowboy' Caton leads guests off on a horse-riding trek.

[] DINING hall, rustic in appearance but 5-star magic from the kitchen.

[] YOU won't go hungry while Chef Ryan Orr runs the kitchen.

[] SLEEP tight: deluxe tent with ensuite.

[] THE Healing Grounds for easing away those city stresses…


[Photos: Clayoquot Wilderness Resort)                                                                                  



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