A journey to the remote west coast of Vancouver Island is the ultimate outdoor adventure for thrill-seeking families

The soft fog that had enveloped our boat earlier that day had changed. Now it could best be described as needle rain, a relentless spray that hammered my face as effectively as a microdermabrasion machine. I huddled deeper into my flotation suit, a puffy red survival outfit designed to offer protection from cold weather and serve as a flotation device in the event I fell overboard.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Environmentally sustainable Clayoquot Wilderness Resort is tucked in a remote fjord where the
Bedwell River meets the Pacific Ocean
Photo: Jaden Gonsalves

I was participating in an eco-safari with Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, a Relais & Chateaux retreat on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region, a biologically unique ecosystem treasured for its fragile diversity. The seasonal outpost is a collection of white canvas prospector-style tents tucked at the end of a remote 11-kilometre long fjord, accessible by boat or floatplane.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Heli-Adventure Arriving Back to Camp
Photo: Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Flanked by one of the world’s last remaining ancient temperate rainforests, it’s a wild place where forest meets Pacific, where the songs of humpback whales echo through inlets and bald eagles keep watch from giant mountain hemlock trees. It’s also the perfect adventure playground for families and nature lovers.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Enjoy Relais & Châteaux service at the
Cookhouse Outdoor Lounge
Photo by Bryan Stockton, Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

A hallmark of the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort experience is its unique blend of wilderness and luxury. Guests enjoy five star comforts along with highly personalized, all-inclusive independent and fully guided adventures such as whale and bear watching, deep sea and fly-fishing, sea kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding and more. Other activities such as heli-fishing, heli-yoga, and heli-photography are available at an extra cost.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort Lounge Tents
Photo: Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

My own family’s adventure had begun with the flight by seaplane through the clouds over the mountain peaks of Vancouver Island, 60 minutes from Vancouver. From the air it was possible to witness the beauty of the vast expanse of ancient temperate rainforest, countless lakes, rivers and streams, alpine mountains, open Pacific Ocean, rocky shores and sandy beaches as well as estuaries and mud flats.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

All-inclusive adventures include horseback riding through Clayoquot Wilderness Resort river trail
Photo: Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Upon arrival at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort dock, we were transferred by horse-drawn wagon to the main lodge and amenity tents. Set against a canopy of old-growth rainforest and fashioned after turn-of-the-century great camps, the resort features 25 white canvas safari tents arranged along the water’s edge, in the forest and on a hillside overlooking the estuary, all connected by wooden boardwalks and enjoying unparalleled Relais & Châteaux service.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Morning at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort
Photo: Bryan Stockton

Our sunrise-facing oceanfront ensuite tent was one of sixteen luxury waterfront tents appointed with king bed comfort plus a queen sofa bed and private deck. The in-tent bathroom featured blissfully heated floors, double sinks and a private outdoor cedar shower. Each tent includes a remote-controlled cast-iron stove, vintage oil lamps, antiques and furniture crafted from naturally fallen trees milled onsite.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Get close to nature in a luxury ensuite tent
Photo: Bryan Stockton

Morning began with sunrise yoga and meditation at the Healing Grounds Spa, located on a perch set among cedars overlooking the estuary. The eco-spa also offers restorative wellness treatments for body, mind and soul including wraps, facials and massage using luxurious Yon-Ka skincare products.

After a hearty breakfast of pancakes topped with local berries served in the Cookhouse Dining Room, a grand timber building with a wood-burning fireplace, open kitchen bar and floor to ceiling windows, we headed out by boat on safari.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Sighting resident orca whales is a highlight of an eco-safari through UNESCO designated Clayoquot Sound
Photo: Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

It didn’t take long before we started racking up sightings. We spotted harbour porpoise and harbour seals sunning themselves on rocks, sea otters slipping from the shoreline into cool waters and bald eagles soaring overhead. A sighting of Steller sea lions, a near-threatened species the largest of all sea lions, had us all exclaiming at their size.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Guests enjoy a wealth of guided and independent adventures
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort Bryan Stockton

“Over the past several centuries, almost every one of these species has been hunted, persecuted, trapped and even bombed to the point of extinction,” explained Alex our guide.

Today, the biosphere’s delicate ecosystem and wildlife are protected. In addition to serving as a feeding, breeding and staging habitat for resident and migratory birds, mammals, fish and other species, it’s culturally rich. The Ahousaht First Nation people have occupied Clayoquot Sound for over 2,000 years. Their respect for nature is shared by Clayoquot Wilderness Resort in all aspects of its operation including a ban on single-use plastic and styrofoam, recycling of all non-organic materials, composting of 100% of organic waste, energy efficient LED lighting, naturally-filtered local water and more.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

A memorable sunrise at the waterfront luxury tented ensuite accommodation
Photo: Clayoquot Wilderness Resort Tom Cahalan

After enjoying a gourmet picnic on a windswept beach of Flores Island, the ancestral home of the Ahousaht, we were ready to resume our wildlife viewing. We’d seen seven of the “Big 8” including a massive grey whale with her calf that had breached near our boat and then blasted a plume of water from its blowhole.

The only animal we’d missed was the black bear. British Columbia is home to 25% of Canada’s population of black bears and with an estimated 7000 of them on Vancouver Island, it’s home to one of the world’s densest populations of black bears.

We were ready to see this large mammal in its natural habitat. Then the rain began to fall.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Queen Charlotte diver scallops
Photo: Michele Peterson

“You’ve got a choice,” said Alex, as we tightened the hoods on our survival suits.  “We can continue scanning the shoreline or turn back to the resort.”

Our intrepid group voted to continue and, just as we turned into a remote bay, we spotted a mother bear rambling at the water’s edge, two cubs bounding at her side. “Black bears are an important part of the ecosystem because they bring salmon and nutrients to the forest,” said Alex. We marvelled at the bear’s remarkable size, speed and agility until the little family group disappeared into the forest, leaving us inspired by their majesty.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

World-class gourmet cuisine by Executive Chef Michael Pataran
Photo: Clayoquot Wilderness Resort Bryan Stockton

Later, back at resort’s tugboat-shaped Ivanhoe Glass Lounge Bar, we swapped tales with other guests who had spent their day horseback riding, rock climbing and rappelling, fly-fishing or deep sea fishing for salmon. Over the sake menu featuring local BC and Japanese sakes, we shared experiences and planned the next day’s adventures.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Handcrafted cocktails, wine, craft beer and sake
Photo: Bryan Stockton

Moving on to dinner, each dish was a work of art. The Pacific Northwest Asian-inspired cuisine created under the direction of Executive Chef Michael Pataran, well known for his love of wild ingredients, featured menu choices such as sustainably sourced wild halibut with foraged mushrooms, Queen Charlotte scallops and Cache Creek strip loin with spruce tip puree.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort drinks

Inspired cocktails at Ivanhoe Glass Lounge
Photo: Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

At nightfall, under a star-filled ink sky, we followed a torch-lit path to our oceanfront prospector tent where a candlelit evening turndown service waited. Fire glowed in the wood stove, a hot water bottle was tucked under the comforter and a Hudson Bay blanket lay folded on the bed.

It felt as though we’d been transported to the Gold Rush era of the 1800s – until we noticed the amenity on the bedside table. It was a state-of-the-art bear alarm. A reminder that, while sighting a bear in the middle of the day is a bucket-list experience; this still-wild natural playground was their territory not our own.

Travel Planner

Clayoquot Wilderness Retreat: The all-inclusive 3, 4 and 7-night packages include luxury tented accommodation, meals, snacks and beverages including featured wines, beer and alcohol, adventure activities, spa treatment (dependent on length of stay), evening turndown service, in-room amenities and more. www.wildretreat.com

Eco-Safari Season: Clayoquot Wilderness Retreat is open May 16-Sept 15, 2019

2019 Rates: Adult rate for a peak season (June 13th – September 5th) 3-night stay Thursday to Sunday is $6,600.00 CAD per person, 7 nights Sun-Sun is $14, 300 per person, all-inclusive for a luxury waterfront ensuite tent, double occupancy in peak season. Taxes, resort fee and gratuities are extra.

Getting there: The 45-minute transfer via Seair seaplane departing from YVR South Terminal to the resort dock can be arranged independently or by the resort. Or guests can fly to Tofino (YAZ) on Vancouver Island and take a 40-minute boat transfer to the resort. Cost for the transfers can be added to package rates.

Official Tourism BC: Get visitor and travel information www.hellobc.com

Fairmont Vancouver Airport: Fairmont Vancouver Airport is a soundproofed, luxury hotel and spa located within Vancouver International Airport and near YVR South Terminal. www.fairmont.com/vancouver-airport-richmond

Michele Peterson is an award-winning travel writer who specializes in food, drink and sun destinations. Her work has appeared in major magazines, guidebooks and travel anthologies. Get recipes, travel tips and tour discounts on her A Taste for Travel blog or via Twitter/Instagram @atastefortravel  

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Natural beauty of Flores Island
Photo: Jeremy Koreski Clayoquot Wilderness Resort