Aloft in a floatplane over the magnificent, snow-capped mountains of British Columbia, their magnificent heights guarding the Pacific coast, we peered down through a thin veil of clouds, eagerly searching for what sounded like a dream: a first class resort-floating, no less-called The King Pacific Lodge.
After our spectacular one-hour flight along the coast, past hundreds of uninhabited islands where whales fed and bald eagles soared, our destination, Princess Royal Island, swam into view. Lying 56 miles south of Prince Rupert in the heart of the Great Bear Rain Forest, Canada’s fourth largest island, Princess Royal Island resides in the largest area of undeveloped temperate rain forest left on earth. It is Gitga’at Territory, and the lodge works closely with these “First Nations indigenous people in order to be a model example of wilderness ecotourism.
Slowly descending through a narrow cut, the floatplane touched down on the smooth waters of Barnard Harbour. The lodge, surrounded by verdant rain forest, is anchored next to a cascading waterfall. The staff came out on the dock to greet the incoming guests while champagne was served. Our bags disappeared and our rooms were assigned. This is no ordinary hotel-check-in is handled without credit cards or room keys. Standard amenities like droning air conditioners, ringing telephones and blabbering televisions were blessedly absent. Instead, we enjoyed a family atmosphere, casual camaraderie and the sense that we were hundreds of miles from the noisy, developed world.
Open from May to September, the lodge and the separate staff quarters (the original lodge) are towed to Princess Royal Island each spring and returned to Prince Rupert each fall. Originally operated as a men’s fishing retreat, King Pacific now has broader appeal. In 2000, the lodge was upgraded to a 15,000 square-foot floating resort featuring 17 luxurious suites with full dining and lounge facilities. In 2001, the lodge became the first Canadian property to join the Rosewood Hotels & Resorts group and in 2004 a full-service spa was added. Guests come from around the world and during my stay ranged from 15 to 71 years. The mix included a family reunion, a grandmother and grandson, business partners, a few couples and two sisters.
Guest accommodations feature a wilderness view or an ocean view with king or twin beds and slate-lined en suite bathrooms with deep-soaker tubs. The Barnard Harbour Suite offers 850 square feet of luxury while the Princess Royal Suite features two floors with a master bedroom, a sitting room with rock fireplace, a dining room, a slate-lined Jacuzzi and two balconies that offer stunning views of the ocean, mountains and adjacent waterfall. For those that still need to stay in touch with the outside world, a satellite phone and Internet access are discreetly available.
Dinner is served at 7:30 following hors d’oeuvres and cocktails from the self-service, open bar. Three large tables welcome guests and seating is not assigned. Executive chef Jonathan Chovancek provides a choice of two entrees-usually local fish or meats. These are complemented by his handcrafted appetizers, salads and desserts. His British Columbian regional cuisine uses organically grown produce, meats and poultry along with wild additions like fungi and local berries to create delicious and healthy meals. (Sampling the wonderful regional wines served is also a must.) At dinner hour, the adventure guides work with each guest to customize activities for the next day. Then, while you eat, the staff plans your adventure and posts your itinerary in the lounge.
King Pacific offers a wide selection of adventures to choose from. The area has some of the finest salmon fishing in the world and anglers can opt for fly-fishing on the freshwater rivers and lakes or trolling on the saltwater fiords. (Trout and halibut are also abundant.) Those not interested in hook-and-line can enjoy world-class hiking, kayaking and whale watching. First Nations cultural tours and relaxing spa treatments fill out the agenda. Unique opportunities include searching for the rare Kermode or “Spirit Bear, an all-white black bear found only in this area. The really adventurous should try a Heli-Adventure, wherein the staff guides take you to remote fishing, hiking and kayaking locations by helicopter so that you can experience breathtaking scenery while exploring untouched wilderness.
The first day, I chose to search for the Spirit Bear as well as enjoy a cultural tour. The misty dawn produced spots of pink on the leaden sky as we gathered rods, reels, cameras and anticipation for the day ahead. The helicopters were the first to leave followed by several boats, all branching out into the wilderness. All activities are led by professional guides that strive to share the experience with guests. Many of the guides are First Nations people and several have been with the lodge for more than five years.
Our boat trip was led by two First Nations guides. Coming ashore, we hiked a short distance to a bear-viewing platform above a salmon-filled stream and waited quietly in the light rain. The rain forest averages 107 inches of rain a year and produces the perfect growing conditions for the lush, old growth forests of spruce, cedar and thousand-year-old hemlocks that blanket coastal British Columbia. Suddenly a black bear appeared along the bank. He eyed us cautiously and passed by right in front of the platform. Our guide pointed out the place across the river where he first saw the elusive Spirit Bear. Native legend explains that the creator came to the island and made every tenth bear white as a reminder that this land was once covered in ice.
While part of the group kept watch for the Spirit Bear, one of the guides and I motored down the coast to Cornwall Inlet and into a sacred fiord where ancient burial sites are hidden in the towering granite cliffs. He pointed out a traditional Gitga’at Longhouse while sharing the history and legends of his ancient culture. On our way home, the guides suggested we look for whales. Soon we spotted numerous Humpback whales as well as a pod of Dall’s Porpoise and a large group of Stellar Sea Lions. The water show continued that night when several sea lions began feeding on the thousands of herring that surrounded the lodge. The bioluminescence in the water outlined their bodies so they appeared like ghosts as they raced around the dock. The spectacular profusion of wildlife in this area is a credit to Canada’s dedication to protecting this unique environment.
The next day I signed on for the Foch Lake Heli-Adventure. We dodged clouds and bald eagles and flew through rainbows on a breathtaking half hour flight to this inland glacial lake. We kayaked around the lake’s turquoise waters, which are fed by thundering waterfalls from nearby glaciers. When the helicopter returned, it took us straight up a 2,000-foot cliff and left us on top of the ridge-eye level with a glacier that fed the lake. We hiked over boulders and across snow with the clouds on our shoulders and were mesmerized by stunning panoramic views.
Back at the lodge, we exchanged fish tales and adventure stories like old friends and the lucky few who saw a Spirit Bear became instant celebrities. Some were clearly moved by the prolific wildlife and natural beauty of the area, others were amazed at the challenges they had conquered. All would come away with unique memories of this special place in the Great Bear Rain Forest.
Rates for the 2005 season at King Pacific Lodge start at $2,350 (per person/double occupancy) for three nights. This “A la Carte rate does not include guided activities or fishing. The “Ocean-Fishing Package starts at $3,250 (per person) for three nights and the “Heli-Fly-Fishing Package starts at $4,850 (per person) for three nights. All rates include the round-trip floatplane service, three excellent meals a day and all beverages.
How to Get There
Upon arriving in Vancouver, British Columbia, guests are greeted by a lodge representative. The lodge recommends an overnight stay at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel (worthy of a stop in itself, it features fine cuisine, a spa and full concierge services). The 500-mile flight from Vancouver to Prince Rupert takes approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes. A lodge representative escorts you from the airport to the floatplane dock for the one-hour flight to King Pacific.
When to Go
King Pacific Lodge is open from May to September. The choice of when you visit the lodge should take into account your specific interests. For example, August and September are the best for bear viewing, Humpback whale watching and the Coho and pink salmon run. May and June are best for freshwater trout fly-fishing and seeing Orcas (killer whales). Hiking, kayaking and wildlife viewing are good throughout the season.