Journey to the Great Bear Rainforest
By Andrew Franklin
Few wildlife experiences compare with seeing a grizzly bear in its natural environment.
So to also witness massive humpbacks, beautiful orcas, soaring eagles and so many more of the West Coast’s storied wildlife in a single journey, well, this really is the trip of a lifetime.
Our adventure begins in the small, picturesque Telegraph Cove, just south of the fishing town of Port McNeill on the east coast of Vancouver Island.
A colourful collection of buildings along a waterfront boardwalk, the community’s humble origins reach back to 1912, when Telegraph Cove was founded as a one-man telegraph station. It later became a fish saltery, sawmill village and today, a tourism destination.
The sheltered waters of the Broughton Archipelago feature an abundance of marine life. Named by George Vancouver in 1792 after then Capt. William Robert Broughton, the Archipelago is a maze of largely uninhabited islands, islets, rocks and reefs that effectively choke off the mouth of mighty Knight Inlet. Two hundred years later it was designated as BC’s largest marine park.
The inlet’s opening lies east of Malcolm Island and Port McNeill, and just north of the opening of the upper end of Johnstone Strait, which separates Vancouver Island from the archipelago between it and the mainland.
Part of the world-famous Great Bear Rainforest, Knight Inlet is one of the longest on the BC coast, stretching 125 kilometres inland and 2.5 km wide.
Boarding the Grizzly Girl
Deciding to take this trip with Tide Rip Grizzly Adventures was easy. From the start, the staff was friendly, enthusiastic and professional – a must if you’re embarking on an off-the-beaten-track adventure. With “staycations” the vacation of choice this season, this out-of-the-ordinary excursion welcomed local tourists from both Vancouver Island and the BC Lower Mainland.
Adding to the excitement, award-winning wildlife photographer Anthony Bucci joined us for the day, sharing his considerable knowledge!
With the safety meeting complete by 7 a.m. sharp, we boarded the Coast Guard-certified vessel Grizzly Girl for the journey along Knight Inlet to the hopeful viewing area at Glendale Cove.
With the trip to the Cove approximately two hours, followed by three to four hours of bear watching, we were looked after throughout the day by Captain James and tour guide/naturalist Laura.
But we didn’t have to wait long to catch our first glimpse of West Coast wildlife. Within the first five minutes an eagle flew overhead, followed by the first of many whale sightings – a massive humpback!
Hugging the coastline, we stopped at a few locations known to Tide Rip staff to catch our first look at grizzlies. The first view was brief – after checking us out, they quickly disappeared into the bush, but it set the scene for adventures to come.
Where wild grizzly bears roam
After spotting a number of black bears trolling the coastline for food, excitement continued to build as we approached our destination for viewing wild grizzly bears: Glendale Cove.
A now-uninhabited area originally the site of a cannery, here the water turns a deep emerald green as glacial waters flow from surrounding mountains.
This is where wild grizzly bears roam and we’ll get to watch them wander their natural environment. At least that’s the hope. Nothing is for certain.
Upon arriving at Glendale Cove, we transfer to a specially designed bear-viewing skiff, featuring raised platforms and unparalleled access to what could be the greatest show on earth.
Our small, flat-bottomed boat glides quietly along the inlet, and Captain James cuts the engine after seeing a mother and two cubs on the beach ahead.
Suited up in thick waterproof overalls, James slips into the waist-deep water to manoeuvre the skiff for perfect viewing, all without disturbing the bears. We’re now quite close and able to appreciate the natural environment and peaceful tranquility in silence. The grizzlies simply ate what seemed to be buckets of blue mussels, scraping them off with their long claws.
A grizzly can be distinguished from a black bear by its noticeable shoulder hump, a more dish-shaped face and its longer claws.
Approximately 80 bears are in the area, including 12 residents and others passing through. Two matriarchs, Lenore and Bella are well known to local guides and we have the privilege of seeing Lenore with her two male cubs. What a treat!
But this unforgettable adventure wasn’t over yet – on the return journey we had even more luck, seeing more humpback whales, orcas, dolphins and Dall’s porpoises were all spotted in their incredible natural habitat.
The final tally for the trip:
- Grizzly bears – 6
- Black bears – 3
- Dall’s porpoises – multiple
- Pacific white-sided dolphins – multiple
- Northern resident killer whales (orcas) – multiple
- Humpback whales – 2
So, if you are thinking of a staycation trip of a lifetime, this is it!
Now you can have the opportunity to enjoy your very own grizzly tour! Simply click on this link for a chance to win.
To plan your adventure:
Tide Rip Grizzly Adventures, Telegraph Cove, BC, grizzlycanada.com Due to COVID-19, a reduced number of seats are available and masks are mandated during the portion of the trip while seated under cover on the boat. Everyone obliged with apparent smiles on all faces.