Glamour camping in Canadian wilderness

Last updated 00:00 23/10/2007
ROSS GIBLIN/Dominion Post
GLAMOUR CAMPING: Bill and Alison Monaghan from Boston relax in front of an open fire at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort on Vancouver Island.

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Let me take you on a camping holiday like none you've experienced before. We're going glamour camping on a breathtaking trip into remote wilderness on the west coast of Canada's Vancouver Island.

The setting is the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort's Bedwell River Outpost. It's at the end of a long inlet in Clayoquot Sound, surrounded by snowy peaks, where mist wreathes the tall trees that blanket the slopes.

The only way in is by boat from the fishing village of Tofino or float plane from Vancouver.

We arrive in the evening and the first thing we notice are the huge white, safari- style tents on raised platforms over the river, which are lit by flaming torches. We're met at the jetty by Stetson-wearing owner/manager John Caton, puppy in one arm, grandson in the other. Now catch your breath and look around.

At the centre of this resort is the new ranch-style log cookhouse with massive windows overlooking the inlet. Help yourself to the well-stocked bar or grab a handful of lollies. There's plenty of fresh fruit and the biscuit jars are always full.

In the kitchen is Tim May, who's been here since day one, and has created signature dishes – "local, organic, simple, clean. I let the food speak for itself".

Each night he'll tempt you with five courses of top-notch cuisine and a talented sommelier will match your choice with a wine. Dine here, or first pour yourself a drink and come outside to sit beside the open fire on plump, cushioned couches. Behind you'll notice two huge white tents glowing with the light of dozens of candles that send dancing shadows across antique dining tables and chairs, heirloom silver and china.

Nearby, another tent serves as a library, where antique couches and comfortable chairs sit alongside shelves of books. Next door is the games room.

Now follow me down a cedar boardwalk that twists and turns under a canopy of old-growth forest, lit by flaming torches, and I'll show you your tent on a raised wooden platform by the river.

Pull up the zip and take a look – it will take your breath away.

ROMANTIC GLOW

Flickering candles cast a romantic glow across your log-style bed, which is draped in velvet throws and a soft duvet, and lined with cushions and pillows. Around you'll find sumptuous furnishings; antique dressers, side tables and chairs. There are fresh wild flowers in a vase, soft towels and dressing gowns.

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A touch of a button will start your gas fire. Eventually you'll have time to notice the small, special touches; a pair of sandals for your use, fragrant pouches of potpourri in each drawer, baskets of soaps and creams.

Taking a moment to remember that this is camping – I must now point out that your composting toilet is just outside. A pee is free, a poop is a scoop (of compost).

The candle-lit shower block is not far away along boardwalks that crisscross this resort. It's near the yoga and fitness centre. There's yoga or tai chi classes each morning. Make sure you put your name down.

Oh, and at the same time why not book in for a massage. You'll find the massage tents overhanging the river, alongside the steaming timber spas and near the sauna.

Once you've settled in, John will talk to you about what you want to do while you're here – the choice is huge. And don't try to take the easy options; he believes people don't grow unless pushed out of their comfort zone.

Take out a mountain bike, ride one of the 30 horses, kayak up the river, swim with the salmon, spend a day in the wild watching black bears, whales and sea lions. If you're lucky you'll also see sea otter and wolves. How about trying skeet shooting, archery or fly fishing? If sailing's your thing, take out the yacht.

One more thing before you get really comfortable; the bears – they are all around this area. Vancouver Island has the highest concentration of black bears in the world.

By now you'll have noticed the dogs, there are 20 in total and they earn their keep chasing the bears away. You'll hear them in noisy pursuit several times a day.

If you meet a bear stay calm, don't run, just turn sideways, keep one eye on the bear and shuffle away sideways, crab- style.

That's the preliminaries out of the way, now you can relax. It's time for hors d'oeuvres and a pre-dinner drink back at the cookhouse. What do you fancy?

CHANGE OF PACE

John and Adele Caton started the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort nearly a decade ago.

They were looking for a change of pace. At 39, John suffered a heart attack after years in the music industry travelling around the world for Warner Brothers discovering artists, signing them up and then babysitting them.

He quit and began looking for a place to set up a resort, while Adele went and studied business.

John found the perfect site; just over 200 hectares alongside Bedwell River in the heart of Clayoquot Sound. He then secured financial backing and, with Adele, started the resort with five tents. It was an instant hit and ever since they've expanded and upgraded each year.

They now have 20 accommodation tents and about 15 staff working an intensive five-month season from mid-March to mid-October. John and Adele's two sons and their families work alongside horse wranglers, boat skippers, specialist tour guides and fishing experts.

Most guests floatplane in from Vancouver, paying an all-inclusive $1400 a night. Tips are expected on top.

John's using the tip money left by guests to restore the salmon spawning grounds in the Bedwell River. So far he's spent $1.5 million rebuilding the river bed that had become silted following indiscriminate logging of the area.

He wants to see the spawning grounds returned to the halcyon days of the 1960s when tens of thousands of salmon; Chinook, Sockeye, Pinks, Chum and Coho, returned to spawn in Bedwell River each autumn. A government monitoring programme of salmon in Bedwell River saw a dramatic decline in numbers. Thanks to the restoration work, salmon are returning in greater numbers each year.

It was protests over logging that put Clayoquot Sound on the international map and led to it being named a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. It is a spectacular 350,000 hectare maze of inlets and islands and is the best and largest intact example of temperate rainforest left in the world.

Surprisingly, despite this recognition, mining and logging continue in the sound. John says once he's finished cleaning up his own backyard he plans to be a thorn in the side of Canadian politicians, as he campaigns to have rivers cleaned up elsewhere.

"Every morning I thank God that the heart attack didn't kill me and I had a second chance and with that second chance I want to give back and make this sustainable for my family and for the people and animals who reside here.

"This is home. You're not getting me out of here."

FACT FILE

  • Air New Zealand begins its new non-stop service between Auckland and Vancouver next month. The new service will run year- round with three flights a week during the peak travel periods between November-March and July-August, and then twice weekly for the remainder of the year.
  • For more information visit www.wildretreat.com

    Ross and Claire Giblin travelled courtesy of Air New Zealand and Tourism British Columbia

    - The Dominion Post

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