From Lake Lousie we headed to Calgary via Banff. If only we’d had more time to check out the surrounding area – but Banff was a great place to pick up a few tasteful souvenirs. Also seemed like the cheapest place that we saw for bear spray, if you’re in the market.
Our drive to Calgary was pretty smoky, and by the time we got through town and dropped off the hire car, it was time for dinner and then bed at the airport motel. And the next morning, on to San Francisco.
We had three nights in Waterton NP. It’s a gorgeous location and even though we had some smoky days we had a great time going on a guided walk and canoeing on Cameron Lake. Some of the tracks were closed due to a bear having approached people at a camping area. From what we were told it’s usually humans that cause the problem, leaving food out so bears learn humans = food.
From Manning Park we headed to Oliver, the ‘wine capital of Canada.’ As we only had one night in Oliver we could only fit in visits to three of the multitude of wineries in the area. These looked very much like Aussie wineries – except that sometimes you can’t go walking in the vineyards due to bear alerts. Apparently most BC wine is purchased and enjoyed by BCers so no need to find markets elsewhere. We had no idea. We tried Tinhorn Creek, Gehringer Bros and Hester Creek – all excellent.
Our first mystery outing (*spoiler alert – look away now if you’re planning to go yourself) was a walk on the mainland. When you first arrive, rule number one is that you don’t go off the floating lodge unless you have a guide. On our walk we had Marlo and Sabine guiding us, with frequent calls of ‘Hey bear!’ to make sure there were no surprises. They also had bear spray on the hip. Both were really knowledgeable about bear behaviour and we were shown some cool places where bears hang out.
Every day at Great Bear Lodge you get plenty of opportunities to see bears. While we were there, our itinerary was breakfast, gear up, then bear spotting outing in the tinnies, lunch, post lunch mystery outing, early dinner, gear up, then back in the boats . We were really lucky that there was only one session where we didn’t see any bears. Though of course the first session, on the day that we arrived, was the only time we saw cubs – and it was also the only time we didn’t take a camera. The landscape is so beautiful, and I loved the inquisitive seals popping up their heads to see what was going on.
We arrived at Great Bear Lodge and after getting an initial briefing from owner Marg we checked out our rooms and the lodge interior. And in no time at all we were getting ready for our first outing. Pre-outing we had a bear safety briefing. No venturing off alone, stay on the floating lodge unless accompanied by a guide. No sudden moves, no loud noises. We were in not-quite-salmon-feeding season, so trips involve getting into tinnies and cruising the estuaries of Smith Inlet. This was both terrifying and exciting if you are an adventure wimp like me. There were only 10 guests during our stay, so it was two little boats heading out.
Bear spotting trips happen rain or shine, so it’s good to to have the right outfit. GBL has some serious gear for visitors – warm, camouflage onesie, oilskin pants and jacket, sou’wester (hat). Wear it all, if it’s raining you won’t feel a thing. So for the first trip out, after an early dinner, it was raining. We layered up, but decided not to take camera gear, not knowing what it might be like. Predictably, this was the only outing that we saw bear cubs. A magical experience and a great start to our bear lodge experience.
Staying at a bear lodge was a particular dream of M’s, so after some serious forward planning (14 months in advance), finally the day arrived! Part of the excitement was our first trip in a seaplane – what a wonderful way to travel. Best way to fly. We were in the smaller plane of two going to the lodge, 5 passengers plus the pilot. We had a beautiful clear flight, landing at the front door of our floating accommodation at Great Bear Lodge.
Due to various constraints (time and money – the usual), our visit was on the shoulder of the approaching salmon season (August). Bear spotting was likely, but viewing bears catching fish was entirely up to nature. M was just keen to see bears, and I was keen not to get eaten, so we didn’t really care if no salmon were involved in our experience.
When we arrived, there was a lot of hugging and farewelling going on – the seaplane that brings the new guests takes the leaving guests back to port. It all seemed very friendly, if a little excessive, but it was a magical place to land, and thrilling to know we would be staying here for a couple of days. What a location.