There is a lot of wildlife on Vancouver Island, but grizzly bears are not among those beasts. Sure, there are occasional reports of a grizzly spotted on the north island, presumably after swimming from the mainland (in certain spots the small islands wind so close it is completely believable). But if you really want to see the big bears around here (although island black bears can get pretty big), one of the best ways is to take a boat to one of the inlets that cleave into the mainland BC coast. Yesterday I got to hitch a ride on a tour heading for the Orford River, where members of the Homalco Nation greet you and then transport you to viewing stands built along the river's banks. The Orford sits about a third of the way up Bute Inlet, a narrow and winding 75km long fjord where snow-capped peaks rise straight from the ocean floor. It is one of my favourite places, although I have only been to the very end of the inlet once. But that's another story - back to this one.
We spent several hours moving between viewing stands along the milky turquoise Orford that is thick with silt from the glaciers above. Around us towering trees heavy with moss closed in to the gravel bars. We watched a mama grizzly catch big salmon to share with her cub, and the rear view of a large boar ambling up river. Moving to another stand, we saw the same mom and cub from another angle, but then they moved into the bush for a nap. A deep blue September sky was offset by the blinding glare of the overhead sun that only seems to happen when the mountains rise steeply around you. It was amazingly quiet as our group murmured between each other and waited. The local guide took the visitors off for a short walk to the next stand to have a boo, but I stayed with my friend (and the boat driver) in case any bears popped out here. So quiet, aside for the gentle rush of the rivers. We talked in hush tones and squinted up at the peaks above.
Then a bit of movement - a little furry butt on a log across the river, disappearing back in to the branches. Then mama bear poked out from around the root ball and waded into the current, and then one, and then another fluffy cub followed her along the muddy bank. We radioed the rest of the group to come back, but for a few minutes we two were alone with this threesome as they scrambled along the bank to head up the river. Magical. Eventually we worked our way back to the mouth of the river, stopping at another stand to watch a male grizzly cross a large gravel bar. It can be a bit funny being on a guided tour like that, but our group was small and amiable. We had a late lunch on the dock, and then headed back out into civilization. A full afternoon indeed.
There were a few treats on the boat journey home though - I'll be back to share.