The Great Bears of Bute

Our journey to Orford Bay, Bute Inlet

Mileage today: 11 Total 5821

Today was the most spectacular yet, a real bucket list day.  Certainly one we shall always remember.

We had booked our tour to see grizzly bears feasting on salmon as they swim up the rivers to spawn, which they do from August through September.  The bears are ravenous, eating all they can before their winter hibernation.  The chum salmon, exhausted by their swim upstream from the sea are the perfect food.  There are approximately 25,000 grizzly bears in British Columbia, a sizeable community.

The viewing grounds on the remote mainland coastline opposite Vancouver Island, are on the lands of the Homalco Nation.  They Co operate with various bear tours from V I but all the tours are guided by Homalco guides once in area.  So, we decided to book with Homalco Tours from the beginning.

It wasn’t cheap.  In fact it was the most expensive tour we’ve ever taken, but it was worth every single penny and I would highly recommend you to take this tour if you are in these parts, and want to see grizzly bears in the wild under unique conditions.

We met at the Campbell River marina at 7am and our boat set off about 715.  There were about 12 of us aboard plus the captain and a naturalist. The boat was amazing.  A steel skiff with a landing craft layout and a uber powerful engine.  There were comfortable padded seats in the glass cabin for everyone and also front facing seats on the front deck.  It planed over the water, at one point we did 40 kph.

The journey to Orford Bay took us about 3 hours but this included stops to see and photograph orcas, and humpback whales, a deserted First Nation village and a discussion about the politics surrounding First Nation matters.  It is a really beautiful journey.  The coastline is massively fragmented into very many islands and islets and long fjords.  The water was so still today, it was like a mirror.  Absolutely ravishing.  I got a couple of nice humpback pix but they are on my main camera and not up loadable yet.

Once in Orford Bay we were met by our two Homalco bear guides and taken by minibus up rough tracks into the forested interior along the river banks.  At this point the tour began to totally exceed my expectation.  I thought we might see the bears at some distance from tall wooden platforms.   And maybe 3 or 4 bears….

Well… Our first stop was a point on the river bank, and lo and behold there was a mother bear with two cubs, just ambling along the bank….. And the day went on from there… 12 bear encounters, all at very close range.  Another mother with a single cub.  Lone bears, 2 bears together….  None of them seemed at all interested in us.   They were all fixated on scooping up salmon and devouring them.

The poor old salmon, huge as they were, were clearly on their last legs having fulfilled their purpose and spawned in the place of their own birth.  Which is a miracle in itself.  There was a bit of a stink from them to be honest.   It was so amazing to watch the huge bears in and out of the water.  They are Big.

Bear eating a salmon

It felt quite safe. The guides were well equipped with deterrents, we did have hides and the bus always at hand and we had to keep together and quiet.  3 hours or so seemed to pass in a flash.  I wanted it to go on and on. I have some of my phone pictures here and some of Bob’s video, but my camera photos must wait till tomorrow night maybe.

We returned to the dock and had a picnic lunch on the floating picnic area and then it was time for the journey back to Campbell River.  This time the captain took us skimming through several sets of narrows where the tide was ripping through in a series of eddies.  Lots of fun.  We saw eagle’s, sealions, cormorants… It was a fantastic day.  8 hours of wonderful nature and wildlife. 

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