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Adventure in The Great Bear Rainforest

  • Blog Post by: Tony Capecchi
  • June 29, 2014 - 9:21 PM

Editor’s Note: The author visited Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, a second-generation family-run lodge in northern British Columbia. This article is the fourth of a four-part series on Nimmo Bay. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the adventure. 

My love affair with Canada began with a high school graduation gift from my old man: a week-long, father-son fishing trip. We bunked in a rundown resort in the woods of Ontario. Wind and rain besieged the camp, and daily thunderstorms forced us off the lake back into our knotty pine cabin, which housed a pair of field mice. In the black of night, a wind gust blew open the cabin door and in our semi-awake state we shoved a dresser in front of the door to prevent it from blowing open again and letting even more rainwater pour in. 

I loved every minute of it. 

Since that stormy initiation, the Canadian wilderness has beckoned me back annually, if not two or three times a year. From the East Coast to the West, I have laid to rest in everything from sleeping bags on rocky islands to five-star accommodations in plush fly-ins. 

This May, a decade and a half after that first fishing trip, my love affair with the Canadian wilderness culminated with an incredible adventure: a week of ocean kayaking, mountain hiking, and heli-fishing at the incomparable Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort in the Great Bear Rainforest. 

The resort, recently featured in the New York Times best-seller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” consists of nine cabins built on stilts on a tidal, fjord-like bay just south of Alaska’s Inside Passage, and is accessible only by helicopter and sea plane. From this pocket of luxury, guests have access to over 50,000 square miles of breathtaking beauty, including 10,000-year old glaciers, mountain tops, old-growth rainforests, remote islands, white sand beaches, hot springs, a 5,000-foot waterfall and over 50 pristine rivers and streams––the majority of which can only be reached by Nimmo Bay helicopters.

I was lucky enough to experience a day of heli-hiking and heli-fishing in the mountains during my second day at Nimmo Bay. This adventure gave me the chance to soar into grizzly bear country, terrain above the clouds that is otherwise off-limits. I can’t count how many glacial waterfalls we hovered along in our helicopter, but that remarkable day provided more than enough material for an article in and of itself.

So, too, did my first and third days at Nimmo Bay, the former of which I spent ocean kayaking, paddle boarding and bear-watching, and the latter of which I visited an old village on the water to see a hearty breed of people who stake their homes in the wild. 

Each day also consisted of evening bonfires on a floating dock, nightly soaks in an outdoor cedar hot tub at the base of a waterfall, and over-the-top, spectacular food––cuisine ranging from fresh Dungeness crab to locally caught halibut.

As grand as the operation is today, it all began with one man’s dream over 20 years ago to run a fishing lodge with his wife and kids. “I wanted to make a living doing something where I could be with my family,” explained Vancouver Island local Craig Murray, who started the lodge in 1980 after purchasing an old float house near Port Hardy and towing it by barge to Nimmo’s current location. “Not a lot of jobs out here at the time other than logging and commercial fishing and those would require me to leave my wife and kids behind and travel to wherever there’s work.”

And so, at 34, Murray decided to follow his dream and start Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort with his wife and sons, age 3 and 1. 

“There are 150 million things that can go wrong, and most of them did at some time or another, but we managed,” said Craig. “We had no options––we had to make it work, even when the bank would say, ‘Sorry, no more money.’” 

The resort initially focused just on fishing, and gradually grew from accommodating eight guests to its current capacity of 18. For nine months of the year, the eco-friendly operation is powered by electricity generated from the waterfall. A hydroxyl waste management system converts all the camp’s waste-water into to bacteria-free, clear water that can be released back into nature. Nimmo Bay has always led the way with sustainability and consciously minimizes its carbon footprint. 

“There are too many things in this world that are not sustainable, too many people that aren’t thinking about that,” Murray said. “Right from the get-go we had a catch-and-release only fishery, so we never killed any fish at all. We have the purest, sweetest drinking water coming down from Mount Stevens. We did all the stuff you can possibly do to be green right from Day 1 because we know how fortunate we are to live in this pristine environment.”

Over the years, visitors from all over the world have taken note of the pristine environment as well. Nimmo Bay boasts a 76 percent return rate. It is consistently rated as one of the elite wilderness resorts in the world. The secret behind it all is simple, according to Murray, who in his early years visited his guests at their homes to study their behavior and preferences in order to optimize their future Nimmo Bay experiences. 
 
“There are three reasons for our success at Nimmo Bay: humor, music and detail,” Murray said. 
“Music is the universal language, and it’s all around us in nature,” Murray said. “If more people got involved with making music it’d be a happier place.” 

His own children have taken the advice to heart. Murray’s middle child, Clifton, serves as an international ambassador for the resort while traveling with his popular band, The Tenors. Murray’s youngest child, Georgia, works full-time at the resort by day and is a professional singer by night. Guitars, sing-a-longs and karaoke are common at Nimmo Bay. 

Murray’s oldest, Fraser, now runs the resort along with his wife, his cousin and his sister Georgia. “My dad has taught me so much,” says Fraser, who became a father himself earlier this winter. “He was there when I caught my first fish, and he also had me washing dishes and cleaning toilets at a very young age.”

Fraser and his generation of Murrays were the driving force in expanding Nimmo Bay’s offerings to include a wider breadth of activities beyond fishing, such as heli-hiking, whale watching, whitewater rafting and glacier trekking.   

“We have all dedicated so much of our lives to Nimmo Bay that it is hard to separate life from work,” Fraser admitted. “Dad taught me the value of a long, hard day’s work and to never give up on something you believe in. I would say the only thing that was ever bigger than Nimmo Bay in our lives was our family, and this is true to this day.”

The result of Fraser and his family’s tireless devotion to Nimmo Bay is frequent recognition as one of the top wilderness resorts in the world. But the true reward for Fraser is much greater: friendship with guests from all over, and the unequaled satisfaction of waking up each morning in paradise to share your passion with others. 

During my stay, I made friends not only with Fraser and the staff, but also the other guests at Nimmo Bay: a delightful couple from London, and a Vancouver woman who was lovely inside and out. 

“Nimmo Bay is a resort with a soul,” said Jeneen Southerland, who was visiting Nimmo for the first time and plans to return. “This whole experience is rejuvenating. The Murrays are such an incredible family, and it’s amazing to think how they have created this place in the wilderness for others to enjoy.” 

Indeed, it is remarkable. 

In the past decade, I’ve been deliberate and dogged in my pursuit of the planet’s most beautiful vistas. Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Alaska. The Cliffs of Moher. Coronado Island. The crown jewel of Hawaii’s Kauai Island, the Na’Pali Coast. The mystical Isle of Skye, a ferry ride beyond the farthest reaches of the Scottish highlands. The island of Capri, where fabled sirens once sang to sailors in Homer’s The Odyssey. 

I realize it is a serious understatement to say I’ve been fortunate with the sights I have seen. I list these destinations not to boast, but purely for reference––for of all the places I have been, I have never before communed with wilderness beauty the way I did at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort. 

The website for Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is www.nimmobay.com. For more information on Nimmo Bay, call 1.800.837.4354 or email heli@nimmobay.com.  

For more information on this region and other parts of British Columbia, visit HelloBC.com

My new friends Peter and Jo, from London, graciously let me join them in the early mornings for bear-watching expeditions led by our Chilean guide, Francisco. We all agreed that seeing a bear in a setting like this is purely a bonus––simply being out in the wilderness watching the fog rise up into the mountains is its own thrill.

 Above I am pictured searching for bears; below is a video I took of a large bear we got to watch for over 35 minutes from a fairly close distance. We also saw a mother bear with her cub, several other massive adults (larger than the one in this video) and one bear while paddling on a stand-up paddle board. 

My words are quite inadequate in describing Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, but this video shows what the experience is all about.

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