Elephants, giraffes, kudu, wildebeests and water buffalo have stared us down throughout the day, but we are searching for something more elusive. The pick-up carrying us on this safari adventure rumbles against the rocky earth, bouncing my wife and me around as we stand in the truck’s open-air back section. Suddenly, we see it: a northern white rhino. There are only six such animals alive on the planet, and we are 25 yards away from one. In all likelihood, the beast will someday soon disappear for good, but on this day we watch the walking-ghost wallow in a watering hole.
We are not at the end of an expensive multiple-day journey into the wild, we are not in Africa, and we are not staying in a hut. We are in San Diego, we are at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and we are staying at The Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa.
The San Diego Zoo’s lesser known and more remote sister operation, the Safari Park, is just 30 minutes from The Catamaran. The hotel is perfectly placed on peaceful, playful Mission Bay in San Diego. I landed at the resort, after considerable research, as a result of a mission I began months earlier: to plan the ultimate Valentine’s Day getaway weekend for my lovely wife.
The motivation for my mission was strong; my wife and I are expecting our first child this summer, so it was our last Valentine’s Day during life as we know it for, well, a long, long time. And so for this special getaway we selected the wondrous city of San Diego, which has been aptly called, “heaven on earth.”
"Much like Minneapolis, San Diego is rich in water,” said Mike Staples, General Manager at The Catamaran. “With the Pacific Ocean by our side and Mission Bay in our backyard, there certainly isn't any shortage of playground space. We are fortunate to have such a unique location between the ocean and the bay so our guests get the full San Diego experience with us.”
We certainly got the full experience at The Catamaran. In real estate they say it’s all about location, location, location, but at The Catamaran the service complements the picturesque location and adds to the total package. We arrived on Valentine’s Day itself, to discover a surprise gift of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries in our suite. After enjoying both, we opened our unit’s sliding glass door and walked barely 20 steps to the water’s edge.
We were right on the beach, and a full moon shined from above to illuminate the bay. Talk about the perfect start to the ultimate Valentine’s weekend.
"If our guests aren't lying poolside or getting treated in our bay front spa, they're probably riding a beach cruiser on the vibrant Pacific Beach boardwalk, taking advantage of the nightlife on Mission Boulevard and Garnet Avenue, or having an adventure on a motor boat, jet ski, or paddle board,” Staples said. “You simply can't get bored here."
During the next couple days at The Catamaran, we tried our hand at many of the activities Staples mentioned. The photos below provide a glimpse of the highlights from our time at and around The Catamaran.
With our suite right on the beach, I simply had to step outside and take a stroll to find this spot to watch the sun rise over Mission Bay. Later in the day, we had a blast renting paddle boards at the resort.
I brought a collapsible fishing pole to The Camaran; fishing from the beach provides good action for spotted bass. It's also a great area for swimming with warm, calm water in protected Mission Bay. In the evening, all Catamaran guests receive a pass for a free 1-hour cruise aboard The Bahia Belle.
The 1,800 acre San Diego Zoo Safari Park, home to more than 2,600 animals representing 300 species, is just north of The Catamaran in Escondido.
The head of a giraffe weighs 65 pounds. There are currently 13 giraffes at the park.
The San Diego Zoo is leading over 100 conservation projects across 35 countries. One example involves the California condor. In the 1980s only 22 condors remained on the planet; the zoo began breeding them and has since hatched 181 condors and released 80 birds into the wild.
The grounds at The Camaran features several beautiful waterfall and pond features with exotic parrots, koi fish and ducks, both outside (above) and inside (below).
The resort also has a fantastic spa, where we enjoyed a relaxing massage that felt great afer a day of water sports. You definitely work up an appetite for meals at the resort's Atoll restaurant, below. We looked out at Mission Bay for breakfast and dinner.
During our last night at The Catamaran we drove to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, a few minutes away. What a view! It was the ideal ending to our Valentine's getaway.
With all the activities and amenities on Mission Bay in San Diego, The Catamaran Resort is a fantastic place to bring a family. As we watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean on the last night of our last pre-children, Valentine's getaway, I realized we have a wonderful new adventure ahead of us in parenthood. And that someday we may just need to bring our children to the heaven that is San Diego.
The website for The Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa is www.catamaranresort.com. For more information, call 800.422.8386 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s something about the Rule of Three. Good things, bad things, strange things––for whatever reason, they often occur in sequences of three. A historically cold Minnesota winter of polar vortexes has nixed most outdoor activities these past months and forced me to look back at my most memorable fishing adventures from 2013, when temps were above zero.
And there it is. The Rule of Three. As I reflect on highlights and lowlights from my time on the water last year, three incredible experiences stand out. Each venture, in and of itself, was a spectacular moment that could stand alone as a capstone adventure in any outdoorsman’s life. The fact that I was lucky enough to enjoy these gems in the same year––or the same lifetime, for that matter––is not lost on me. As payback, I guess deserved the worst winter weather since before I was born.
Here are my top three extreme fishing adventures from 2013, each one incredibly unique and diverse in its own right.
1.) Ashford Castle
Having traversed the Atlantic Ocean and Ireland’s wildly untamed Connemara region to reach fabled Ashford Castle, I now can say that I have lived like royalty. It was only for a day, but a day in an ancient world lasts a lifetime in memory.
The castle, once the proud estate of the Guinness family, was built on the shores of Lough Corrib in 1228. The view across the lake has not changed in over 6,000 years and all of the castle’s 83 rooms retain their original features. The room my wife and I stayed in offered a stunning view of the 44,000-acre lake, home to some 365 islands. It was a view made better (if not blurrier) by the complimentary bottle of champagne and decanter of cherry that welcomed us upon our arrival. And so we learned, quite quickly on this special visit, that life as royalty is good.
As gorgeous as the grounds were––the castle is caressed by formal gardens that Rick Steves raves about––it was difficult to pull ourselves out from within the castle walls that first afternoon. Ashford Castle is just too magical. Original architecture is still in-tact, ranging from massive fireplaces to Waterford chandeliers to Roccoco gilt mirrors.
Eventually, I made my way outside the castle to face the famed Cong River with rod in hand. The Cong River, an excellent trout and salmon stream, spills into the lake outside the castle’s front door, creating a picture-perfect scene of a fairy-tale like bridge leading to the castle’s grand entrance. “We call that the ‘Oh-My-God!’ corner,” says Ashford’s Director of Sales and Marketing Paula Carroll. “That last bend always surprises guests, when you come around the corner and suddenly this majestic castle comes into view as though sitting on the side of the lake.”
Click here to read the full story of my adventures at Ashford Castle, including falconry, castle dining and mountain hiking.
2.) Little Palm Island
Atlantic Ocean, Miles Offshore Florida's Southern Tip
I am balancing on a 12-foot, wooden paddle board armed with an oversized kayak paddle I used to propel myself away from the jungle island and into the Atlantic Ocean when I notice a shark swimming 30 yards behind me. Ahead of me I see nothing but azure water so I do the only thing that comes to mind: I wobble down to my knees to untie the fishing pole I have strapped to my board and cast out in the direction of the unmistakable fin.
The shark is oblivious to my first two casts, but on the third cast she catches the scent of the shrimp I’m using for bait and charges after it. I wind faster. This angers her; she accelerates with remarkable speed to close the gap between her teeth, my bait and me.
I’m quickly running out of space––I have wound in nearly all my line and the chase is still on. I lower my rod tip into the water and whip it to the back of the board to keep my bait in motion when––BANG––the shark annihilates my bait 18 inches in front me! The shark strike creates a surface explosion like a cannonball hitting the water.
My pole is instantly doubled over from the weight of the sea creature, which spins 180 degrees with a splash of its tail and races off into the depths of the Atlantic with me now in tow behind her.
As thrilling as it was, the shark escapade was just one episode of a surreal sequence of adventures my wife and I experienced at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa near the Florida Keys, a private, 5-acre island resort miles offshore from the southernmost tip of the United States.
Click here to read the full story of my adventures at Little Palm Island Resort and Spa, including sailing, beach dining and ocean sunsets.
3. Fishing the Everglades
A 400-pound crocodile is glaring at me 15 feet away with its razor sharp teeth on display. A cunning predator, the crocodile has the strongest jaws on the planet with a biting force of 5,000 pounds per inch.
“Crocs can jump through the air faster than you can blink,” says my guide, Jim Willcox.
I am miles away from civilization, in the upper reaches of a narrow river channel winding through the jungle, as Willcox whispers these comforting words. Today I have spotted birds I never knew existed, and caught five types of fish I’ve never before seen.
Now I lock eyes with the crocodile and wonder, for the first time during this extreme fishing pursuit, if I am perhaps no longer the predator.
It feels as though I am in the Amazon, or maybe on the Nile River, fishing in a foreign world where crocodiles are kings––they have been known to attack great white sharks––and every cast holds the promise of catching something bizarre. Instead, I am only 80 miles south of Miami, fishing in the Florida Everglades with a man many say is the best guide in the business.
And while reaching Captain Jim Willcox was easy and inexpensive compared to the travel required for equal adventures in far-flung parts of the world, our journey since leaving the dock in Islamorada, Florida, has not been void of danger. “He died this spring,” Willcox says, nodding to a memorial photo pinned to a mangrove tree along the channel. “Lost control of his boat. They found his boat way up in the mangrove trees with the motor still running 90 minutes after the crash.”
Click here to read the full story of my adventures with Capt. Jim Willcox, including encountering sharks, manatees and dolphins.
“I have found heaven on earth.” Developer Alonzo Horton made his proclamation about San Diego, though he could have just as easily been referring specifically to The U.S. Grant Hotel. The National Landmark, which opened as The U.S. Grant in 1910, has been a San Diego centerpiece and silent witness to the city’s development for over a hundred years.
It was built by Horton as The Horton House in the last 1800s, after Horton told his wife, “I am going to sell my goods and go to San Diego and build a city.” Several years later, the daughter-in-law of former U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant bought the property, adjacent to well-known Horton Park Plaza, for the tidy sum of $56,000. She granted it to her husband, Ulysses S. Grant Jr., who knocked down the Horton House and, in 1905, began constructing The U.S. Grant Hotel as a tribute to his father.
Construction was delayed by the massive earthquake of 1906, which required all resources be sent north to San Francisco, but eventually The U.S. Grant opened her doors on October 15, 1910 to great pomp and circumstance. Thousands of guests flocked from all across the region to partake in the opening ceremony for this hotel that cost a staggering $1.9 million to build and was rumored to have the luxury of private baths in 350 of its 437 guestrooms. It was an evening for sparkling champagne, the best silver and the ladies' finest silk. The best and brightest of California society were on hand to toast the success of the hotel and to honor the memory of Ulysses S. Grant.
The day-long opening ceremony and celebration included the unveiling of a new fountain in the adjacent Horton Park Plaza. A personal gift from the city of San Diego, it was the world's first electrically lit fountain. In the decades since, the hotel witnessed a kaleidoscope of historical events––including a massive party on its doorsteps the day prohibition was repealed.
In 2003, the 11-story icon was purchased for $45 million by the area’s original ancestors, the Kumeyaay Nation, who always considered Grant a noble president for his setting aside 640 acres of land for the Native American tribe back in 1875. In the following 21 months, the tribe invested $56 million in a spectacular renovation that has the hotel continuing its tradition of winning elite awards.
Over the decades, nearly every U.S. president has stayed at The U.S. Grant Hotel. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson attended a banquet at the hotel after addressing a crowd of over 50,000 at Balboa Stadium––the first time in history a U.S. president used a loudspeaker in a public venue.
Some 15 years later, FDR addressed the nation from the top floor of The U.S. Grant in one of his first Fireside Chats to occur outside of Washington D.C. In fact, the hotel added its 11th floor specifically to create room for radio station KFVW to broadcast FDR’s speech. During the process, they created massive twin towers on the roof of the hotel which were the largest on the west coast.
Roughly 25 years later, JFK campaigned to a crowd of San Diegans at The U.S. Grant just days before being elected president in 1960. And, continuing the tradition of famous American figures staying at the hotel, my wife and I stayed at The U.S. Grant last month.
OK, so maybe there’s a bit of a drop-off there, but that’s the great thing about The U.S. Grant: it enables regular folks an opportunity to experience this beautiful historical landmark, in the heart of the city’s Gaslamp Quarter.
"It's the combination of our beautiful surroundings and rich history, as well as the pride of our ownership and the service excellence demonstrated by our staff every day that makes The U.S. Grant such a special place," said General Manager Douglas Douglas Korn.
At The U.S. Grant, Jodie and I were minutes away from Balboa Park, city trolley tours, fishing in the bay, scenic hikes and, yes, those picture-perfect San Diego beaches. We quickly saw why the hotel attracts guests from exotic places such as Bora Bora, New Zealand, Iceland, China and Rwanda. It’s within walking distance of all these fantastic attractions, yet the hotel itself is so terrific you almost hate to leave. The Grand Lobby Is adorned with sparkling crystal chandeliers, hand-loomed silk carpets (worth up to $250,000), and art pieces that provide guests a glimpse of the hotel’s $6.5 million art collection.
Each of the 270 rooms contains a drip-painting headboard created by renowned artist Yves Clement, valued at $10,000 a piece. We slept extra well knowing that.
Of course, exhaustion from our days’ activities coupled with incredible food and drinks from the hotel’s award-winning Grant Grill also contributed to our sound sleep. The photos below represent just a few highlights from our stay at The U.S. Grant Hotel.
Jodie and I walked from The U.S. Grant Hotel to Balboa Park, which was built for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Expo. Today the 1,200-acre city park is home to 14 museums, a pipe organ pavilion, botanical gardens, a Tony award winning theater, an antique carousel, a miniature-scale train and the world-renowned San Diego Zoo.
San Diego's popular trolley tours pick-up a few blocks from The U.S. Grant Hotel. We rode it for a day and hopped of at various stops, including San Diego Bayfront, pictured above.
The U.S. Grant Hotel is close to excellent ocean fishing. I went for a morning with local guide Captain James Nelson, and caught about 30 spotted bass, several sting rays (including a 50-pounder), an elusive bonefish and this beautiful leopard shark.
With full days of fishing, hiking and sight-seeing, we worked up our appetites to enjoy fantastic dinners at the hotel's award-winning restaurant, The Grant Grill.
Our waitress at the Grant Grill, Natalie, was the best waiter/waitress we've had anywhere along the West Coast. She knew the menu inside and out, and regaled us with stories of the restaurant's history dating back to 1951. Natalie also works closely with The U.S. Grant's certified Sommelier and award-winning mixologist, Jeff Josenhans. At her recommendation, we enjoyed several adult beverages, including a signature U.S. Grant Manhattan consisting of High West Utah Rye, Dolin Alpine Vermouth and Old Fashioned Bitters blended and aged in American Oaks for 100 days.
Vanessa Randazzo, a 6-year U.S. Grant vet, gave me a tour of the lovely hotel. She is pictured above in an 11th floor penthouse suite, in which celebrities including Steven Spielberg and Michelle Obama have stayed. Below is the view from the suite.
The website for The U.S. Grant Hotel is www.usgrant.net. To contact the hotel, email email@example.com or call (619) 232-3121.
In the days of the Wild West, there was only one trail into San Diego. Pioneers seeking new land and new lives traversed the desert through Los Peñasquitos Canyon on oxen-pulled wagons until they hit the Pacific Ocean and could go no further.
Rattlesnakes and mountain lions were viable predators, but the travelers’ greatest fear was a raid from nomads. If attacked, it wasn’t for money or food, but rather for shoes and drinking water––their two most valuable possessions. The ocean ended their journey. Once they reached the coast they set up fort and called it home, then later, by its proper name of San Diego.
Today, the city is a booming tourist attraction––for good reason––and the old canyon trail is all but forgotten. My wife and I recently re-traced the journey during a day’s hike under the blazing sun and discovered the canyon’s rugged beauty has only intensified over the past century of obsolescence. The preserve, complete with 37 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, is brimming with wildlife and plant species, grassy hills and meadows, trickling streams, ponds and a natural waterfall.
And while it feels as though it’s in the middle of nowhere, the natural beauty of Los Peñasquitos Canyon is tucked away just a few miles from one of the most luxurious resorts in the world: The Grand Del Mar.
We stayed two nights at the modern marvel that is The Grand Del Mar, and explored the canyon as part of an excursion arranged by the resort, which is about 20 miles north of San Diego International Airport. For adventurous guests, the resort also arranges horseback riding, hiking along Torrey Pines State Preserve, whale-watching excursions, sunset sails and access to a private beach. We enjoyed the thrill of sailing into the sunset and seeing migratory gray whales, also courtesy of the resort’s arranging. I must say, however, that the resort itself is so spectacular you’ll find it difficult to pull yourself away from its grounds for even the most sensational of off-site adventures.
With opulent, Mediterranean-style architecture and design, The Grand Del Mar features an exotic mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Moroccan and Venetian design elements. I don’t call it a “modern marvel” lightly; the creation of this modern-day palace is truly amazing. More than 800 craftspeople spent over a million man-hours in creating the hotel.
There were 120 carpenters who worked more than 150,000 hours designing and installing 16 different wood species––including fine walnut, mahogany, olive, alder, sycamore and maple accents––with 35 different finishes. There are more than 25,000 square feet of handcrafted wood floors. There are also more than 50 chandeliers, 500 fabrics and 1,700 pieces of custom-designed furniture and art.
“When we set out to create The Grand Del Mar, we wanted a fresh, exciting and above all, romantic theme––something completely unusual and unexpected for the area,” said architect Robert Altevers. “We researched resort architecture throughout history and created something, that by its stylized presence and grandeur, has made a major architectural statement––locally, regionally and nationally.”
It’s all incredible––we wandered the grounds in awe for hours––but what struck Jodie and me the most was the marble. The hotel holds over 20 tons of 30 different types of stone and polished Italian marble, including Gallo Cleopatra, Jerusalem limestone and Rojo Alicante. Every ounce was hand-carved by a four-generation Italian family just south of Venice, Italy.
The statistics are staggering, but perhaps this anecdote best explains the sheer volume of marble at The Grand Del Mar: One of the resort’s tennis courts is encased in a Roman-like stone arena and features a spacious bathroom facility filled with marble fit for a palace.
The No. 1 Resort in the U.S.
The incredible masterpiece has not gone unnoticed. Travel + Leisure named The Grand Del Mar as “California’s #1 Resort” in 2013, and also gave the hotel a coveted “World’s Best Award.” TripAdvisor, meanwhile, named The Grand Del Mar the number one hotel in the entire United States for 2014.
Celebrities flock to The Grand Del Mar. While the hotel professionally declines to share the names of any famous guests who visit, locals say Lebron James held his wedding last summer at The Grand Del Mar, taking advantage of the hotel’s 8,200-square-foot event lawn overlooking the golf course.
As physically spectacular as The Grand Del Mar is, its management and staff propel the hotel into the elite stratosphere of resorts. “The most important aspect of any hotel is a gracious and meticulous staff,” said Tom Voss, president of The Grand Del Mar. “We work hard to hire staff with a caring personality and authenticity, with keen focus on individuality, personalization and customized service. Instead of reacting to the needs of guests, we anticipate them upon reservation and strive to customize each guest’s stay.”
My wife and I were impressed by every staff member we met, and could certainly see why Conde Nast Traveler ranked the resort “Best by Service” with a perfect service score of 100. As we lounged and swam in the beautiful serenity pool, thoughtful staff members brought us lemonade, fresh towels, and even adjusted our umbrellas to shade the sun. What a life.
At dinner, it was more of the same, with an attentive staff at the hotel’s Amaya restaurant. Outdoor seating with dramatic flames for lighting provided an enchanting setting for a delicious dinner of ribeye and sea bass. The hotel’s other signature restaurant, Addison, has won so many awards you have to scroll down the restaurant’s webpage just to read them all. You’d have to scroll even longer if you were to read all of Addison’s 3,600 wine selections.
“I take an artisanal approach to cooking, offering contemporary classic French cuisine using seasonal California ingredients––all with my own experience, twists and likes as part of the picture,” said Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef William Bradley. “Colorful and flavorful ingredients drive our menus. I begin by obtaining the very best ingredients, and then applying everything that I know and care about to the execution of each dish.”
After dinner, Jodie and I strolled around outside and admired marble statues and fountains lit-up by gas lamps. More than a dozen water features punctuate the grounds, including a 75-foot long, 22-nozzle fountain, flanked by towering Italian cypress trees and lined with gold, royal blue and white marble tiles.
The Mediterranean-style modern marvel that is The Grand Del Mar had us walking on clouds during our post-dinner stroll. Our journey was so very different from the early settlers who first traversed Los Peñasquitos Canyon hundreds of years ago. We had escaped to San Diego––during the midst of a historically cold Minnesota winter of polar vortexes––for the same reason most do: to lie on the beach, swim in the ocean and soak in southern California’s sun. But The Grand Del Mar’s magnificent powers transported us to the rolling hills of Tuscany and beyond.
We are most grateful it did.
The website for The Grand Del Mar is www.granddelmar.com. For more information, call 855.314.2030.
The Grand Del Mar staff drove us to nearby Los Peñasquitos Canyon for a wonderful half-day hike guided by naturalist Dylan Jones. San Diego is one of the most bio-diverse regions in the U.S. The dry, dusty canyon offers a completely different terrain than the ocean and beaches that come to mind when you think of San Diego.
With his incredible knowledge and great story-telling, naturalist Dylan Jones was the ideal guide for our canyon hike. He showed us how the native Kumeyaay tribe used local cactus to make red dye.
We also went on our own hike around The Grand Del Mar. The grounds are gorgeous.
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. My dad and I found a new resort we escape to every Father’s Day and now consider our home-away-from-home.
A family road-trip to Niagara Falls a decade ago gave me the chance to see the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world; it also provided a few afternoons of fantastic stream fishing near Toronto.
A group of high school buddies and I brave the conditions every couple winters and snowshoe through the lakes and highlands of southern Ontario––punching through thin ice on a spring fed lake chilled my bones but did nothing to cool my passion toward Canada.
A few years ago, Vancouver welcomed me to the beauty of British Columbia, and served as a lovely launching pad for an Alaskan cruise.
A fly-in fishing adventure near Ear Falls two Septembers ago, during the full moon phase, taught me that walleyes can indeed feed so ferociously that your jig doesn’t hit the bottom of the lake. More importantly, it allowed me to treat my dad to his first fly-in fishing excursion––a trip he had dreamed his whole life of going on “someday.” The big moon lit up Bear Paw Lake as we caught walleye after walleye into the late night hours, all alone in the silence of the wilderness.
The year after, I breached Manitoba for my first time at a resort that presented a miraculous collection of contradictions: extreme luxury in the remote Atikaki Wilderness Provincial Park; 5-star service and gourmet food at a fly-in camp; world-class fishing with lavish accommodations in the midst of a beautiful and unspoiled boreal forest.
At the other end of the spectrum in terms of lodging and luxury, annual Boundary Waters camping trips with cousins taught me how to paddle a canoe and tie up a bear bag to keep our food safe in the air––while we slept in tents on the ground.
This May, a decade and a half after that first Canada fishing trip, my love affair with the Canadian wilderness will culminate with the adventure of a lifetime: a week of ocean kayaking, mountain hiking, heli-fishing and glacier trekking at the incomparable Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
The resort, recently featured in the New York Times best-seller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” consists of nine chalets 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.
Daily adventures include whitewater rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding, deep-sea fishing, glacier trekking, bear- and whale-watching excursions, hiking and stream fishing. With all that activity, guests work up a hearty appetite to fully appreciate the mountain-top picnic lunches and gourmet dinners back at the lodge––a dining experience that has been called “one of the best in Vancouver” by New York Times best-selling travel author Patricia Shultz.
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 then Nimmo Bay in our lives was our family, and this is true to this day.”
Younger sister, Georgia, agrees. “It is very special to be a part of a family business,” she said. “We are so lucky to be carrying on our mom and dad's legacy and putting our own stamp on it.”
As for me, I am lucky to have the chance to visit this remarkable place and this remarkable family in less than three months. Given the Murray’s legacy, it is fitting that this trip will be my last great adventure before I myself become a father later this summer.
I hope one day I will be able to share my love of the Canadian wilderness with my son or daughter as Murray has done with his.
The website for Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is www.nimmobay.com. To contact the resort, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-837-4354.
Photos courtey of Jeremy Koreski.