My arm is throbbing, but I can’t quit reeling. A few minutes ago my guide Jason Assonitis and I landed a double––a pair of king salmon each topping the 10-pound mark––and now I’m battling another king that may be twice that size. Mercifully, the fish quits running at the boat and instead turns 90 degrees to the right and dives deep, giving me a temporary reprieve from winding as it peels out line.
“That’s a nice fish,” Assonitis says knowingly. He’s seen more than his fair share in his 30-odd years, the majority of which have been spent guiding. The past 9 years guiding have been the most meaningful, for it was almost a decade ago that he and friend Jeff Copeland decided they had spent enough time fishing for others and would start their own operation called Bon Chovy Fishing Charters. The gamble has paid off as their reputation as one of the elite fishing charters in British Columbia has grown––a fact exemplified by the 20-pound salmon I finally manage to coax into the net.
We’re an hour boat ride from Vancouver, fishing around the famed Gulf Islands, and we’re being richly rewarded for making the run across choppy water through the Strait of Georgia. The bite is on, and we’re catching both quantity and quality. Because of the fast action we're only running two lines, one for each of us. Good thing! If we had more lines out my arm would really be dead.
In fact, I’ve fished salmon in Ireland, Alaska and on the Great Lakes, and I’ve never had action this good. And the scenery is right up there, too. I first read about the Gulf Islands in the New York Times best-seller “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” The archipelago, a string of about 100 partially submerged mountain peaks between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, is shockingly unpopular.
Sure, it’s a destination people know about (Salt Spring is the largest and most popular Gulf Island, with a population of 10,000 strung across 82 miles of craggy coastline), but the islands are significantly less popular than Washington’s San Juans, while their beauty can be argued with any rival. Of the 100 or so islands, some 25 have small villages or tiny, traditional towns that use the ocean as their life source. The rest of the islands are uninhabited. As Shultz wrote in her book, “Take a kayak for a spin here and you’re more likely to bump into a seal or Dall’s porpoise than another tourist.”
On our day, which began at 7:00am on Granville Island, barely a 20-minute drive from Vancouver International Airport, we saw seals, seagulls and bald eagles. But the main thing we bumped into was king salmon, or Chinook as they’re called in Vancouver. We had our best success running Gibbs Delta Guide Series Flashers (STS, Bon Chovy, Lemon Lime) and hootchies on short leaders in 120 to 160 feet of water. We ran the Yamashita Spacklebacks and Yamashita UV double skirts, and the salmon devoured them.
As fantastic as the salmon fishing was, it may get even better throughout the summer. The Vancouver area holds resident king salmon year-round, and is where the Fraser River––one of the world’s premier salmon rivers––enters the Pacific Ocean.
“They’re predicting the largest sockeye run in history on the Fraser River this year,” Assonitis said, quoting an article that forecasts 40 to 70 million salmon will run through the Fraser in August. “The record had been set in 2010 with the largest run the river had seen in 100 years, but this summer it will more than double that record.”
Assonitis has witnessed incredible fishing in a myriad of locations. He fished commercially for years, and guided over on the West Coast of Vancouver Island for three years as well as the Queen Charlotte Island for four years before settling back in his native Vancouver. He also serves as “fishing consultant” on a private yacht on an annual trip to Alaska for a special friend has made through guiding––a Russian oligarch purported to be the sixth richest man in Russia.
Assonitis has also guided the band Green Day, who since invited him to one of their concerts, as well as numerous professional athletes and other celebrities. What’s refreshing, though, is that the youngster who has so quickly climbed to the top of guiding pyramid remains humble. He gently offers me pointers on how to play the fish, asks me questions about fishing I do back home, and admits to being a bit tired from celebrating his parents’ wedding anniversary the night before (his parents have a place on Vancouver Island, but most of his family is in Vancouver).
But if you think the young guys in town look to save a few bucks with gear compared to the old-timers who already have their life’s savings built up, think again. With four premium charter boats, Bon Chovy Fishing Charters boasts some of the fastest boats in Vancouver. They regularly run a 23-foot Grady White Gulfstream, a 28-foot Grady White Sailfish, a 30-foot Grady White Marlin and a 35-foot Blackfin. They can handle corporate groups up to 50 people.
Bon Chovy Fishing Charters also has a guide devoted to sturgeon fishing on the Fraser River, where giant white sturgeon are measured in yards, not feet and inches.
The youngsters take pride in being fully insured, meeting Trasport Canada’s safety requirements and being equipped with the latest navigation, tackle and fish fishing equipment. In fact, Assonitis is even a Transport Canada certified 60-ton Master Mariner.
“When we first started, the trend was for everyone to have these big heavy boats,” Assonitis explains. “We were on the front edge of buying lighter boats designed for speed and fuel efficiency. Because our fleet is so fast it expands that window of water that we can reach, and it really opens us up to be able to access the best fishing.”
I can attest to that. Our hour run at top speeds of 45 miles per hour expanded our range and gave me the chance to tap into the best salmon fishing of my life. For a change of pace, and to target a new species I’ve often eaten but never before caught, we switched gears and fished for ling cod for an hour or two in the afternoon. We jigged off reefs and enjoyed fast action for the tasty, toothy creatures.
We also stopped at a crab pot that Assonitis set out, and I got to pull in a trap full of Dungeness crab. Turns out Assonitis takes clients there and offers them the fresh crab to take home as a special bonus for a day on the water.
In our case, we had easily over $200 worth of fresh crab. Consequently, I decided to quit my day job and move to Alaska to get a job on a crabbing ship in “Dangerous Catch.” Unfortunately – or, perhaps, fortunately––my wife vetoed the decision when I got back home, but at least now I can say I’ve done it.
To me, it’s those types of unique experiences added to the spectacular fishing that makes a day on the water with Bon Chovy Fishing Charters such a special experience. No wonder they’re Vancouver’s No. 1 rated fishing guide service on TripAdvisor, with nothing but 5-star reviews.
What’s interesting about their reviews is that they range from serious anglers to first-time fisherman. Here’s a 5-star review from a Washington, D.C. family who fished with Bon Chovy Fishing Charters for a half day before an Alaskan cruise. “We had 6 individuals, kids to grandparents and everyone had a ball. Our highlight was a 22lb King or Chinook Salmon. Jeff, our captain, was great and the boat was perfect for our family. We had never salmon fished and it was fun for everyone. We came home with plenty of salmon, which Bon Chovy cleaned and filleted for us, and took it with us to a local salmon packager. We picked up a week later, after our cruise on the way to airport, and it was perfectly packaged and currently enjoying at home. Thank you BonChovy for a great morning and unforgettable experience!”
Mr. Swanson, of Irvine, California, wrote a review about his day fishing with Bon Chovy Fishing Charters cleverly titled “Best Day of Fishing Ever.” He finished his review with this comment, which I think is very fitting: “On a scale of one to five, these guys are a 10.”
I stayed at The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel for my day fishing with Bon Chovy Fishing Charters. It’s an elite hotel right at the airport, only 20 minutes from Bon Chovy’s dock. Click here for a link to The Fairmont.
For helpful info on other Vancouver activities, visit Destination BC at www.hellobc.com.
Bon Chovy Fishing Charters has an office on Granville Island, right next to the marina where they dock their boats. During our day on the water, we saw this boat towing a supply of lumber. Logging remains a major industry in British Columbia and it was cool to see this old tradition carried out.
At the very end of the day, right before we had to reel in and make the run back to the dock, I had one last strike. I set the hook on another solid king salmon, and the fight was on.
What a way to end the day!
Editor’s Note: The author visited Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, a second-generation family-run lodge in northern British Columbia. This article is the second of a four-part series on Nimmo Bay. Click here to read Part 1.
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort: Day 2
Wednesday, May 21, 2:38pm
Our helicopter mirrors the waterfall, descending down 300 feet parallel to the raging waters. At the base of the falls, we hover above the turbulent pool of blue and white. We are above the clouds, in a separate world of 10,000-year-old glaciers and pristine streams that salmon fill and grizzly bears hunt. In this other-world we have hiked and climbed and fished, but at the moment we simply hover. I feel weightless.
Days before boarding the aircraft, we had seemingly already explored as far into the Great Bear Rainforest as one can push––taking a small plane from Vancouver to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, then crawling into a float plane for a 20-minute flight over fjords and bays until landing on a floating dock at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, which clings to the base of Mount Stephens.
After a sun-filled Day 1 of ocean kayaking, paddle boarding, bear-watching and hiking through old-growth forests, Day 2 finds us embarking on Nimmo Bay’s signature experience: a dreamlike day of heli-fishing and heli-hiking in the high mountains.
We start the day, of course, with food. Breakfast begins with sinful chocolate croissants, offset by fresh fruit, yogurt, granola and fruit smoothies. Upon devouring Round 1, we are rewarded with Round 2 of breakfast: thick pieces of french toast loaded with fruit. After our surrender to the food gods, lodge owners Fraser and Becky Murray come to greet us with their 5-month-old daughter Fauna in tow.
“We have all dedicated so much of our lives to Nimmo Bay that it is hard to separate life from work,” Fraser said. “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.”
Fraser has grown up at Nimmo Bay since he was just a bit older than Fauna is now. I am both envious and puzzled by Fraser’s upbringing; I can’t imagine what it was like to grow up in a float house attached to a mountain in this rugged and beautiful setting. Where would you go to school? And how would you get there? How would you make friends? What about the winters, and the wildlife? In fact, when Fraser was 4 a grizzly bear turned his family’s floating dock into her den.
And then there’s the overwhelming beauty of it all. And the incredible, intimate encounters with Mother Nature you must be graced with when you spend your entire life in this setting. For Fraser’s part, he seems no worse for the wear. In fact, the 35-year-old, second-generation owner of the luxury lodge possesses a unique combination of kindness, charm, appreciation of his surroundings and a surprising connection not only to the natural wonders of his backyard but also to the people who travel from all over the world to be a part of it for a week. Fraser was even given an honorary name by the local First Nations tribe, which is exceptionally rare and speaks volumes about the charismatic, modest young man.
“We’ve met so many amazing people,” he said. “We have some people who have been coming for so long, we just kind of quit charging them. We’ve just become friends. We travel and go and stay with them at their houses, and they come and see us here.”
For my stay at Nimmo Bay, I was surrounded by fellow first-timers: Jeneen Sutherland, from the Vancouver area, and husband-and-wife Jo Connah and Peter Scorfield from London. Believe it or not, I am not forgetting anyone or leaving a guest off the list because he annoyed me with poor jokes and bad body odor. Incredibly, there were only four of us guests at the resort our entire time there. And get this: there were TWO chefs! A pastry chef and an executive chef, both of whom justify the strong praise Nimmo Bay received in “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” when best-selling author Patricia Shultz said the food––which she called the best in British Columbia––is arguably the highlight of any day at Nimmo Bay.
The resort, of course, can accommodate a few more than four guests––it features nine cabins built on stilts above the water––but it is intentionally small. “I don’t want to get any bigger,” said Fraser, who has expanded the resort’s focus from purely fishing to offer a wider variety of eco-tourism activities such as whale-watching, beachcombing and glacier trekking. “We like being small. We like spending time with the people who come here and being able to share these experiences with them.”
I feel the resort’s intimate size is a tremendous advantage and allows each guest to receive individualized attention (i.e. when I sat by the campfire at night a staff member rushed over with a blanket and tucked me in; when I finished my glass of wine under the stars another employee immediately topped me off), and my fellow guests certainly agreed.
"Nimmo Bay is a resort with a soul," said Jeneen Sutherland, who made herself at home during her first trip to the resort by taking advantage of morning yoga classes, hikes with the staff and stand-up paddle boarding (including a paddle when she saw a bear). "When you meet Fraser and (his father) Craig, you kind of want to pat them on the back and say a big 'thank-you' for creating this incredible place. It is an experience that leaves you feeling totally rejuvenated."
“We feel very fortunate to be one of just a few people here,” added Peter Scorfield, who has experienced wilderness safaris in the far reaches of Africa yet was nonetheless amazed by the beauty and serenity of Nimmo Bay. “It’s like we have the place to ourselves."
To Fly is Human ... To Hover Divine
Fraser and Becky chatted with us after breakfast, then told us the plan for our big adventure in the helicopter. This was the day I had been anticipating for months––the signature Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort adventure unlike any other. You could say that heli-fishing put Nimmo Bay on the map, and that Nimmo Bay put heli-fishing in the dictionary. The concept is this: You board a helicopter and fly high above the clouds, into the mountains to fish untouched streams that otherwise can’t be reached. The Murray family has access to over 50,000 acres of breathtaking beauty, including 10,000-year-old glaciers, 5,000-foot waterfalls and 50 rivers and streams.
Numerous celebrities ranging from George Bush to David Kelley to William Shatner have visited Nimmo Bay and fallen in love with the resort’s famous heli-fishing and heli-hiking, and now I was about to do the same.
First, Fraser brought us to the dry room, where we were equipped with complementary boots, rain gear and waders.
From there we headed to the helipad, met our pilot, Tim, and boarded the helicopter. Peter and Jo were my companions for the day, for which I was most grateful. The couple was kind, enthusiastic and witty. Besides, who doesn’t love that British wit?
The heli-hiking was spectacular, as was the flight itself. I'm complimenting my photos with stock photos from the resort, since intermittent rain made it difficult to photograph some of the spots. Trust me, though, when I say that neither my photos nor the stock photos do the mountains justice.
My new friend and travel partner for the day, Peter, summed it up well. "It's an amazing feeling flying in this helicopter, knowing that we can go anywhere." Indeed, the maneuverability of a helicopter gives you unrivaled freedom in the mountains. Tim dropped us down on several spots to hike throughout the day. One of my favorite stops was at an estuary where hiked along a river and the ocean.
“Keep close to Nature's heart ...and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain. Wash your spirit clean.”
These words from naturalist John Muir inspired me to wash my spirit clean in the mountains of British Columbia on a solo trip several weeks ago in which I sought silence, perspective and heights. I found all three, though not necessarily in that order.
The famed Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler was my escape for the May day, which promised both rain and sunshine. The route is widely considered one of the most scenic drives in North America and so, as someone who loves heights and water, I could not resist it.
My trip to beautiful British Columbia consisted of many diverse highlights, from ocean kayaking to salmon fishing to helicopter rides, but I must say the day I spent driving alone along that highway was special.
The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel was my launching pad for the adventure, and if you want to treat yourself for a night, it should be yours, too. The hotel was recently named the No. 1 airport hotel in North America, and offers mesmerizing views of planes landing and taking off in front of the mountains.
From the Fairmont, you can cut through Vancouver––stopping at Stanley Park if you so choose––and then head north on Route 99. The views along the 160-mile round trip drive are stunning, and surprisingly diverse. The massive Western red cedars around Vancouver gradually give way to hardy mountain evergreen trees near Lillooet, which receives roughly a quarter of the rainfall the coastal rainforest receives. The elevation changes dramatically as well.
“As you travel north along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, you’ll gradually climb from sea level to over 2,200 feet of elevation by the time you reach Whistler,” said Marsha Walden, CEO of Destination British Columbia. “As you begin your journey north, you’ll have sweeping views of Howe Sound on one side of your car and the towering Coast Mountains on the other side. Keep an eye out for Arbutus trees which stretch at wild angles towards the water. The highway also winds through lush forests and alongside raging rivers as you continue north.”
Walden offered me some prophetic advice prior to my trip. “You’ll have a hard time keeping your eyes on the road!” she cautioned. “The Sea-to-Sky Highway is one of the world’s best drives.”
As someone who has sought out the world’s most scenic drives––from California's Pacific Coast Highway to Florida's Overseas Highway, from Ireland's Ring of Kerry to Italy’s Amalfi Coast––I wholeheartedly agree with Walden. Trust me: My photos don’t do it justice. The scale of the mountains and the trees and the vastness of it all is impossible to capture, but nonetheless, below are a few photos from my day of cleansing.
They say timing is everything, and that turned out to be true when I drove the Sea-to-Sky Highway. The Sea to Sky Gondola, in Squamish, had just opened on May 16––two days before my trip. I took the 10-minute gondola ride up the mountain, an ascent of over 2,000 feet, and hiked for hours at the top.
I noticed the gentleman getting on the gondola in front of me was using a walker. How fantastic, I thought, that this place makes these mountain views accessible to nearly anyone. There’s a restaurant at the top overlooking Howe Sound for folks who don’t want to walk a step. There’s also easy panoramic viewing platforms, 19 miles of mid-level backcountry trails and intense mountain climbs for hardcore climbers.
The 328-foot long walkway suspsended above a fjord, pictured above, is just one of the spectacular viewpoints at the Sea to Sky Gondola, which is barely an hour north of Vancouver.
The dramatic Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge offers quite the unique experience.
Less than a mile south of the Sea-to-Sky Gondola is Shannon Falls, the third highest waterfall in British Columbia.
Britannia Beach, further south of Shannon Falls, was one of my favorite stops on the route. You can stop at this quaint general store, buy an item or two, then walk across the road and down to the beach. Walden also recommends Galileo Coffee near Britannia Beach if you're looking for a caffeine fix.
On another future trip, I'd also love to stop at Brackendale, which is also on the Sea-to-Sky route.
“In the winter months, American visitors are often drawn to the community of Brackendale, just north of Squamish,” Walden said. “Every year, thousands of bald eagles congregate on the river banks to gorge on spawning salmon. It’s quite a sight to see.”
My only companion for the day was my camera and my tripod, but I never feel alone when I am in nature. Several locals also helped me out by mentioning great spots to stop along the route, such as Porteau Cove, pictured below. I'd love to go back and camp there someday.
As darkness fell, my day in the mountains came to a close. But what a day it was.
For more information on the Sea-to-Sky Highway Drive, visit HelloBC.com. Click here for a direct link to a map with notes on scenic spots to stop along the way.
The website for the Sea to Sky Gondola is www.seatoskygondola.com.
For information on The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel, click here or call 1-800-257-7544.
Editor’s Note: The author visited Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, a second-generation family-run lodge in northern British Columbia. This article is the first of a four-part series on Nimmo Bay.
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort: Day 1
Tuesday May 20, 11:12pm: I am physically exhausted from an 11-hour day of hiking, kayaking and exploring the Great Bear Rainforest and yet I cannot fall asleep, for images of the wilderness beauty I’ve seen today are running through my mind like a National Geographic special.
The playground for my adventure is Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, an eco-friendly, family-run lodge in northern British Columbia that is only accessible by helicopter or floatplane. The award-winning resort––routinely named one of the top ten wilderness getaways in the world––sits at the base of Mount Stephens and consists of nine two-person chalets built on stilts on a tidal, fjord-like bay. The luxury lodge beyond the middle of nowhere offers exclusive 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 stream.
I arrived at this natural paradise the night before, just in time for a delicious dinner of fresh mussels and halibut, followed by an evening soak in an outdoor cedar hot tub at the bottom of a waterfall some 30 feet from my cabin. The 20-minute float plane flight into Nimmo Bay was breathtaking, as was the hour-flight preceding that from Vancouver International Airport to Port McNeil on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
My arrival at the lodge included an unforgettable welcome, as well as both a clinic in hospitality and a hint of what was to come during my stay at Nimmo Bay. I walked off the float plane around 8pm onto a floating dock with a crackling bonfire.
“Hi! You’re Tony, right? I’m Francisco,” said a short, grinning Chilean who was to be our main guide during the next 3 days. I would come to learn that Francisco is a skilled outdoorsman who prior to coming to Nimmo Bay lead emergency evacuations for the government in his native Chile and also ran an adventure guiding service. He got the job to be a guide at Nimmo Bay two years ago when, during a coffee-shop interview with lodge owner Fraser Murray, Francisco paused while answering a question to help an elderly woman maneuver the crowded restaurant. That Fraser offered him the job on the spot after observing the quiet act of service says as much about Fraser as it does Francisco.
A moment after I shook Francisco’s hand, a young woman named Hailey approached me with a smile and said, “Hello, I’m Hailey. Can I pour you a glass of wine?” Francisco took the opportunity to grab my luggage from the pilot and whisk it away on the path of floating docks to my cabin while I, feeling suddenly quite important, opted for white.
“Have a seat,” Hailey offered, and no more than 60 seconds into my stay at Nimmo Bay I was completely relaxed and transfixed. Had I truly woken up that very morning at a bustling international airport surrounded by traffic, buildings and throngs of people? Here I was sitting on a floating dock sipping wine by the fire under the stars, at the base a snow-capped mountain in the middle of nowhere, looking out at this remarkable view. Wow. Welcome to Nimmo Bay. I was seemingly a million miles from civilization, without a care in the world.
Frankly, I’m surprised I slept as well as I did the night of my arrival, my excitement level for the day’s upcoming adventures was so high. Maybe the wine helped, or the massive portions at dinner did the trick––or, more likely, it was the soothing sound of the waterfall cascading 10-yards from my cabin. Not only does the waterfall provide the camp with “the purest, sweetest drinking water,” as the Murrays say, it also provides the camp with power for nine months of the year thanks to a water-powered hydro system Fraser’s father, Craig, built shortly after towing a float house from Vancouver Island back in 1982 to open the resort.
“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,” said Craig, a pioneer and entrepreneur who dragged his wife and young children to live out in the rainforest and attempt to open a lodge with scarcely a thousand dollars to his name. Of course, Craig’s wife––a hearty Newfoundlander who was one of the first females to work at a logging camp––and kids loved every minute of it, even when a giant grizzly bear turned the family’s float house into its personal den.
In addition to the hydro power, the Murray family also installed a hydroxyl waste management system that converts the camp’s waste-water into to bacteria-free, clear water that can be released back into nature. They’ve been all catch-and-release with their incredible salmon and trout fishery since their very first guest––decades before the trend became popular––and they implemented a recycling and refuse elimination program. The Murrays even purchase BC-beneficial carbon offsets, and founded a Future Forever Fund in 2007 to raise money for Raincoast Research, save BC wild salmon and offset greenhouse gas emissions.
Hiking, Food, Exploring & More Food
If the welcome I received upon my arrival at Nimmo Bay doesn’t paint the full picture of the hospitality the Murrays and their loyal staff extend, perhaps the story of my early morning hike on Day 1 will paint a few more strokes. The plan was for breakfast at 8:30 followed by Fraser setting us up with our day’s adventure, but as an early riser I was up shortly after 6 taking pictures and walking around the camp. I wondered into the dining area and got a glass of orange juice when Hailey appeared and greeted me with her trademark smile.
I asked Hailey if there were any good trails I could hike before breakfast, and she graciously explained that due to the dense bear population in the area they encouraged guests not venture from camp alone, but that she or anyone on the staff would be happy walk with me anytime I’d like. She couldn’t that very moment as she was preparing for breakfast, so we agreed to go on a hike later, which was fine with me. Without my knowing, however, she ran back into the staff building and told a co-worker.
Two minutes after my chat with Hailey, Francisco ran out to the dock and said, “Hi Tony! Want to go on a hike with me?” He then proceeded to guide me on a fantastic hike through the old growth forest, pointing out plants and animal tracks as we made our way through The Great Bear Rainforest.
We returned exactly at 8:30 for breakfast with my fellow camp guests. Initially I thought breakfast was fruit smoothies, chocolate-filled croissants, fresh fruit, granola and yogurt, but then I learned that was just the first course of breakfast!
Round two consisted of eggs benedict with bacon and avocado.
Fully nourished, we set out boating and kayaking on an expedition led by Fraser himself. Less than an hour into our adventure on the water, we spotted a black bear and its cub. Halfway between our kayaks and the bears, a seal popped up. Again, I thought, welcome to Nimmo Bay. I'm forty-five minutes into my first morning on the water and am already treated to this fantastic wildlife encounter.
I guess this really is bear country.
Every staff member has their own bear story, even Fraser's 5-month-old daughter, Fauna. Fauna's mother (Fraser's delightful partner, Becky) was midway through her pregnancy and out on a walk in the woods when a pair of black bears appeared ahead of her on the path. Becky and her walking partner, Fraser's mother, began walking backwards but the bears followed. And followed, and followed. For 20 minutes, all the way back to camp, the bears followed them. Finally, once the pregnant Becky retreated into the lodge, the bears turned and disappeared into the woods. The Murrays are such great storytellers it's easy to imagine them telling the tale of Fauna's first dramatic bear enounter, before she was even more born, to future guests for years to come.
As thrilling as it was watching the bears, the kayaking and paddleboarding in and of itself was simply sublime. Nimmo Bay offers complimentary kayaks and stand-up paddleboards to its guests, and its protected waterways with countless islands and inlets is ideal for paddling of any type.
After a few hours, Fraser led us to a beautiful island with a seashell-laden beach for a shore lunch. As if on cue, the sun came out and a pod of dolphins surfaced out in front of the island as we ate.
You would've never guessed we were in the remote wilderness based on the quality and style of the food. We feasted on house made crackers with little quilicum brie cheese, orange and fennel salad and trail mix, paired with either red or white wine. The best part of the meal was a monstrous sandwich with heaps of genoa, soprassafta and capicolli salami stacked on artichoke hearts, little quilicum cheese and iceberg lettuce between homemade bread. Dessert offered options: cashew coconut custard bars and banana walnut ganache squared.
Talk about a picnic lunch in style! And we had this view, to boot:
I could have sat on that island with a smile on my face all day, but Fraser had more excitement in store for us. After lunch, we continued our exploring and visited several picturesque waterfalls.
Just before returning to camp for the day, we spotted another bear. This one was a large bear we got to watch for a quite a while before it finally detected us and retreated into the woods. What a way to bookend our day on the water, with a bear sighting to start and finish our excursion.
"There's more value in viewing a bear than in shooting a bear," said Fraser, who has worked to expand Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort from purely a fishing resort into a broader-based, eco-resort that offers bear-watching, kayaking, hiking, beachcombing and whale watching (Fracisco confided to me they called Fraser "the whale whisperer" last summer because he always seemed to bring guests to humpback whales). "We want to give people a chance to observe these animals in their natural settings."
We returned to camp around 5:30, so in the two hours we had before dinner, a few of us went back out for more paddleboarding. It's hard for me to sit still in a surrounding such as this.
As you can imagine given the day's previous feasts, I wasn't exactly starving when they brought out dinner despite my 11 hours of boating, kayaking and hiking. Nonetheless, I managed to put away the crab cakes and ultra-tender beef tenderloin just the same.
Dinner was followed by a soak in the outdoor hot tub next to the waterfall, and an evening campfire with my fellow guests and new friends, the owners and staff of 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 email@example.com.
Come back next week for Part Two of the Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort series, featuring photos and stories of a day-long helicopter ride into a whole other world of heli-fishing and heli-hiking in the remote mountains of The Great Bear Rainforest.
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.