Tony Capecchi

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Since age 18, Tony Capecchi has been chronicling his worldwide travel and outdoor adventures for national magazines, including In-Fisherman and North American Hunter. He has co-hosted “Live Outdoors” on CBS Radio, produced television for NBC and worked on The History Channel’s hit series “MonsterQuest.”

The Terminal with a Twist

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Recreation, Fishing Updated: July 11, 2014 - 10:13 PM

In the 2004 Tom Hanks movie, “The Terminal,” Hanks’ character gets stuck living at an airport for months on end due to immigration details and a revolution in his native country of Krakozhia. Humor abounds as Hanks endures the misery of living in the confines of an airport, a drudgery only slightly offset by a lovely flight attendant played by Catherine Zeta Jones.

The movie works because viewers appreciate all the inconveniences and stereotypical stuffiness associated with staying at the airport. Sympathy for Hanks’ character would not be found, however, had Hanks been flying through Vancouver and found himself at The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel, as I did several weeks ago.

The soundproofed hotel, situated within Vancouver’s International Airport (YVR) above the U.S. departures terminal, is anything but your typical airport hotel. The luxury hotel offers 5-star caliber accommodations, breathtaking floor-to-ceiling views of the runway in front of Vancouver’s mountains, diverse dining choices, and an indoor pool, health club and spa

In 2014, the Fairmont was named the No. 1 airport hotel in North America by Skytrax World Airport Awards, and boasts a litany of elite awards including mention in coveted “2014 World’s Best Hotels” lists for both Expedia and Travel + Leisure. 

I had seen the photo galleries on the website and knew I was in for a treat, but didn’t fully appreciate what I was in for until I made the two-minute stroll from the luggage carousels to the hotel’s entrance via a grand, spiral staircase. I was immediately welcomed to the hotel by a courteous staff member, then went up to the top level where I was greeted again by two concierges specifically assigned to the top floor. They led me to my room, where I was greeted with this spectacular view, and––as a delicious surprise––a spread of chocolate-covered strawberries.

“We take pride in delighting our guests,” said Nancie Hall, Regional Director at the Fairmont. “Our goal is to exceed guests’ expectations and we do everything possible to make each visit to our hotel special.” 

On the top floor, the Farimont also offers a club lounge with complimentary desserts and appetizers in the evening. It was a relaxing place to watch the planes come in. 

The Fairmont was also my base camp for several outstanding outdoor adventures. My first day at the hotel I took the famous Sea-to-Sky Highway drive, which is a wonderful one-day roundtrip from the hotel. Start early and plan on returning at dark––there are more than a dozen parks, hiking trails, waterfalls and scenic lookouts along the way. 

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 Ireland’s Ring of Kerry to Italy’s Amalfi Coast to Kauai’s NaPali Coast––I wholeheartedly agree with Walden. Trust me, my photos don’t do it justice, but I couldn’t help myself from clicking away. 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 the day.

During another day at the hotel, I made the 20-minute drive to nearby Granville Island for some salmon fishing. I met up with Bon Chovy Fishing Charters and enjoyed the best salmon fishing of my life.

We caught many king salmon, weighing up to 20 pounds, and even played around in the afternoon fishing for ling cod. 

I was impressed when I returned to The Fairmont after a couple days away, the concierge remembered I had mentioned my plans to do the Sea-to-Sky drive, and immediately asked me how I enjoyed it. That quality service certainly carried over to The Globe at YVR, the hotel’s signature restaurant.

“Many of our staff at The Fairmont have been with the hotel for years and years, and that makes a huge difference,” Hall said. “We don’t just hang our hat on the views and the top-notch accommodations we can offer. We work hard at providing personal service and making sure each guest has a wonderful stay.”  

By the time my visit was done, I found myself wishing I had another few days at The Fairmont. It was strange, but true: I wish I spent more time at the airport. 

The website for The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel is Fairmont.com/vancouver-airport-richmond. For more information, call 1-800-257-7544. 

The airport hotel is one location within the larger Fairmont family of hotels. To see the full listing of Fairmont Hotels, click here

For information on other area attractions, visit HelloBC.com. 

Adventure in The Great Bear Rainforest

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Recreation, Fishing Updated: 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.

A Village on the Water

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Recreation, Fishing Updated: June 22, 2014 - 9:17 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 third of a four-part series on Nimmo Bay. Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the adventure. 

Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort: Day 3

Thursday, May 22, 3:56pm

Survivor shows and wilderness-based reality TV have brought to the forefront the intriguing question that has often populated people’s minds since the Industrial Revolution took hold and humans became, by and large, city dwellers living with modern conveniences: What is it like to live in the middle of the wilderness? 

With wild animals as your neighbors, Mother Nature as your provider, and personal instincts and intelligence as your primary survival tools, life in the wilderness is beyond my true comprehension. My trip to Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort did not give me insight into the rough-and-tough survival aspect––with gourmet chefs, a wonderful masseuse and 5-star accommodations, it has been named one of the top luxury wilderness resorts in the world––but it did offer a glimpse into the “living in the middle of nowhere” aspect. 

Nimmo Bay’s enclave of cabins, built on stilts on a fjord-like bay just south of Alaska’s Inside Passage, is only accessible by helicopter or float plane. The resort clings to the base of Mount Stephens and offers guests 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.

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.’” 

Things have certainly worked out since then, as Nimmo Bay has become famous world-wide and Craig’s oldest son, Fraser, has taken the reigns. Fraser and his wife, Becky, along with his younger sister, Georgia, and cousin, Jenny, have transformed Nimmo Bay from a fishing lodge to a more diverse operation also offering eco-adventures such as whitewater rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding, glacier trekking, bear- and whale-watching excursions and hiking.

“We are so lucky to be carrying on our mom and dad's legacy and putting our own stamp on it," said Georgia, who is also a rising star in the music industry. "It is very special to be a part of a family business."

On Day 1 at Nimmo Bay I enjoyed kayaking, paddle boarding and bear watching. Day 2 landed me on Nimmo Bay’s quintessential adventure: a remarkable day of heli-hiking and heli-fishing in the mountains. Today, Day 3, gave me an opportunity to see a bit closer what life is like for the handful of hearty people who make this part of the world their home. 

Fraser took my fellow guests and me on a day-long boat tour, traveling to see a tiny village built entirely on floating docks in a bay way beyond the far reaches of civilization.

The majority of the town's population only comes during the summer months, but a handful of residents live there year-round. The town conists of a general store, a library and one restaurant (which has been voted Best Restaurant in Town four years in a row).

Sullivan Bay also sports its own golf course, located at the far end of the dock, with a floating hole anchored in the ocean offering perhaps golf's most unique hole-in-one opportunity. 

After touring Sullivan Bay, we dropped a few crab traps and boated along several waterfalls and rapids. The vast beauty of Nimmo Bay’s surroundings cannot be captured by camera, in large part because you lose the sheer scale and immensity of it all. Nonetheless, this video shows a small glimpse of the scenery we enjoyed as we zipped away from Sullivan Bay.

Our next stop after Sullivan Bay was Billy’s Museum. Billy Proctor lives in his own section of the world, in Echo Bay some miles away from Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort. He built and runs a museum with thousands of artifacts collected from the region. 

When I saw this old man gingerly walking down to greet us as we pulled up to the dock I immediately thought I would like him. As soon as he started talking, it confirmed my suspicion. “The other day some old fart came to visit, and he was walking real slow out of his boat, so I asked him if he needed a hand,” Billy told me during our visit. “The guy said, ‘No, I’m just waiting for my dad.’”

Billy is full of fantastic stories; I could listen to him talk all day long. It is terribly cliché of me to say this, but he reminded me of the Native American father, Chingachgook, in “Last of the Mohicans.” When Billy talks about the old days, you can’t help but think, “Wow, this guy is the last of his kind.” He will take a tremendous amount of history with him when he goes, and in the meantime he is doing what he can to share what he knows. 

He has published a book, “Full Moon Flood Tide,” about the rich stories of his fellow pioneers and former neighbors in the region––the majority of whom have either passed away or since moved back to civilization. 

“Billy is a special guy,” said Fraser, who teases back-and-forth with Billy like a grandfather. “He has an amazing sense of the history of this place.”

Billy has collected thousands of various items, including arrowheads and crude knives that date back to 5,000 BC. He also has a 1910 mimeograph machine from Minstrel Island, Chinese opium bottles, bone fish hooks, a crank telephone Chinese opium bottles, old tools and engine plates, a scale from the old Simoom Sound post office and thousands of artifacts from the coast.

“Some stuff I just find when I’m looking around,” he explained. “Some stuff people come and give to me. Nowadays people don’t like to give their things away, they like to keep them for themselves, and that’s OK, too, I suppose.”  

A guy like Billy Proctor has wisdom that you can only gain with years of experience. I am grateful I had the opportunity to meet him, and that Fraser and his family at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort make experiences like this possible. 

The sheer beauty of this wilderness in staggering––indeed, it is more than enough to attract the folks from all over the world whom come to Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort year after year. But the region’s history adds a layer of richness that Fraser and his family hold dear to their heart, and share graciously and respectfully with their guests.    

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

Photo Essay: Surf & Sand Resort

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Recreation Updated: July 5, 2014 - 10:57 PM

You could call my wife and me Midwestern folk, a vague description that calls to mind winter parkas, hot dishes and Minnesota accents heard in the movie Fargo, don’t ya’ know? All of which would seem to be the polar opposite of the image that surfaces when you think Laguna Beach. Yet this past February, during a historically cold Minnesota winter of polar vortexes, my wife and I fled the land of 10,000 frozen lakes to bask in the sunshine of San Diego and its neighbor to north: Laguna Beach. 

While we may not have fit in, per se, with the Real Orange County crowd of MTV fame, we quickly fell in love with the seaside city. Some of that, of course, had to do with the weather––70 and sunny year-round with the ocean calling your name is pretty darn nice––but most of it was due to the people we met and the gem of a hotel we stayed at: Surf & Sand Resort

The 167 room resort was recently renovated in 2012 to the tune of $30 million, and sports a fantastic pool, an award-winning spa and too-cool-for-school indoor and outdoor restaurants with fantastic fire pits and chic decorations. 

But the best part, without a doubt, is the magnificent view. 

“Many SoCal resorts have ocean views, but we are one of the very few that are literally right on the sand,” said Joanna Bear, Resort Manager. “Our joke is that ‘our biggest asset is our loudest asset.’ With a location right on the sand, guests expect to hear crashing waves, and we deliver that. But we also place earplugs in guestrooms for any sleeping issues guests may have.” 

Indeed, my wife and I were blown away by the fact that our fifth-floor balcony room was literally right on the ocean. We couldn’t get over the fact that we had to raise our voices to hear each other over the roaring waves when we were sitting just feet apart from each other on our private balcony. I absolutely loved that! It is strangely relaxing and energizing at the same time.

The sheer magnitude of the ocean made me feel insignificant, reminding me I am a small part of a big universe, yet the impeccable service and exclusive views we enjoyed made this Midwestern couple with our Minnesota modesty suddenly feel very important in Laguna Beach. I can definitely see why guests flock to Surf & Sand Resort from all over the world, including countries such as Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Brazil.  

“We have many guests returning year after year with generations of their families or to celebrate special moments––like their on-site weddings or their honeymoon location,” Bear said. “One couple in particular spent their honeymoon with us in 1969 and have stayed in a suite every year since then to celebrate. We always try to send them a special bottle of champagne or other sweet token of our appreciation.  We most recently had a photograph of their first Surf & Sand trip framed––a surprise waiting for them in their suite upon their arrival.”

We actually saw a bridge and groom taking photos during our stay at Surf & Sand. Some 80 to 100 couples each year get married at the resort, which boasts 180 degree views of the Pacific for spectacular panoramic wedding photos. With 280 staff members in total, the resort has experienced personnel on-hand for weddings, and can handle receptions from 50 to 180 guests. 
 

People ranging from your Average Joe to the rich and famous have gotten married at Surf & Sand, though the resort respectfully declines to name names. “Surf & Sand offers a classic experience—timeless and genuine,” Bear said. “The property is understatedly elegant and chic, yet approachable.”

Another perk to Surf & Sand Resort is that it’s less than 10 minutes away from Dana Point. My wife and I met a good friend of ours at Dana Point to go on a whale watching tour with Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari during one of our days at the hotel. Capt. Dave is one of North America’s most renowned whale experts, and has published books and documentaries; he’s also appeared on ABC, NBC and CBS television. 

Our 3-hour tour was phenomenal; in fact, it was the best whale watching I’ve ever experienced. Not only did we see over half a dozen migrating gray whales at close range, we also saw hundreds of dolphins and got to both see and hear them “face-to-face” in Capt. Dave’s cutting edge boat, the Manute’a, with its exclusive Eye-to-Eye Underwater Viewing Pods.

During our long weekend at Surf & Sand Resort (before then heading down to San Diego for a fabulous week of sailing, fishing, sight-seeing, feeding giraffes and rhinos at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and, of course, more beaches), we saw kids, couples and grandparents. “Our clientele includes multiple families that have made this resort their second home for generations,” Bear said. 

As a couple from the frozen tundra of Minnesota, we could certainly see why people would fall in love with the real Laguna Beach. And it doesn’t take long. We arrived to the hotel at dusk our first evening, went up to our room’s private balcony and before even unpacking one bag, enjoyed this spectacular sunset. 

The website for Surf & Sand Resort is www.surfandsandresort.com. To contact the hotel for more information, call 877.741.5908 or click here

Surf & Sand Resort is one of the only hotels in Laguna Beach that is literally on the sand with direct beach access. All we had to do was take the elevator to the ground level, step outside, and we were on the beach. I loved swimming in the ocean there. My wife took these photos of me from our balcony. 

Directly from Surf & Sand Resort’s beach, there is fantastic hiking along the shore in either direction. Each morning we woke early and hiked along the powerful Pacific Ocean. Below are a few photos and videos we took along the way.
 

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