Talk about an adrenalin rush.
I’m strapped down tight in a Bell Jet helicopter two kilometres above the western coastline of British Columbia and I find myself hanging on to pretty much anything in the chopper to convince myself that flying through the air in a machine without wings is a perfectly natural and safe thing to do.
Sitting up front next to the pilot, I’m surrounded on four sides by clear Perspex and it feels like the only think stopping me from dropping two kilometres is the seatbelt strap.
Now we’re scooting along at up to 200 km/h and the tips of the twin props are nudging the speed of sound, thumping out a booming bass accompaniment to the headphones sound track of Neil Young, the Canadian Godfather of grunge rock, on electric guitar belting out Rockin’ in the Free World.
Down we go again dropping a few thousand feet and slowing to about 15 knots as the Douglas fir tree tops sweep past well above us on either side.
Now Don is spotting salmon in the Wakeman River about 50 feet below. He looks first for the schools of fish, then individual trophy sized fish. The shape, size and colour indicate the species of salmon, whether pink, sockeye, Coho, chum or Chinook.
He finds a likely spot, where the Atway River joins the Wakeman and we drop down vertically, like moving down a magic green lift, with Douglas Firs and Alder trees decked with Spanish moss, surrounding the chopper on three sides.
While we’re waiting for the blades to slow and stop, Don gives us a routine warning about there being a resident Grizzly Bear in this spot, but at least he usually makes a lot of noise from the opposite bank, so we get plenty of warning. Apparently it’s the black bears that like to sneak around from behind, if they are seriously stalking you, so we should keep looking over shoulders here, just in case.
Just in case, Don’s packing a 12 gauge chrome plated pump action shotgun with three inch magnum single ball shot, kept in a back holster at all times.
For an Aussie farm boy, this is bloke heaven.
I flick out the fly to schools of ten pound Coho and some 30 pound Chinooks. The Coho seem to like my fly – a lot – but the big Chinooks prove elusive and they keep jumping from the water, just out of casting range. Still a ten pound fighting fish on a fly makes it memorable in any fly fisherman’s almanac and ten of them in an afternoon makes it the trip of a lifetime.
Earlier that day we had ridden the Bell with Don to lunch on the Kingcome Glacier on the Silverthorne Icefield. While I did the mature thing and peed my initials in the snow, Don pulled out portable table and chairs and laid out red or white wine, gourmet antipasto, fresh fruit and profiteroles, all served on crisp yellow tablecloths and napkins contrasted against the ice blue of the glacier.
After we’d climbed stiffly back into the chopper, feeling rather pudgy with all the layers of clothing and too much food, Don lifted off the ice and took the Bell straight out over the Kingcome Valley floor, 4000 feet below our lunch site and then began a steep descent. The pit of my stomach told me it was all over, but it had been a great ride. I turned up the headphones Richard Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries. You had to be there.
If a roller coaster is a seven on the zero to ten ghost train score of scary things, and a 100 foot bungy jump is an eight, then the sensation of looking at the ground drop 4000 feet beneath you is scary on a completely different level, like a roller coasters for grown-ups.
The next day I was off with Don to Kakweiken River, a short flight in the chopper, but impossible commute in a realistic time frame, by boat or overland.
When we head over a likely spot, we see a big lumbering female Grizzly, followed by three ‘small’ cubs … so Don decides on discretion and we keep flying.
It’s on this trip that I discover the only fool proof way to see bears in British Columbia – you forget to bring your camera.
Now we’re dropping down near the famous two mile pool, into a tight landing spot right alongside a massive migrating shoal. The normally clear turquoise shaded Kakweiken looks black from a massive shoal of big migrating Coho.
A father and son from the US are on the trip with me and they’re using lures, which the big Coho find irresistible and after an hour, they caught and safely released a combined 50 Coho. The Coho didn’t seem to mind – they had a date with some sandy gravel a few km upstream, followed by an uncertain fate at the hands of mother nature, so they just got on with it, stoic these Canadians.
Then I note Don shouting at us. He picks up two big rocks and starts bashing them together. I think what have I done wrong here? Turns out it is not me he’s shouting at, but a pesky Grizzly Bear which has been watching us catch what he considers HIS fish.
At this point I reach for my camera … not there. Then I ask the US dad to please snap a few shots of me fishing, with the bear in the background. My editor will love this. This is my idea of a real story.
Don had other ideas and, seeing as he had the big gun and was standing between us and the helicopter, we did what we told.
By this time, the bear was fast approaching the chopper from the opposite end of the pool. And well, Grizzly Bears don’t practice catch and release.
My US companion kindly snapped a few pictures as we trotted back and were quickly on our way, relieved to hear the reassuring thump, thump, of the chopper blades.
Adrenalin rush? Absolutely! Would I do it again? Yep.
Back at Nimmo Bay we experience the sort of service that this resort arguably the best of its kind in the world. Certainly the testimonials from the rich, famous and powerful, provide enough evidence, from captains of industry, to the cast of Boston Legal and former US president George H Bush, confirm what I know already.
The adventure guide Mike is there to meet us and takes to the heated gear room, to help us get out of the waders and boots. In my intertidal chalet, my housekeeper Gillian has been at work, arranging everything with neatness verging on the OCD – I’ve never had my toothpaste tube rolled up for me before.
I take an hour out for a massage from Reiki master Jelena, to iron out my kinks, then pop down the ramp to the outdoor hot tub and plunge pool, to enjoy a preprandial foaming libation, kindly served to me from Brianna, who made sure my favourite brand of single malt was always available, along with a complimentary hand rolled Cuban cigar, presumably kept on hand in case William Shatner popped down from his nearby digs for a bit of R and R.
Then it was an open shower by the plunge pool and I toddled off, purring, to the floating fire deck, where the guests snuggled under woollen throw rugs, to do very little except relax, watch the Nimmo Bay sunset and be indulged with entrees prepared by Chef Sandi and resident Baker Teri.
The dinners were invariably delicious and I even picked up some tips from Sandi on how to clean my barbecue plate back home. She was a class act in the tucker department.
Fraser, our host was there, with Mike and Troy to organise activities for those who wanted to chill and avoid the excitement of the chopper rides and being chased by bears. These kinder, gentler souls could visit the local indigenous Canadian cultural museum, enjoy a spot of yoga, watch migrating whales broaching or follow some of the local killer whale pack around the waters between Nimmo and Vancouver Island. There was also more family oriented activities, like wildlife walks, white water rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, meeting the local survivalist expert …
So, if you’re an old fart like me, who just likes to go fly fishing, it was heaven on a stick. Oh, and if you really like anadrenalin rush, spare a day for Perry, the local fly fishing expert, who takes you out in his jet boat, skimming over the shallows in narrow streams inches from overhanging leaves. Perry doesn’t take a gun. If he sees a bear he reckons he and his mates chase them, just for the fun of seeing a big grizzly clamber a tree. So he said. Perry has been an Australian with stories like this.
Many of the clients were grandfathers and sons, fathers and their kids, mothers and kids; sometimes three generations … there was a fair bit of bonding going on here.
The costs for the basic wilderness package were about $1500 Canadian a day each, plus gratuities. The chopper rides added another $1500 to $2600 each per day depending on how many mates you teamed up with but the chopper is at your disposal all day and the pilot doubles up as the guide and the bloke who chases away very large bad hairy things that want to eat you.
This price seems competitive with heli fishing in New Zealand, where the helicopters tend to just to drop you off and pick you up, which means you pay to transport the guide and you pay the guide. So factor that into any costs.
But if you’re quibbling about a grand here or there, forget it. Nimmo is all about indulgence. Think Fantasy Island with a fly rod.
I loved it, especially as the Canadian Tourism Commission were picking up the tab, but the realities were pretty practical, really. I was on a 14 hour mid-morning direct flight from Sydney to Vancouver and you arrive three hours before you leave local time. I took a detour to another resort, but I think the local connections would normally get you to Nimmo Bay around about the same local time you left Australia. That’s fast.
I’m doing it again. Soon as I can really. I made the mistake of telling my wife about the bears. Bugger.