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Finding Zen in the Great Bear Rainforest

A restorative stay at Nimmo Bay in British Columbia’s unspoiled coastal wilderness

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Playful dolphins glide effortlessly alongside our boat. Now and then, they break through the surface of the glassy water, rolling sideways to show off their slick white underbellies. By the time they leave us 20 happy minutes later, our guide has just spotted a king of the forest on the nearby shore—a solitary black bear. This begins the quintessential experience of Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia.

We’ve seen bears before. But to observe them undisturbed in the wild is special. Tickled by our good luck, we crawl to the front of the boat and wrapped in warm blankets, we watch the bear go about his business. With his giant paw, he turns over pumpkin-sized boulders on the beach as easily as flipping pancakes. Muscles rippling underneath his shiny fur, he scoops up tiny crabs and other delicacies to eat. He’s alert though. Every so often, he lifts his head and sniffs the air. Perhaps he’s wary of an even greater bear that lives in this forest—the grizzly. Once sated, he ambles off into the shaggy evergreen forest.

Great Bear Rainforest
To preserve the wild, fishing for salmon and trout is catch-and-release.

The full experience of Great Bear Rainforest

We’re on a nature boat safari from Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, tucked away in the Great Bear Rainforest among the islands of the Broughton Archipelago. Home to bears and other wildlife, this vast area of unspoiled temperate rainforest spans 400 kilometres along the north-central coast of British Columbia. Surrounded by virgin wilderness—where mist streaks the jade-coloured mountains, the tides rise and fall hypnotically, and eagles soar majestically overhead—we can feel the stresses of daily life seep away.

This pristine natural setting also nurtured the dreams of Nimmo Bay’s founder, Craig Murray. In 1981, Murray, an avid outdoorsman, moved with his wife Deborah and their toddlers into a one-room float house without electricity, moored in Nimmo Bay. He’d discovered a waterfall perfect for producing the power needed for a fishing lodge.  

Nimmo Bay Resort
Guests relax around a firepit on a floating dock under the stars.

They laboured for a year to build a dam above the rushing waterfall flanking their home-cum-lodge and to install a hydro-electric system. In the coming years, their children learned to kayak, forage for salmonberries, and catch crab and prawns. They started offering heli-fishing to guests. And the lodge and its reputation grew.

Today, it’s among the exclusive National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World. Craig’s son, Fraser, and his wife Becky, who’ve passed the family’s love of the wilderness to their own children, Fauna and River, now run the 9-cabin luxury eco-resort. 

Great Bear Rainforest
A floating wood-fired sauna? Sweet! Paddle a stand-up paddle-board, kayak or take a boat to get there.

Fly fishing is still on the menu of activities. You can also enjoy bear-watching (we spy another black bear scampering away from us on one coastal hike), guided kayaking and hiking, stand-up paddle-boarding, yoga, massages in a treehouse spa, and helicopter adventures—fancy heli-biking, where your chopper drops you off on remote sand beaches to ride fat-wheel bikes.

Great Bear Rainforest
Guests can soak in hot tubs by a glacier-fed waterfall, which provides hydro-power and water to the resort.

And then there are the purely sybaritic pleasures, where nature adds a whole new dimension, like the wood-fired sauna at sea. You only reach this one-of-a-kind sauna (perched on a floating dock) by kayak or boat. Anchored in a secluded bay away from the resort, it’s kitted out with an enormous picture window. From inside, you overlook nothing but the mirror-smooth inlet waters and the ancient cedars and Sitka spruce cloaking the slopes. Get toasty. Jump into the refreshing ocean. Repeat. Then don bathrobes and slippers for a picnic lunch of tummy-warming chili, strawberries, and wine at a table (dressed with a tablecloth) on the dock. Keep an eye out for inquisitive sea otters!

Finding Zen in the Great Bear Rainforest 6
The unique floating sauna has a large window with serene water views.

Back at the lodge, two streamside hot tubs beside the cascading waterfall invite us to soak away any remaining worldly cares. When blissfully hot, we tiptoe down some steps for a bracing dunk in the natural rock pool at the waterfall’s base, then dash back up to the hot tubs again. 

Indeed, the waterfall spilling 1,500 metres from the top of Mount Stephens is the centrepiece—and lifeblood—of the resort. Apart from its Insta-perfect beauty, it provides the water we drink and the clean power for the kitchen to whip up everything from lemon ricotta cream for breakfast pancakes to fresh Pacific salmon for dinner.

helicopter waterfall
Helicopter adventures take you to 10,000-year-old glaciers and remote beaches.

It rains gently for part of our stay at Nimmo Bay. No matter—rain gives life to the coastal rainforest and is to be expected here. We curl up on rocking chairs on the covered deck of our cabin at the water’s edge. Meditative raindrops splatter the still silver sea licking the stilts of our cabin. We’re lulled into a deep sense of zen-like calm. 

This immense wilderness is not only a sanctuary for the bears and wildlife that live in harmony with the forest, but is also nature’s cathedral for restoring our inner spirits.

This story is from Magnifissance Issue 107

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