Travel

Momma bears in the Toba Inlet

An off-grid eco-friendly resort, only accessible by boat or seaplane, turns out to be the unexpected perfect “babymoon” destination for nature’s lessons in the wildest maternal instincts

  • Dec 22, 2023
  • 1,864 words
  • 8 minutes
On a rainy day in the Great Bear Rainforest, guests of the Klahoose Wilderness Resort are rewarded with a sighting of a mother bear and her cub on a fishing expedition.
Expand Image

Standing on a cedar wood riser soaked under the angry downpour of rain blanketing the coastline of the Salish Sea, I take a deep breath and press halfway down on the shutter button. The action gives me a false sense of security that caution will muffle the sound of my camera enough to go unnoticed by the grizzly bear 10 metres in front of me. I realize I’ve been holding my breath for some time. I try not to exhale too loudly, but at five months pregnant, the release of carbon dioxide is a booming vibration louder to my inner ears than the sound of my pounding heart. The female grizzly has a large salmon flapping in her mouth as she climbs up the rocks in front of the riser where I’m crouching. She looks behind her, and a little bear cub skips up the wet rocks toward her with enthusiasm. She’s on high alert. So am I.

The off-grid Klahoose Wilderness Resort, both located on Klahoose land and also owned and operated by the Indigenous nation, is a perfect jumping off point for nature watching in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Expand Image

It’s just after 10 a.m. in the Toba Inlet, tucked below glacier-capped mountains soaring 2,500 metres above us. The coastal mountains send spectacular waterfalls full of sediment crashing into the striking turquoise ocean below. This is the territory of the Klahoose Nation. Since time immemorial the Klahoose (toq qaymɩx) people believe that the spirits of their ancestors, as well as the animals, water, and all plant life here are interconnected and cannot live independently from one another. What modern science now calls a healthy ecosystem.

It feels like we’re the only people on Earth. In fact, I’m part of a group of 12 on a Canadian Geographic Travel Expedition to the off-grid Klahoose Wilderness Resort. The epicenter of this sustainable eco-resort is a cedar longhouse that serves as a lodge. With six rooms, the resort provides an experience that is intimate and luxurious despite the rough terrain outside its doors. The resort both located on Klahoose land and also owned and operated by the Indigenous nation.

As an environmental journalist and documentary filmmaker, my stories have brought me to many rugged and remote landscapes across British Columbia. But unlike destinations such as the secluded Great Bear Rainforest, which have gained mainstream popularity in the last few years, Klahoose is relatively close to Vancouver while still feeling quite, out there. Only accessible by boat or seaplane, the resort is located in the heart of Desolation Sound — a place locals refer to as B.C.’s Hawaii. A flight to Vancouver, a subsequent tiny plane out of the South Terminal to Powell River, followed by a windy drive to Lund and then a one-hour boat ride makes getting to this relatively untouched wildland an accessible getaway from the city of Vancouver.

We’ve been waiting for hours in the pouring rain, moving every so often to a new outpost, patient and eager to see grizzlies. I need to continuously wipe rain drops off my camera lens. “It’s a good day to be a duck,” says Leon Timothy, our wildlife guide. Despite the wet, it’s stunningly beautiful. Ribbons of fog are trapped, interwoven between the trees that cover the surrounding mountains. At first glance, the landscape is a dizzying blend of a dozen shades of soaking wet greens. But with the help of Leon, we begin to discern a variety of species in the foliage.

But while it’s relatively easy to get here, the Toba Inlet isn’t an outback that easily gives up its secrets.

The wildlife truly blend into their natural environment. You can spend hours looking for signs of life and not see or hear a thing, despite there being fauna going about their lives all around you . You need to be in the know, whispers passed down through generations to the stewards of this land. Our guides are all indigenous to Desolation Sound, and despite our close proximity to large predators like bears and wolves, we feel totally safe within their knowledge of our natural world, wisdom passed down from their ancestors.

The author watched as this female grizzly caught a large salmon, then shared it with her cub.
Expand Image
The Klahoose (toq qaymɩx) people believe the spirits of their ancestors, as well as the animals, water, and all plant life here are interconnected and cannot live independently from one another — what modern science calls a healthy ecosystem.
Expand Image

On this day, our group of explorers is lucky to see a diversity of animals presenting themselves to us in a particularly peculiar pattern: a female humpback and her calf, a few doe followed by a handful of fawns, a pair of young eagles taking their first flight. The star attraction for this fall expedition is of course, a mother grizzly and her cub. We saw the pair multiple times over the course of several days, watching the duo for hours at a time. We all feel the mother’s frustration as she tries to teach her cub to hunt for salmon in the river. And we feel the cub’s excitement when it is successful. Observing the nurturing exchange of a giant predator with its vulnerable offspring is nothing short of charming. Perhaps the feelings that these experiences conjure up are up for interpretation by different visitors for respective reasons, but for me, it was one of pure maternal calling.

I’m 40 years old and pregnant for the first time. My partner and I are excited, but, if I’m being honest, unlike many of my friends, becoming a mother is not something I’ve wanted or dreamed of my whole life. That’s probably why I waited so long, until I was really ready. What I haven’t been ready for is mommy culture crashing down on me harder than the waterfalls of the Toba Inlet.

“Will you be posting an announcement on social media?”
“Are you having a gender reveal party?”
“…a baby shower?”
“Did you put a ‘snoo’ on your registry?”
“How are you decorating your nursery?”

In the first trimester, if I could have left my own skin and crawled backward into a dark den to hibernate for the next nine months to escape the pressures around motherhood, I would have. My husband suggested we take a vacation to celebrate the next chapter of our journey together, a chance to tune out all the noise and just focus on our growing wolf pack. I googled “babymoons” (the rising trend of couples taking a pseudo honeymoon to celebrate their last trip as a duo before the baby arrives) and scrolled through lavish lists of vacation suggestions in Italy, Greece and France. In the end, he bought a ticket to accompany me on my assignment to Desolation Sound.

Aliya Jasmine (shown here) notes that, as a mom-to-be, observing grizzlies and other rainforest residents raising their young brought her closer in touch with her own maternal instincts.
Expand Image

We’re both Canadian, but currently live in Los Angeles where I’m filming a documentary about the world’s largest wildlife crossing being built to save a local mountain lion population. Neither of us had been back on home soil this year and we were both craving the familiar North. The timing of this trip was perfect since I’ve left the nauseous days of my first trimester behind me. We figured that we could spend some downtime together when I wasn’t working. What ended up happening was an incredible discovery of the ultimate “babymoon” for the counter-cultured, wilderness-loving mother-to-be. Perhaps it was the vibrant spiritual undertones of this sacred land, but I can’t imagine a better trip to put me in touch with my own wild maternal instinct, than by observing new moms as they rely on intuition to raise their young in these natural habitats.

The head chef at the resort’s kitchen is incredible at accommodating my pregnancy-induced food limitations. Each night, our entire group of travellers sits communally at a long, family-style table and is served a three-course meal that is, more often than not, a sea-to-table experience. Those guests not growing a human inside them enjoy a Toba Inlet Lager, the grizzly bear-labeled beer is from a local brewery crafted exclusively for the Klahoose lodge (the can’s label makes a great keepsake).

One afternoon before the nightly set dinner time, I see our boat skipper, Doug Schuetze, getting the resort’s tiny fishing boat ready and ask where he is off to. He points to a spot far into the ocean where a buoy is barely visible bobbing on the surface — a prawn trap. He invites my husband, Mike, and I to come with him. As we get to the buoy, Doug and I pull up the rope until finally we see the black cage emerge to the surface of the water, full of trapped bottom feeders. We sort through the critters — our fingers being poked and snapped at by sharp little claws and pincers — and throw all bycatch safely back into the ocean, as well as the female prawns which we identify by flipping them over and observing their dark eggs. Doug tells us about the Japanese tourists from earlier this summer, who ripped the heads of the prawns and tasted them straight out of the Salish Sea: fresh sushi.

An iconic bald eagles looks out over the water, waiting for its next meal to swim by.
Expand Image

I convince Mike to try it for both of us, he isn’t a fan. Although my guess is his distaste has less to do with raw prawn, and more likely that he doesn’t have the stomach for ripping the head off a living critter before taking a bite out of it. We bring the rest of the catch back to the lodge kitchen. Within the hour, Chef has incorporated our prawns into the night’s menu. Served poached with a mango-corn salad, it is the freshest and most delicious prawn dish I have ever eaten.

Canadian Geographic Expeditions prioritize adventure and exploring the natural world. After just a few days, I feel a more natural relationship to my body and the baby growing inside me than I did before arriving at Toba Inlet. Although non-traditional by the standards imposed by mainstream “mommy culture,” I absolutely recommend this destination to any couple looking for a wilder babymoon trip. A way to really connect with the mama bear within.

On our last morning at Klahoose Wilderness Resort I wake up like I have every morning: to the soothing patter of raindrops on the metal roof.  I leave the bags I packed last night by the front door of my cabin, and take my cup of coffee out to the balcony. The feeling of blissful peace surrounds me as I lean on the cedar railing and watch the sun rise above the Pacific Ocean.

Despite a heightened sense of smell due to my maternal state, the aromatic mix of marine life and coffee give me incredible comfort. The cold air soothes my heavy eyelids at this early hour, and I wrap a thick red flannel shawl around my bare shoulders, watching the seals wake up with me. They jump off the stacked paddle boards that they had used as makeshift bunk beds overnight. The sound of resort staff starting the morning breakfast routine for guests startles them to jump into the ocean. A seal pup is the last one off the dock. An adult female waits. Without any dramatic sign of overbearing motherly concern, she nonchalantly stays behind until the pup catches up and then off they go on their journey.

It’s time to check out of the lodge, and as I grab my carry-on with my right hand, my left hand subconsciously braces my small baby bump. We’re off to continue a journey of our own.

Advertisement

Are you passionate about Canadian geography?

You can support Canadian Geographic in 3 ways:

Related Content

Travel

Tiwšɛm (learn): a stay at Klahoose Wilderness Resort

On the coast of B.C.’s mainland awaits an immersive experience on the water’s edge, where tourism can be an act of reconciliation

  • 2033 words
  • 9 minutes

People & Culture

The truth about polar bears

Depending on whom you ask, the North’s sentinel species is either on the edge of extinction or an environmental success story. An in-depth look at the complicated, contradictory and controversial science behind the sound bites

  • 4600 words
  • 19 minutes

Wildlife

Think like a bear: learning to coexist

Humans and bears are sharing more landscapes now than ever before. As we continue to invade their world, will we be able to coexist?

  • 4432 words
  • 18 minutes

Wildlife

Broughtons in the balance: As salmon runs fail, grizzlies are on the move

Salmon runs are failing and grizzlies seem to be on the move in the islands between mainland B.C. and northern Vancouver Island. What’s going on in the Broughton Archipelago?

  • 2960 words
  • 12 minutes