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Sara's Travels

Grizzly bears on a budget

CANADA | Monday, 31 December 2007 | Views [196]

Campbell River, on Vancouver Island, is the jumping off point for many wildlife tours, including those to see Grizzly bears. Knight Inlet is well-known for bear-watching but it is also very expensive fly in and out and stay at the lodge there. Lesser known but just as rewarding is a day-trip to the Orford River, a tributary to Bute Inlet.

My tour left bright and early from Campbell River and took everyone by boat to the Orford River. It is only accessible by boat, seaplane or helicopter so it’s very remote. The tours are run by First Nations guides and they only run a couple per day, so when our group landed we were the only tourists, which was a welcome change.  We were given a talk about Grizzly bear behaviour and safety procedures if we should see one up close and personal!

Then a minibus took us to several towers along side the river, with platforms specially built to view the bears.  The towers are designed to be unobtrusive but even so, you would think the bears would sense the human presence and steer clear.  Surprisingly they didn’t even seem to notice the towers.

The first bear I saw was just a glimpse through the bus window as it crossed the river, and then it was gone. At the first tower a pair of sharp eyes spotted a bear about 150m away, coming down along one side of the river. We all watched in anticipation but it went off into the forest.  Meanwhile a bear had come up the river from the opposite direction and was foraging around no more than twenty metres away. After a while it lumbered up a log in the water right near the tower and we all got a really good look at it. Their claws are massive!

At the next tower we could see a bear about 75m away eating a salmon. It stayed there for ages enjoying its meal – I felt like I was watching a David Attenborough documentary in real life. Tensions ran high when another bear approached from behind and both bears became wary and defensive. Eventually the latter bear took a wide berth around the pile of logs where the first bear was eating. Our group had been holding our collective breath, wondering what would happen.

The last area the minibus took us to had no viewing tower so we all had to get out and walk, which was a little scary! We stayed together and walked up one side of the river, as apparently the bears are often spotted on the other side. We didn't see any there but I could see why the bears liked it - the place was so serene, with beautiful clear water and mountains all around.

It was a fantastic day and it reaffirmed why I have come to Canada - it was an experience of a lifetime. I topped it off with some fresh local seafood at a restaurant by the water in Campbell River!

Tags: Adventures

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