I don’t know about you guys but seeing grizzly bears in the wild has always been very high on my animal encounters bucket list (next to swimming with penguins and hanging out with pandas). So when we booked our tickets to Canada we pretty much instantly decided on a grizzly bears experience to Knight Inlet with Tide Rip Tours. They have been doing tours to see grizzly bears since 1998 and with a slogan that pretty much says it all, you know you’re in the right hands if you want to get up close and personal (well, not too personal obviously) with them grizzlies.
“We know where the bears are. We can get you there.” – Tide Rip Tours
So Where Are Those Grizzlies?
Fun fact: although the only place you can go on a grizzly bears tour is Vancouver Island, grizzlies do not actually live on the island. They live in the gorgeous Knight Inlet (fyi, an inlet is a long and narrow sort of bay) on Canada’s mainland. It’s completely inaccessible from the mainland though, and to get there you can either fly to the Knight Inlet Lodge ór you can drive all the way up north on Vancouver Island to Telegraph Cove. I highly – HIGHLY – recommend doing the latter since (1) the drive is simply amazing, (2) there aren’t a lot of visitors that drive all the way north, and (3) Telegraph Cove is the most lovely little town in Canada. Yes, that’s right. I’ll show you all about how pretty Telegraph Cove is in my next post. Today it’s all about the bears. Grizzly bears. YAY!
We got up really early on the day of our tour since we had to be at the Tide Rip office at 6:45am. We had our check in the day before and were told that we could not wear any perfume, deodorant or body lotion. Which we translated as: best to smell bad and not shower. So that made the getting up early part a lot smoother. Of course we were SUPER excited and even that is an understatement. On the vessel for our 2 hour boat ride to Glendale Cove – the part of Knight Inlet where the bears roam around – we were served a simple but nice breakfast. The scenery is so overwhelmingly stunning and I honestly think I have never felt more in touch with nature than on that day (yes, that sounds obnoxious I know).
Orca, Straight Ahead!
Tide Rip guides Mike and Daryll are extremely knowledgeable and they know so much about the area and its inhabitants. We spotted a lot of bald eagles, porpoises (let’s say larger than a dolphin, smaller than a whale) and to top it all off we even saw an orca do a full breach right in front of us! It was totally unexpected since it’s actually very early in the season to spot orcas in that area, which made it even more special. Sooooo amazing, and it honestly made me quite emotional. Holy shit. A wild orca. Jumping out of the water. Right. In. Front. Of. Me. Surreal!
Our guides told us orcas tend to do a full breach when they make a kill. Probably one of those porpoises we saw earlier… So orcas quite literally jump for joy. It was so unexpected that we didn’t even have time to be camera ready so unfortunately we have no picture of this magical moment. But the image is branded in my mind forever. Just to give you an idea of how amazing it is to see an orca do a full breach, I’d like to share this photo of Vancouver Island local Garry Henkel. And also, if you haven’t already seen it: go watch Blackfish (it’s on Netflix). Please. I’m begging you. Must watch. Orcas should be wild and free, and not be kept in a tiny fish tank. I mean, how majestic is this?!
Grizzly Bears Everywhere
After a 2 hour transfer, crossing the great Johnstone Strait and then onto the long-stretched Knight Inlet, we got to calm Glendale Cove. We switched to a smaller flat-bottomed boat and slowly and silently started to glide down to the shore. The scenery around Glendale Cove is so breathtakingly beautiful. Peace and quiet gets a whole new meaning out there. I can understand why grizzly bears like to hang out here…
And there they were. The bears. Grizzly bears. Freaking grizzly bears. In the wild. O M G. I may or may not have whispered those three letters a thousands times. It’s just sooooo freaking amazing to watch them do their thing (quite literally actually…) in their own natural habitat.
We were lucky enough to meet 11 grizzlies including Lenore and her year old cub, ánd Bella – the star of the Disney movie Bears – with her three brand new cubs.
Lunch With A View
It was time for lunch so we got back on the small dock near the shore. We were still very close to the bears, so our guides gave us a very helpful instruction: “when the bears come too close, we jump in the boat immediately – we don’t wait for lunch to be finished”. Good to know (especially for someone who usually puts food above all other things).
We could see three young males wandering about looking for food. One of them was really hungry and slowly made his way over to the large wooden poles near the dock because they were full of yummy seafood. I can’t explain how awesome it is to eat a lovely salmon sandwich while a grizzly bear is standing on his two back feet to grab his own seafood lunch – just a few meters away. CRAZY. I had to pinch myself a few times. Is this really happening right now? Yes. It absolutely was.
After a wonderful few hours watching those grizzly bears hang around, we got back into the transfer boat and made our way out of the inlet. Because Knight Inlet is so narrow and long, the winds really can be spooky out there. And they usually tend to grow stronger and stronger during the day. Let’s just say, it was a pretty bumpy ride back!
We made a stop at Lagoon Cove, a wonderful marina at the southern end of Minstrel Island. Here we met Jean, a wonderful lady who has been living in Lagoon Cove for over 20 years. Jean and her husband Bill bought the marina in 1992 and made it their family home. Sadly, Bill passed away three years ago and Jean now runs the marina by herself – with the help of her staff.
A lot of sailors stop by Lagoon Cove to stock up on fuel and replenish before they make their way over to Haida Gwaii, a beautiful island further up north in the Golf of Alaska. Jean let us walk around her gorgeous garden and I honestly think she has the best view in the whole world.
Worth. Every. Penny.
On our way back to Telegraph Cove we decided to soak up some more sunshine on the back deck which was a lovely way to process everything we had seen that day. We got back to Telegraph Cove around 4pm and we were completely exhausted by all the excitement, but in a good way.
What an amazing day! Truly a once in a lifetime opportunity (although I’ve obviously already decided we’re going back some day). Yes, it is an expensive trip and I totally get that CAD $300 per person sounds like an outrageous amount of money. But. But! It is an experience I’ll definitely remember for the rest of my life. And I think experiences are more valuable than any material thing money can buy. The proceedings go to keeping those grizzly bears wild and free. And in a time where the world is getting more and more structured and tamed, that’s really worth something to me. I think we could all use a bit more wild in our lives…
Missed my previous post about Vancouver Island’s vibrant capital Victoria? Check it out here. And don’t forget to watch the travel video I made of our West Canada road trip, including more grizzly material. Stay tuned for my next update of our amazing adventure through the wonderful wilderness of West Canada!