Stepping off the Float Plane

Stepping off the Float Plane
West Coast Wilderness Lodge
Not rated

A Vancouverite marvels at the nearby Wilderness and luxury of the Sunshine Coast.

View Gallery 

Stepping off the float plane, I'm only twenty minutes from downtown - but it is easier to believe I am a million miles away and fifty years into the past.

I am revisiting West Coast Wilderness Lodge on the Sunshine Coast. I spent a weekend here in 1999, when the Lodge was an environmental education facility for schoolchildren and corporate groups. Though the memories of that trip are still strong, I haven't been back since.

I am met at the dock by Katherine, who hails from New Zealand but has spent the last few summers working in Egmont. A veteran adventure guide with two summers at Antarctica under her belt, she will help me plan my next few days.

As she drives us up the hill to the Lodge, she tells me about all the things to do during my stay. There is no scheduling here. The only set times are the flood, ebb and slack tides of the mighty Skookumchuck Rapids - just three miles away.

We reach the resort and I step out of the vehicle; it dawns on me that this is not the Lodge I was at ten years ago.

I can only imagine the work that has transformed this rustic, simple place into a wilderness luxury resort. People still come to learn about and enjoy the outdoors - but everywhere you look, there is a quiet touch of class.

The thick ropes of flowering wisteria twining around the cedar posts and beams of the main building have been there a long time. Before checking in, I peek into the dining room. A lovingly restored floor made from old growth fir, vaulted ceilings with warm timber beams and seventy feet of floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over a string of broken islands. Currents swirl and eddy in massive gyres far below.

My room is a forest view - I have a tree growing up through my deck. The room is small but comfortable, with antique furniture and a king-sized bed. The headboard of my bed and the bathroom vanity top are both made out of old growth fir, and the terra cotta-tiled shower is huge.

After a delicious dinner of cedar-planked wild salmon, I run into the owner, Paul. A few pounds heavier and with more grey in his hair but he greets me like an old friend. Several beers later, we are on the front deck reminiscing about watching the Northern Lights the last time I was here - a rare occurrence this far south.

The next thing I know, I'm off with Katharine on a twilight kayaking tour. We spend a few hours watching the seals and lingcod dart below us, creating a whirlwind of stardust in our wake. Katherine tells me it's a type of bioluminescence but all I know is that it is impossible to capture on camera.

It's morning and after the best sleep I've had in years.

Gulping down smoked salmon Eggs Benedict with fresh fruit and a bottomless mug of coffee, I slow to watch the view and the guests around me. I ask my waiter, Patrick, about some of the accents I am hearing and he whispers to me that I'm the only Canadian in the room. All the guests in this weekend are from Switzerland, Germany, England, and Louisiana.

I realize that the Lodge is quietly becoming an international destination resort without anyone from the Lower Mainland knowing it exists. Scheduled float planes arrive daily from Vancouver, Seattle and Victoria - visitors fly in from Whistler or downtown Vancouver for lunch and a glass of wine.

I hadn't planned to take the boat tour to Princess Louisa Inlet, but after seeing the Lodge's sleek, red zodiac I decide to jump aboard. A smooth ride at forty knots takes us up a glacier-carved fjord with towering mountains all around.

After a dozen waterfalls I stop counting - we pause at Soda Pop Falls, where the boat pulls up close enough that a German couple in the bow can fill their water bottles. Paul has tagged along as our tour guide. He tells a tale of young First Nations who would challenge each other to hold a large rock underwater for long periods of time. They survived by gulping bubbles of air forced down from the falls.

Paul winds up his story with an offer to anyone on board to take the test - he's brought along a rock for the occasion. Looking up to the icy snowpack high above, no-one takes him up on it.

The jokes and fun turn to respectful awe as we cruise through Malibu Rapids into Princess Louisa Inlet. I can believe that for many of the international tourists on board, this one tour has made their entire trip to British Columbia worth it. Imagine travelling through an inlet 500 feet wide, surrounded by mountains 6000 feet high. Majestic and breathtaking are the only words to describe the experience.

As we approach the end of Princess Louisa, Chatterbox Falls comes in to view - a huge, glacier-fed waterfall surrounded by rainforest. We dock at the provincial wharf where Paul fills our coffee mugs and sends us off to explore. Walking up the cedar boardwalk as I feel the mist and spray from the falls, it strikes me that a few hours ago this water was ice and snow from the alpine. The plants here are a lush shade of green I have never seen before.

On the return journey, we stop at some ancient pictographs - thirty feet up a sheer rock cliff. Thousands of years old and made from the bark of local Arbutus trees, the paint is still a bright red. We pause at the mouth to Vancouver Bay as well. Towering above this bay are Mount Churchill and Mount Vancouver, both named by the first European tourist to the area - Captain Vancouver. Total trip time? Just over three hours.

After a quick lunch on the deck, I leave the Lodge on a hike to the Skookumchuck Rapids. Everywhere I look along this pretty walk, I see historic logging signs - huge old cedar stumps, nurse logs and overgrown skid roads.

You can hear the rapids long before you see them. The fastest tidal currents in the world, two billion gallons of water rushes through this constriction in Sechelt Inlet, creating standing waves, overfalls and gigantic whirlpools. We sit on the beach and watch the Lodge's zodiac playing in the rapids - I should have booked a spot on that tour as well.

After the hike, I stop off for a beer at the Backeddy Pub just down the hill from the Lodge. Dinner at the Lodge is just a great as the night before and I treat myself to a dip in a cliff-side hot tub under thousands of stars before bed.

Before I know it, my visit has ended and I'm off - flying over islands, inlets and forested mountains on my way home. Every bay and cove below me beckons with the promise of an unexplored adventure. I wish it hadn't been ten years since my last visit to the Lodge.

West Coast Wilderness Lodge is in Egmont BC on the Sunshine Coast.