Asuave Hungarian-Canadian film producer, a muskrat-trapping oil baron from Ohio, three wisecracking novelists, an MTV camera crew and the rumpled president of World Wildlife Fund Canada land on the dock of a remote luxury resort anchored alongside British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest – a breathtaking stretch of ancient red cedar, hemlock and spruce through which the hotly contested Northern Gateway pipeline may some day flow.
If it sounds like the setup for one of Carl Hiaasen’s environmental satires, I must say there were times (usually after a couple of postprandial ports) when the three-night adventure felt similarly surreal, appropriately so. Here on Princess Royal Island, where black bears are born white and wolves swim with salmon, the floating five-star King Pacific Lodge offers a dreamlike retreat for pampered reflection on the true mysteries of nature.
“Champagne?” asks one of several khaki-clad staff members who greet our wobbly floatplane in a Fantasy Island procession as a majestic bald eagle soars overhead. I don’t mind if I do.
Nestled in a secluded cove, 380 kilometres north of Vancouver, King Pacific Lodge is a 17-room resort built on a 30-metre barge towed in from Prince Rupert each summer. Lolling in my suite’s deep soaker tub (filled with steaming glacial river water filtered onsite), I marvel at how the whole mobile kit and caboodle will migrate north in September, gliding through a narrow maze of mist-shrouded fjords without leaving a trace.
Ecotourism, King Pacific-style, certainly doesn’t skimp on creature comforts. But low-flush toilets in expansive slate-lined bathrooms are only a drop in the lodge’s commitment to sustainable luxury, which recently earned Travel + Leisure’s Global Vision Award, in part, for playing an instrumental role in the 2006 Great Bear Rainforest Agreement. Brokered by environmentalists, industry executives, first-nations leaders and the provincial government, the landmark accord has been internationally lauded for creating new models of low-impact forestry and co-operation while protecting the second-largest (21-million-acre) intact coastal temperate rain forest on the planet.
Wrapped in a plush robe, I gaze up at the mountains, mesmerized by an undulating blur of endless green. Somewhere deep inside that dense thicket lurks the rare white Kermode, more popularly known as the spirit bear. Found almost exclusively on these islands and numbering less than 500, this ghostly variant of the North American black bear (neither polar bear nor albino) is the result of a recessive gene probably developed for camouflage during the last ice age. Weird.
We won’t see any spirit bears on this trip. They don’t lumber down to the riverbanks to fatten up on salmon until early fall. But the symbolic poster bear is once again being hauled out of hiding to front a growing conservation campaign against the Enbridge Inc. pipeline: a project so contentious that many predict it will soon erupt into B.C.’s biggest environmental battle since Clayoquot Sound. And that was before a U.S. investigation compared the Calgary energy company and its efforts to clean up a massive spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River to the slapstick Keystone Kops.
Puffing on a Cuban cigar before shoving off to catch salmon, Robert Lantos hardly fits the image of a tree hugger. Not that Canada’s most powerful film producer, whose credits include the Golden Globe-winning Barney’s Version, has ever claimed to be one. Yet every summer for the past 10 years, he has vacationed in this “pristine paradise.”
“Most fishing lodges are strictly about getting the maximum amount of fish from the ocean, and drinking beer,” says Lantos, who prefers single-malt Scotch, even during dinner. (Note to wimpy hungover self: Never again let him persuade you to join him.) “This place strikes a nice balance that works in harmony with the sea and the land. Not a single tree was cut down to create it. And aesthetically, it’s very pleasing.”