What does it feel like to fly up to the town of Port Hardy, British Columbia, hop into a 1940’s era amphibious Grumman Goose plane, swoop up over the stunning Broughton Archipelago and soon splash down into Nimmo Bay, where guests at a wilderness retreat are starting the cocktail hour on a floating dock in the middle of nowhere?
Heaven, but not quite as exciting as when a few days later, ultra helicopter pilot/salmon fisherman Peter Barratt gently lifts you up over the Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, speakers blaring out the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up,” for a glorious ride over the 50,000-square-mile pristine Great Bear Rainforest, to look for salmon in rivers which very few humans have ever fished, let alone seen.
Salmon fishing (catch and release) by helicopter is just one of the many activities available to those lucky enough to make the trip 200 miles north of Whistler. You can paddleboard looking for bears; take a yoga class followed by a massage; hike up the 5000-foot Mount Stephens trail alone with a map or with a guide; whale watch in a power boat; kayak; soak in a hot tub and then cool off by hanging out under the massive waterfall, which the eco-minded Fraser family owners use for both electricity and drinking water. The resort is dotted with First Nation artists’ work, including sculptor Tim Matchman’s wood “Salmon Arch” over the little bridge near the waterfall.
There is plenty of life here in the largest tract of intact temperate rainforest left on earth, but it is just not so much human; Chinook salmon, pink salmon, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden, humpback and killer whales and sea lions abound. In just six intertidal chalets and three streamside cabins, the 22 resort guests outnumber the residents of the nearest town, Sullivan Bay, which boasts a summer population of six and winter population of zero. The Fraser family has built everything they could – including the floating cocktail and landing dock, over water so as not to disturb the precious and unspoiled land here.
Obviously, the gourmet lunch that Barratt sets up on a glacier during the all-day fishing expedition will never be outdone, but the meals back at Nimmo’s dining room, aided by its own bakery, offer three completely different menus each day for a week before they are repeated, including at one dinner, platters piled high with as much Dungeness crab as anyone could ever want. Guests’ cabins may be basic, but their mini bars are filled with fresh chocolate ganache bars, truffles, and beverages of every kind.
There is plenty of salmon, too, for eating or fishing, and when Barratt looks down from his helicopter and exclaims “Look at that river down there: it’s black, and that means it’s filled with salmon!” We swoop down for the catch.
After dropping his line into the river over and over, catching salmon for almost the whole day, one guest asked Barratt whether the pilot could take him to a river with fewer fish, because his arm was tired. There may be one other heli-fishing practice, located in New Zealand, but Barratt, with the cooperation of Nimmo owner Fraser Murray, inaugurated it as the first one in North America. Among the celebrity guests who have enjoyed the heli–fishing, are actress Michelle Pfeiffer and her husband David Kelly, George and Barbara Bush Sr., and Virgin Airlines owner Richard Branson. Even if you did not stop to land on a riverbank and fish, the helicopter ride it itself is a joy – revealing a wilderness region larger than Belgium, of eight million acres of old growth cathedral topped cedars, spruce, hemlock and fir, along with untouched lakes the color of Waterman-blue ink and tiny rivers snaking through the woods, all alone in nature. After a day spent with the pilot/fisherman, we understood his motto: “To Fly is Human… To Hover, Divine.”