How exciting is it to fly into a high northern Canadian wilderness camp on a circa-1940 amphibious Grumman Goose plane that splashes into the bay, braking like a real live Canadian goose as it pulls up to the Nimmo Bay dock?
It would have been the highlight of our visit, had we not lifted up over the resort a couple of days later for the first and most spectacular helicopter ride of our lives, to fish for salmon.
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is a breathtaking way to enjoy luxury in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere, in this case, is the 50,000-square-mile Great Bear Rainforest, the largest tract of intact temperate rainforest left on earth and a wilderness region larger than Belgium, of eight million acres of old growth cathedral topped cedars, spruce, hemlock and fir. Two hundred miles north of Whistler, it is pristine bays, 5000-foot-high mountains and pink salmon that have never before encountered people.
There’s plenty of life here; it’s just not human life. Chinook salmon, pink salmon, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden, Black bears, killer whales, humpback whales and sea lions abound. The closest towns are Hopetown, population 5; and Sullivan Bay, summer population 6, winter population 0. A total of about 22 guests sleep in six separate intertidal chalets and three streamside cabins, all of them built with great care to disturb as little of this land as possible, by Craig and Deborah Murray more than 30 years ago.
The Murrays painstakingly brought by barge the rest of the resort, consisting of a floating dining lodge, kitchen, bakery and a dock with fire pit for cocktail hour and postprandial song. Still considering their responsibility to the environment ‘way back then, they situated the resort next to an enormous waterfall in order to use it for drinking water, hydropower and a hydroxyl waste management system. Their son Fraser, 37, and his wife Becky (the spitting image of Britain’s Princess Kate) now run the resort, and Fraser, who was guiding guests at the age of 7, says “We don’t want to get bigger, just better.”
I don’t know how Nimmo Bay could get any better. All three meals, even if lunch is taken out on a whale-watch boat, are gourmet quality, with homemade breads and crackers, platters full of Dungeness crab, hors d’oeuvres of smoked salmon and goat cheese, the best alcohols and wines, a different breakfast entrée each morning for seven mornings, and free mini bars in the cabins filled with fresh chocolate ganache bars, truffles and beverages of all kinds.
You can soak in two different hot tubs situated just close enough to the waterfall that when you’re a little too warm you walk down the steps and jump into the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. If you must correspond with the outside world you can connect your devices using the resort’s password: “Finding Nimmo.” If you want to hike up to the 500-foot Mount Stephens, a guide will give you a trail map, or join you.
But it’s the heli-fishing that makes Nimmo Bay stand out. There are plenty of great wilderness fishing camps in this part of the world that will fly you to the camp and let you fish, but this is the only one that will helicopter you to the river, drop you down where the most salmon are jumping, hand you your gear, even take the fish off the hook for you in this catch and release program. There may be one other heli-fishing program in the world, in New Zealand, but Nimmo is the first to inaugurate it in North America, and may still be the only one in operation at this time.
That’s because pilot Peter Barratt, whose motto is
“To Fly is Human. . .
To Hover, Divine,”
joined with Fraser Murray to start the program that brings guests from all over the world to enjoy this novel way of fly fishing.
After a sunrise yoga class and a massage, you pick out your size waders, overalls, jacket and anything else you need in the resort’s dry room, and then wait on the helipad for Barratt or another pilot to swoop in and pick you up. I will admit nervousness at the thought of lifting up over this rainforest and going higher than some clouds, but Barratt is so knowledgeable, experienced and fun that it doesn’t take long to relax, especially when he has you strap on your headphones and you hear coming from his sound system Coldplay, or U2, the Eagles, and the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” as you gently lift off the pad.
This is heaven! Above the rainforest, looking down on untouched lakes the color of Waterman-blue ink and tiny rivers snaking through the woods. Suddenly, Barratt exclaims “Look down there: see all the black in that river? That’s salmon, and a lot of them. Let’s go fish.” Gently, but quickly, we whoosh down to the river, where our pilot finds a small piece of gravel-covered land, sits us down on it, and gets out poles and flies from the rear of the ‘copter. We four throw our lines into the river and within seconds, the salmon are biting on all our lines.
They’re everywhere, and hungry, and they return to bite as fast as we can get the lines back into the water. One man, Barratt recalled, asked after catching 20 or so fish, whether the pilot could take him to a river with fewer fish because his arm was tired.
We went up and down several different times throughout the day, just to see different fishing spots, different rivers and different kinds of salmon. For lunch: where else would you have lunch up here but on top of a glacier? From his trusty little back cabin, Barratt pulls out a folding table, tablecloth, chicken/bacon/avocado and cheddar sandwiches, red or white wine, beer, watermelon, and brownies.
Just as we were thinking we were the only humans who had ever had lunch on this glacier, Barratt admitted that he had brought actress Michelle Pfeiffer up here with her husband David Kelly after Kelly had filmed a couple of Nimmo Bay segments for the television program “Boston Legal” in 2005. George and Barbara Bush brought their grandchildren here once (not to this glacier) and Virgin Airlines owner Richard Branson visited as well. William Shatner was here to act in the tv special, and Robin Leach, who narrated the television program “Lives of the Rich and Famous,” filmed here as well. Nimmo is now listed in the book “1000 Places to See Before You Die,” just before Mount Everest.
Jim Flanigan of Toronto brought his wife and two teenage children here after he had come once by himself. “I would be doing them a disservice if I didn’t bring them,” he said. “It’s a homecoming; I wanted to share this with them.”
Venezuelan developer Luis Dini brought his wife Beatrice for their first time and said
“I cried when the helicopter picked us up; this is everything I’ve ever wanted to do; the whole package: fly fishing, the helicopter, the mountains.”
The Dinis, obviously, will return to Nimmo Bay.