It’s only your first night at Clayoquot Resort, and already you’ve fulfilled all your hedonistic ambitions, and then some.
Following a 60-minute floatplane trip from Vancouver to a pink sunset glinting off the perfect mirror of the fjord. The staff eagerly fills your glass with the finest aperitifs, silky wines and luxurious spirits to complement the superb food. You eat to excess, and yet still wish you were physically capable of more. You stay up late chatting, laughing and taking deep breaths of pine-scented air. Finally, you fall into an exquisite bed and sink quickly and deeply into a resort coma.
Then, barely four hours later, you rise again of your own free will, casting off your goose-down duvet with a keen sense of anticipation. The dogs are barking and you want to see the bear.
Enter the Wilderness at Clayoquot Resort
Located just north of Tofino, Clayoquot Resort is a world-class retreat embedded in the unparalleled wilderness on Vancouver Island’s west coast, where the Bedwell River empties into a 14-kilometre-long fjord leading out to the Pacific Ocean. Most guests get there via floatplane from Vancouver or a half-hour boat ride from Tofino.
Set within the 350,000-hectare Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve (a UNESCO site), the resort has an unwavering aim to protect the wilderness while putting its guests in very close touch with the planet’s best and largest-surviving example of a temperate rain forest and its coastal ecosystem.
And so it should shock no one that the black bears are, literally, right outside your door. The said door is actually a zippered flap in a roomy canvas-walled tent. That’s right, a luxurious tent on an elevated platform made from local timber.
Reminiscent of the tents 19th-century adventurers used during their explorations of Africa and the American west, Clayoquot’s dwellings are furnished with sturdy, elegant antiques and impeccable bedding. The bigger tents, which are large enough to accommodate a king-size bed plus a queen-size day bed, include en suite bathrooms.
A small pack of genial dogs wanders the property to alert guests when a bear strolls into the valley, which is often. The barking, which the resident bears hardly seem to mind, makes nearby humans aware of a bear’s presence so guests can steer clear of the 225-kg predator.
Luxury Camping on Canada's West Coast
The Clayoquot experience has been called “luxury camping” and “rusticating luxury.” Neither the luxury, nor the natural experience is compromised.
The resort’s 40 guests can hear, see, smell and taste the heady flavours of Canada’s West Coast 24 hours a day. Modern thermostat-controlled propane wood stoves keep the tents warm and cozy, while the sound of birds (and sometimes the dogs on bear patrol) greets you at first light, which, at Clayoquot’s latitude, comes a little shy of 4 a.m. in early July.
That’s just as well, since Clayoquot guests tend to feel a childlike enthusiasm for the beginning of the day.
In the evening, a member of the resort’s staff sits down with each guest to discuss, in detail, the plethora of experiences available for the following morning: a trip to catch “Tyee” chinook 50-pound salmon and 100-pound halibut offshore; a horseback ride into the old-growth rain forest; kayaking along the shorelines of the Bedwell Estuary; or hiking the ancient trails of Flores Island.
Get Up Close and Personal with the Wildlife
Sightings of orca, grey whales and humpbacks are almost daily occurrences during the resort’s season, which runs from mid-May through September. Black bears, seals and eagles are common. Sea otters, long endangered after they were trapped out in the 19th century, have made a comeback, foraging up and down the coast for clams and sea urchins, often popping up with a curious expression next to a passing kayak.
Modern Meals Made on the Spot
Of course, lots of lodges can put you in a kayak, on a trail or in the water. Where Clayoquot really sets itself apart is its massive timber cookhouse. Here, chef and locovore Ryan Orr creates sumptuous, modern dishes with fresh, local ingredients, including cream and cheese from a Ucluelet dairy, Tofino scallops, wild Clayoquot salmon and produce from a platform garden floating in the sound.
“Chef Ryan” will happily make you anything you want but, as return visitors will vouch, sitting at the wraparound counter and following his recommendations will never, ever fail your taste buds.
A Dedication to Protecting the Environment
In all respects, John Caton and his wife, Adele, who fled a bustling life in Toronto’s music industry to develop Clayoquot Resort back in 1998, have never strayed from their mission to protect the natural environment that attracts their guests.
Clayoquot’s temporary structures (the 20 guest tents are taken down for the winter), self-contained energy systems and state-of-the-art waste management facilities are unparalleled anywhere in the world. The resort is also funding a $3-million, five-year conservation project for the surrounding preserve.
Among the sounds of water whooshing in and out of the estuary with the tides, the birdsong and the whinnies of horses, perhaps the noise most conspicuously absent from the Bedwell River Valley is from electronic entertainment. There are no televisions (nor phones or stereos) within the guest tents.
With a world full of adventure in one of nature’s most dramatic settings right at your door, televised entertainment seems a bit redundant, anyhow. What’s outside your tent is perhaps the world’s most precious luxury of all.