A few days returning Eric to Canada
Eric (of Japan fame
finally returned to Canada, and to say thanks, I figured I should
remind him what it's like to live in Canada. I've been to the
Port McNeill area once before for a kayaking trip
and I knew it was an area rich in things to do.
A friend of mine
once did a Grizzly Bear/Whale
watching trip up here and she recommended Tide Rip Grizzly Tours
for a day
trip. I called them two weeks before I wanted to go to find out
they were completely booked up (and hand been for months, and their
waiting list had overflowed). With a lot of luck, I was able to
find some free last minute head count (the trip is actually Parks
limited by the number of people they can bring to the viewing stands,
not the size of the boat) and get Eric and I booked on. While
motoring out to Glendale Estuary (much of the way up Knight Inlet) the
naturalist on board commented that we were the first people from
Vancouver he had ever had on the boat. It just made me laugh.
When we arrived at an old
pier (now just eroding
pilings), we got out and loading into a van and drove up to the viewing
platforms. Out of the van and up a flight of stair, we were
now a story up on a deck with 360 view of the river and the bears
below. As far as we could tell, the bears weren't aware (or just
didn't care) that we were there.
Right off the bat, we saw a mother and her cub. They walked quite
closely by and I shot as fast as I could get myself organized.
Little did I know, for the two hours we were there, it would be the
only time we saw a cub.
Fishing - a how to guide
After the Mother Cub, experience, we watched bears come, bears leave
and a lot of fishing. We probably saw a dozen different
individuals in the two hours we were there and the naturalist knew most
of them by name. I was surprised to see the different techniques
used for fishing - each bear demonstrated a different style. So I
First - find a river full of fish. Find a place where the fish
hang out in large numbers. If there aren't enough fish directly
in front of you, use your friends to coral the fish into a smaller
area. Now begin fishing!
Go for a swim
One bear seemed to be quite adept at swimming, sticking his head under
and pulling up a fish. He was swimming in open water and the
first weren't trapped (you could often see a large ring of fish a
"safe" distance from him, but he was successful.
If swimming isn't your
style, perhaps the flop is better. Stand in the river and wait
for a fish to swim by in from of you. When a fish is pretty much
in front of you, drop down. Hopefully the fish is now in your
Borrow someone else's fish:
Failing the above two options, perhaps you can borrow a fish!
Some of the bears had a decided size advantage of the others and they
did sometimes just take the fish from the bears that were catching them.
Now that you have a fish in your mouth, you have to kill it and eat
it. Bears did (occasionally) loose a fish, but most of them were
pretty good. My favorite technique was a larger bear that would
trap the fish against a convenient log using his paw, grab another part
with his teeth and pull. Nearly instant skinned fish.
While we were in the stands we saw perhaps a dozen
bears, but most of the time was dominated by three brothers that fished
and hung out together. Our two hour slot on the viewing stands
seemed long enough - more time would have yielded different situations,
but we saw nice cross section of behavior. Four rolls of film
(I brought 20) we had to pack up and return to the van. For a
repeatable wildlife experience, I was very impressed.
Day 2 - Exploring Alert Bay
'Namgis Burial Grounds.
Eric has an aunt and uncle that live in Alert Bay.
I've visited Alert Bay on a
previous Kayaking trip
and I new it was worth a day to go poke
around. When we got off the ferry we dropped into the Tourism
information office and found out that there was a small cruise ship in
town and that the long house was putting on an hour long dance for
cruise ship members and anyone else with cash in hand - starting at
11am. We had a bit of time to use up so we went to visit
I've been to the 'Namgis Burial Grounds
before and wrote up description
of the poles
that I won't repeat. After a few minutes of
shooting I realized I was repeating the photographic effort so I needed
to adapt. Not being able to walk up to the poles was limiting
(but respectful) so I had to play with the long end of the zoom and
It was getting closer to the time of the dancing so we wandered over to
the long house.
The long house is
a magnificent structure. The
middle floor area is dirt and there was a fire burning before we
arrived. There is a large hole in the ceiling where the smoke
rises and exists, but the smell of smoke permeated the building.
Totem poles hold up the massive beams that support the ceiling and
paintings add color to the head wall.
The dancers were almost entirely children - a conscious effort by the
community to pass on their traditions to their children. Each
dance was a few minuet excerpt out of a much longer ceremonial
performance, and most of the dances were introduced and
Our next destination was the U'mista Cultural Centre
center is mostly a museum to display (in context) a collection of
potlatch masks that were confiscated when potlatching was made illegal
in 1884. The collection is sadly incomplete - parts of it was
sold to various international museums, and the return of the objects is
still being negotiated. I'm not sure of the wisdom of keeping all
known examples of a particular art form under one roof, but that's a
secondary issue. The center is a no photography zone.
Touring done, we went to visit Eric's family. They are
ocean front with an amazing view (we watched a cruise ship sail past)
that you just can't get in Vancouver. After lunch, we went out
for a walking in the gator gardens.
The Gator Gardens are a large swamp.
From what I understand a spring on the hill was damed to form a reservoir
for the cannery. The forest surrounding the spring drowned and
decomposing trunks from those cedar trees are still standing.
Day 3 - Whale Watching
I've seen bog
cranberries before on Aristazabal Island
and again I'm amazed that
life finds it's way to the niche that it fills. I was looking for
sundews and blueberries but I couldn't find any. Eric quite
enjoyed eating the cranberries.
On my last trip to Japan, we were in the southern port area of
Kyushu and I saw a note in the guide book about whale watching
trips. Then I remembered that Japan had historically whaled all
over the world (presumably because there were no more whales close to
home) and that Japan continues whaling for "research" (read - school
I booked a trip on Mackay
(a weeks notice wasn't a problem) again on the
recommendation of a friend. We weren't disappointed. The boat
is modern, spacious (although it was only 1/2 to 3/4's full) and
fast. We sailed south toward Robson Bight (we mainted a healthy
distance from the area, and quickly came upon a number of pods in the
Part of being a responsible tour guide is not getting too close to the
animals. The crew were quite responsible, but occasionally an
animal decided it wanted to come closer and the shutters were burning.
While we may have seen whales for a total of two hours, only once or
twice will the whales come so exhilaratingly close so you have to be
prepared. We also managed to track down a lone humpback - it was
cruising and not terribly exciting, and a hauling out point for seals
and sea lions.
While it was a wet day, it was very much
worth the price of admission. We returned to the camp site and
enjoyed our last night of camping with a camp fire of unused wood from
other campers who had left.
A lot of fun - I wish every week of my life had so much in it.
Tags: safari(23), BC fauna(22), marine mammal(8), totem pole(8), native art(7), whale(6)
From: John Harvey Photo > John's Overnight Page > North Island
Last Modified Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 at 00:58:59 Edit
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