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Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tour

Blog: Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tour 

“There’s a grizzly bear walking towards us!” We all held our breaths as a 200-kilogram mammal walked out of the Orford River and straight towards our secure viewing deck. My heart raced as grizzly locked eyes with us, circled our raised platform and then sauntered off into the woods. After this, I knew we were in for a wildlife experience we would never forget. 

It was mid-September, the salmon were spawning, the sun was shining, and we had the perfect conditions to witness grizzly bears in their natural habitat. We had woken up at the crack of dawn to head off on a Homalco Wildlife and Cultural Tour that departed from the Coast Marina in Campbell River. 

Although I am not much of an early riser, the Homalco team made it worth it! We checked in at the Marina at 7:00 am along with 14 other guests and then boarded the warm and comfortable boat. After we departed, our guide, Cassie, kindly passed around hot coffees and explained what we could expect with the tour and the itinerary for the day! 

 

What We Saw: Wildlife & Natural Scenery 

Less than an hour after departing Campbell River, we spotted our first humpback whale! One of the benefits of early departures is that animals tend to be more active. In addition, there are typically fewer boats and other tours in the harbour, so spotting these marine animals is easier and more intimate.

In order to be safe distance away from the whale, our captain switched off the engine to ensure we were at least 400 metres away from the whale at all times. We all watched in awe, as our captain and host explained some interesting facts about how these animals make their annual migration through the Discovery Passage. This migration pattern makes Campbell River one of the top spots in British Columbia to witness Humpback Whales and Orcas. 

 

After the humpback swam away, we continued our journey up the Bute Inlet, where we were surrounded by breathtaking scenery. Some of the highlights were towering fjords, distant glacier mountains, waterfalls, ocean rapids, and secluded beaches and coves. In addition, we were fortunate enough to spot grunting sea lions, eagles, ravens, more humpback whales, and more importantly, grizzly bears!

 

Where you go to see grizzly bears: Bute Inlet 

When booking our wildlife tour with Homalco, something that surprised me was hearing that grizzly bears do not reside on Vancouver Island. However, Campbell River is the perfect jumping-off point to travel by boat to some of the mainland inlets where grizzly bears live. Homalco First Nation runs all their bear watching tours in Bute Inlet, a two-hour boat ride northeast of Campbell River. Up the Bute Inlet, Homalco Tours docks at Orford Bay, where you then hop on a mini-bus that drives you to secure and raised viewing platforms along the Orford River. Grizzly Bears regularly fish for salmon along Orford River, so it’s the perfect place to spot them. 

 

 

During our three hours in the area, we saw six grizzly bears! A mom with her cub, some middle-aged males, and a full grown-male grizzly. I became mesmerized watching these magnificent creatures roaming around and effortlessly fishing for salmon that I completely lost track of time and would have happily stayed for hours more. 

 

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something about watching such big and powerful animals in the wild that gives you an adrenaline rush and makes you humbled in their presence. 

Cultural Aspects

One of the most interesting aspects of doing this tour with Homalco was learning about the Homalco First Nation Peoples. Our guide, Cassie, was from the Homalco Nation and had other family members working for the company. Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours are 100% Indigenous-owned and encourage employment and training within their community! This allows for profits to go back to their communities and for their culture to be shared authentically.

Throughout the tour, Cassie spoke about First Nations legends, traditions, and their history with the land by sharing photos and stopping at significant places along the coast. My favourite part was learning words like raven, bear, and whale in their Indigenous language and hearing the legend of the raven. Additionally, Cassie and our captain, Spencer, taught us a lot of interesting facts about all the animals we saw along our tour. 

 

What You Should Bring 

Since the tour mostly takes place outdoors, it’s recommended that you pack layers of clothing. Even though we lucked out with a sunny day in September, it was still cool on the water, especially in the morning. Luckily, the boat has a comfortable indoor heated area (with a washroom) if you ever get cold, but personally, we loved sitting outdoors as much as we could to keep an eye out for wildlife and take in the beautiful scenery as we cruised through the inlet. 

We wore a puffy jacket, fleece sweater, t-shirt, long pants, Blundstone boots, wool gloves, sunglasses, and a toque to keep warm. Since this is a full-day tour, and you will be sitting and walking around, make sure you are comfortable and wear appropriate walking shoes.

Lastly, bring binoculars if you have them, and don’t forget your camera to capture all the unforgettable moments!

 

When to Book Your Bear Watching Tour?

Since grizzly bears hibernate in the winter months, these tours can only happen for a couple of months of the year. And to give their guests the best chance of seeing grizzlies, Homalco coordinates their tours to coincide with the annual salmon spawn, which is from the middle of August to the end of October. In addition, these tours operate with small groups due to boat size and to ensure minimal disruption to the animals. 

Since seeing grizzly bears in the wild is a bucket list experience for so many visitors, these tours book out year after year. This is why I recommend booking your tour as soon as possible, especially if you want to go on a weekend! Plus, if you change your mind or need to change the date, they have a great cancellation policy.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post on my Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tour experience. If you are planning a tour for yourself or have any questions, feel free to visit the Destination Campbell River Team at the Visitor Centre or email them at [email protected]. Or you can book directly online with Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours.

Written by: Amber Storie of A Blissful Wanderer.