Finding Nimmo Bay

Heli, yeah.

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If getting there isn’t half the fun, you must be in the wrong province. With no direct flights from Vancouver to Nimmo Bay, you’ll fly from the south terminal of the Vancouver airport on Pacific Coastal Airlines for an hour to Port Hardy, where an A-Star helicopter picks you up for a subsequent 25-minute flight. (Port Hardy is at the north end of Vancouver Island and is a 7-hour journey by ferry and car from Vancouver.)

I had no idea how hard my heart could pound, or how humbling it is to be in a helicopter as the earth falls away, until I spent 24 hours at the isolated Nimmo Bay resort. At this luxurious, wholly sustainable nine-chalet hideaway clinging to the edge of the rugged forests of Mackenzie Sound on British Columbia’s central coast, every day is packed with adventure. No wonder: the resort’s heli-activities operate across almost 78,000 square kilometres of breathtaking terrain. Packages include fly or spin fishing at rivers so high in the mountains that they’re accessible only by helicopter; lunching on a glacier at 2,100 metres; beachcombing along the remote sand beaches of Vancouver Island’s west coast; and at day’s end, soaking in a steaming hot tub by a waterfall and dining on flawlessly prepared meals.

Originally from Ontario, owner Craig Murray (whose father, George, was a popular Canadian tenor) ended up on Vancouver Island in 1973 after floating around Europe with a guitar in the sixties and seventies. Here, he built his first sailboat, one of two he would hand-build, sail and then sell, and dabbled in the logging and commercial fishing industries. In 1980, while managing a hockey arena in Port McNeill, and motivated by the desire to support his young family, he became inspired with the idea to open a sport-fishing lodge.

A friend told him about Nimmo Bay, an untainted stretch of B.C. coastline that was secluded, ripe with fish and had a source of fresh water close at hand. He took a look and decided to build a lodge and cater to fishers who were intent on catching ocean-run salmon. There were no helicopters at Nimmo Bay for three years—guests arrived by floatplane and Murray took them out in aluminum boats. That changed after Murray went fishing with a helicopter pilot and headed to a river 20 minutes north. After catching two big steelhead, Murray says “the light went on. I mean, it was blistering.”

From the beginning, his family-owned heli-venture operation has been built around principles of sustainability and eco-system management. The floating resort and its the inter-tidal chalets built onto a rock, have been designed with minimal impact on the surrounding forest and habitat. A glacier-fed waterfall supplies all of the drinking water and 90 per cent of the power. The organic garbage is composted and non-biodegradable waste is flown out every four days.

Some may question the impact of helicopters on the environment at Nimmo Bay. But according to journalist Mark Schatzner, even though an A-Star helicopter has 779 horsepower, burns through eight gallons of fuel every 10 minutes, reaches top speeds of 272 kilometres an hour and generates as much noise as a subway train, consider the alternative. Roads that are cut through the wilderness bring tar, litter and exhaust to a fragile environment. Hikers light fires and their scent sends animals bolting in every direction. “The fact is when it comes to treading lightly, it’s hard to do better than a five-thousand-pound helicopter,” says Schnatzner.

Well-heeled guests with a desire for the exceptional can’t get enough of this operation, or the splendours that its six-passenger choppers lay at their feet each day. The repeat business for this $2,000 a day experience is 75 per cent, and the list of luminaries includes Sir Richard Branson, Jimmy Pattison (who once took George H. W. Bush there to heli-fish with Murray) and William Shatner, who chose the fishing lodge to shoot the final episode of Boston Legal. Says a guest, “Nimmo Bay is the only place in the world where an 18-year-old scotch will ruin a glass of 10,000 year-old ice.” 

Photos: Nimmo Bay.

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March 15, 2009