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Monday, December 9, 2013

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, Vancouver B.C.

Remote. Refined. Remarkable.

Story by Heidi Chackel

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, commonly referred to as just Clayoquot, really is remote. It is very much refined. And it truly is remarkable. My husband and I had an experience of a lifetime at Clayoquot, which is near the village of Tofino on Vancouver Island in the British Columbia province of Canada.

A 45-minute scenic floatplane ride from Vancouver, B.C. or a 30-minute boat ride from Tofino, this exclusive eco-safari destination is all about the wilderness. Guests will experience the wilderness in every way, be it fresh crab caught 100 feet from the dining room or a dip in a freshwater lake after an hour-long hike up the hillside. All resort guests enjoy the large and luxurious temperature controlled canvas prospector-style tents complete with an ensuite bathroom boasting heated flooring, flush toilet and a large indoor/outdoor shower. Each tent is decorated with opulent rugs, antique furniture and a top of the line mattress covered with the softest bamboo sheets I have ever slept on.

To give you a feel of the resort as a whole, let’s take it from the top. After a direct flight to Vancouver from Las Vegas, you will catch a floatplane in the late afternoon. The ride is amazing—over mountains, freshwater lakes and ocean—giving you a true feel of just where you will be spending the next four nights. The friendly staff greeting at the Clayoquot dock immediately makes you feel at home. A horse drawn wagon takes you the remaining short distance to the actual resort, where you are introduced to everyone whom you will be spending the next five days with.

For being so remote, Clayoquot really is a social atmosphere, including the amazing staff. It is obvious they love their work and where it has brought them.

“I love living and working here and have no reason to leave. I have been here since I was 14, with my dad when he was working as an excavator to clear the original property. There is nowhere else I would rather be,” says Carl Cawston, one of our amazing guides.

From the initial orientation until the moment you climb back on that floatplane, the staff works hard to make your stay the best. Within the first few hours, they know everyone’s name, what they like to drink and plenty more.

“I absolutely love planning my day with the staff, and they are the most delightful service people I have ever, ever seen anywhere,” says Joy, a fellow traveler from the San Diego area. “Ever accommodating. The fact that they remember your name right off the bat and everything you like and don’t like—it is really quite a special staff.”

Joy’s reference to planning her day goes for everyone. Each and every night all guests stop by the activities desk and choose how they want to spend the next day. The activities are referred to as experiences, and rightfully so as they really are much more than an activity. If you choose horseback riding, for instance, it isn’t just a half hour walk around. You can tailor your ride to your skill level and desired length, and all rides meander through breathtaking scenery.

Other experiences include kayaking, whale and bear watching, hiking, fishing, climbing, a hot springs, a zip line, shooting, archery, mountain biking and other wildlife viewing. The newest addition to their experience offerings is heli-hiking. A helicopter climbs a nearby mountain and drops guests off at a freshwater lake where you begin a hike, length depending on how intense of a workout you prefer. We ventured on the most strenuous hike up the ridge, and I would very much recommend it as the view is beyond anything I can describe. Once back down to our starting point, we enjoyed a dip into the extremely clear, but not so warm, mountain lake, which was very much welcomed after working up a sweat. Champagne on ice, cold drinks and a full picnic awaited us on the banks of the lake followed by another amazing helicopter ride back down the mountain with a small detour up a riverbed.

Additional experiences we enjoyed include horseback riding, more hiking, zip lining and a full day boat ride/hike that offered all the marine and land wildlife sightings we had hoped for. In fact, our guide for the Walk the Wild Side experience—Skiis Eugene Tom—had befriended a pair of eagles with a newborn. He stopped the boat just below their tree, proceeded to catch three fish all within five minutes, then whistled, dropped the fish overboard and his eagle friends proceeded to swoop down and snatch up the fish just 10 feet from our boat. I can’t imagine I will ever have the opportunity to see anything like that again in my lifetime. Usually I am cranking my neck every which way just to catch a glimpse of an eagle far above. We also saw plenty of bears, sea otters, whales, sea lions and much more. The bears roam the shoreline swiping rocks and boulders out of their way while looking for sea life hiding underneath.

Another favorite experience of ours was a hike up Penny Falls. This hike, while only 45 minutes, includes about 20 minutes of intense uphill going. The reward, however, is very much worth it, with three lookouts including a dip in one of the creeks pools at the top. A huge log has fallen, spanning the length of the pool, providing a perfect jump off point into the cool water.

While I found myself exhausted after a few days of activity, folks like my husband with endless energy finished or began their day at the resort’s gym, which while small does offer full weights, cardio and a yoga studio. I, however, chose a nap to replenish my energy in anticipation of an evening of fine dining, music, pool and more. In fact, we seemed to have lucked out, visiting the resort at the same time as one of the most popular Canadian singers, Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo. He, as well as his sons and other musicians, treated the guests and staff to a private concert.

Now on to the dining, which is worthy of a story all on its own and on par with the best of Vegas. First off, the variety of dishes available is immense, with personal tastes taken into consideration at every meal by waiters like ours, Rob Prier. For instance, my husband and I aren’t much of a seafood couple. Obviously, being on the Pacific Coast, the resort offers the best and freshest of seafood available, which most guests enjoyed to the fullest. Even on seafood night, however, Prier and Executive Chef Ryan Orr made sure to have a variety of meat dishes outside of the night’s menu for us to enjoy. And enjoy we did.

“I have been here for 10 years,” explains Orr. “With my family joining me during the summer months. My off season is spent with my family in Sooke, just outside Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, where I rest a bit, but also work on the next season’s menus. Our work during the five-month season is intense, basically working an entire year of time within that period. This is my career, my name is attached to it so I want to be here for all three meals. And I am a control freak, so there is that too.”

Orr’s hard work pays off, as I did not hear one complaint or see one dish returned during our entire stay. All meals are first class, and can be enjoyed as a quick meal at the bar or a leisurely five-course meal overlooking the Clayoquot Sound. Snacks are displayed throughout the day in the dining room, as are appetizers each afternoon and a full bar all day. Yes, a full bar of the best liquors, available for self-serve or to be mixed by the bar staff—the choice is yours.

John and Adele Caton, who chose ten years ago to undergo a drastic lifestyle change, bringing them to this remote location, operate the resort. The change has agreed with them, and it shows. Staff members are not only great at their job, but are extremely content in their positions. As a whole, the resort is very well organized, clean and functioned for us without any problems—a feat with such a remote location. Case-in-point, my favorite aspect of our amazing tent was the outdoor shower. There was just something amazing about showering in a full tube-like wooden structure with a canopy of trees above and hot water all around. I honestly looked forward to it everyday, actually twice a day! I truly hope someday to experience this over-the-top wilderness resort again, with family and friends in tow.

 

SIDEBARS

Packing:

When arriving at the resort by floatplane, you are allowed a 30-pound duffle bag. So packing for some can be tricky. Here are some of the things the resort provides for you to alleviate weight.

Survival suit to keep you warm on boat rides

Cowboy boots for horse back riding

Umbrella

Robes and bath sandals

Shampoo/rinse/soap

Sunscreen

Backpacks for day use on activities

Reusable water bottles

“Some people come here and just want to relax, read a book, have a massage and participate in a few other things. And some people want to come here and never have a down moment when the sun is out. And that is one of the great things about us, each night you plan your next day to your liking. Anything and everything we offer is open to you.”

Katherine MacRae, Director of Marketing and Operations Assistant

“My husband, Hugh, and I came here to celebrate our anniversary. I wanted a place that we didn’t have to travel away from the hotel to other cities and so forth. And my friend who is a travel agent said this is his most favorite place in the world. I ran into another friend who had also been here and he said the same thing. I agree with them, this place is amazing. I absolutely love planning my day with the staff, and they are the most delightful service people I have ever, ever seen anywhere. Ever accommodating. The fact that they remember your name right off the bat and everything you like and don’t like—it is really quite a special staff.”

Joy, fellow traveler

“The best way to describe the food is simple yet elegant, clean and respecting the ingredients. Beautiful, natural ingredients that we get organically, not overpowering with either over the top crazy techniques or overpowering sauces and other white noise on the plate that doesn’t have to be there.”

Ryan Orr, Executive Chef

“We do a little bit of travelling in the off season, but spend most of our time here planning for the following summer season. I love searching for new antiques for the resort; that is my passion.”

Adele Caton, General Manger

“This is our home, and we want to share it with all of our guests. Everyone here wants to be here and wants to make your stay the best it can be. We take pride in everything we have created here at Clayoquot, and I just can’t seem to stop myself from adding and expanding what we have to offer. The changes Adele and I have undergone in relocating to Clayoquot have been outstanding, and we can give you all a glimpse of this amazing area during your stay. We want you to enjoy every aspect of the resort and the area.”

John Caton, Managing Director

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Tofino, British Columbia

888-333-5405

www.wildretreat.com

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