Great Bear Rainforest - Day One

Posted on 3rd October, 2023

Early in 2020 (BC) Rob and I booked a holiday to British Columbia - we got as far as booking our return flights to Vancouver (to visit my cousins) and a boat trip with a company called Bluewater Adventures and we started to consider what else we might do in our time there. It wasn't too long before Covid put a stop to all of our plans, and for pretty much everyone else in the world, and so the wait began. Fast forward three and a half years and finally, in late August of this year, we made it! The whole holiday was absolutely wonderful - there was perhaps a lot of pressure on it to be so, having waited this long - but I don't think I ever expected to feel quite such an affinity with a place.

After a lovely couple of days or so with my cousins, we flew up to Bella Bella where we met up with our nine other fellow travellers - a mix of Brits, Canadians, Austrians and Americans and a really nice crowd. We boarded our boat and met our crew of four the next morning and it didn't take long to realise that we could be in for a very special week with some really fun people. So it proved. We were incredibly well looked after, learned loads of things about our environment, its inhabitants and the ecosystem, and had so many unforgettable sightings and experiences - it really was the trip of a lifetime. I don't have the words or pictures to do our time there true justice - I'm not sure anything could - but I wanted to share a few thoughts and photos of a special week.

Our first day set the bar crazily high - aside from the beautiful scenery, albeit a bit shrouded in smoke from mainland fires, we enjoyed our first ever sightings of orcas, sea otters ands humpback whales. The orcas were at some distance but, having often just missed seeing them in places like Shetland, it was such a thrill finally to watch a small family of transient orcas as we made our way along Seaforth Channel. I'll get my excuses in early and explain that it's a very long time since I did any sort of wildlife photography at all and, unlike in the past, where perhaps equipment could be a limiting factor, I know now that modern cameras have far more capability than I can extract when it comes to photographing wildlife. I was also determined to make sure that I didn't experience it all through a lens. As the week wore on, however, I was more in tune with my surroundings and the amazing inhabitants thereof, and that probably made balancing photography and 'just being a tourist' a little easier.

Sea otters have only recently returned to this area of British Columbia, having been hunted to extinction in the area some years ago. It was such fun watching this chap swimming along on his back with a row of sea urchins balanced on his tummy, ready to consume - they seem to go down very quickly and he was soon devouring the last one. As was often the case during the week, a longer lens would have been handy, but with plenty of megapixels to play with, I could at least do a massive crop here - this was shot at 200mm but is just a fraction of the actual frame.

We went past countless islands and islets, all of which were heavily forested with no end of characterful trees. Composing such scenes from a moving boat was to prove quite challenging - but every so often, something would jump out and I'd give it a go, hoping to capture what I'd seen before we we'd moved past it. Again this became easier to fine tune as the week went on.

Perhaps the highlight of the day was our first encounter with a humpback whale - they are such magnificent and awe inspiring creatures. We spent a good hour or so watching it gliding along, for the most part gently diving into the water - it's extraordinary how graceful such a large and powerful mammal can be. This was also our first experience of 'whale breath' - definitely the least enjoyable aspect of the experience, with a gentle breeze sending all the aromas right in our direction!

The smoky atmosphere made for some surreal pre sunset colours and with such beautiful surroundings in Mathieson Channel, I opted for a wider aspect showing the humpback about to disappear under water. Note the neat little hole in the tail and the distinct markings - many of the whales can be individually identified in this way. At one point we were 'interrupted' by another sea otter and this took our attention for a while before the humpback began slapping the water with its tail - where to look?!

It was time to make our way northwards to our mooring for the night. The light was now far softer and the scenery just stunning, still with somewhat surreal colours. Trees everywhere and so many wonderful bumps and textures.

I don't think any of us could quite believe what an extraordinary first day it had been - that three year wait had definitely been worth it and it just felt very, very special to be in such an amazing wilderness. Having no mobile signal was also bliss!

It may seem a little unintuitive, but please click on the PREV link/button below for day 2!