Journey Into Desolation Sound

A First Nations community is using tourism to showcase their land, history and culture

Klahoose Wilderness Resort

“So, have you been to Klahoose before?” asks our shaggy-haired pilot, Mike as we walk down the ramp to our seaplane at Fraser River terminal in Vancouver. My husband and I shake our heads.

"Neither have I,” he says with a chuckle. “Don’t worry, we’ll find it.”

Thank heavens for GPS.

Gulf Island Seaplanes

With miles and miles of untamed rainforest, one could easily miss the tiny reddish cedar speck that is Klahoose Wilderness Resort’s main lodge. Fortunately, Mike has bald eagle vision and lands his plane like the same bird swooping in for a fish.

Photo by Dolf Vermeulen/Klahoose Wilderness Resort

Photo by Dolf Vermeulen/Klahoose Wilderness Resort

Owned by the Klahoose (toq qaymɩxʷ)First Nation, this off-grid, eco resort is nestled in one of Desolation Sound’s many inlets. We step off the plane and marvel at the landscape around us. The sheer scale of the mountains, like giant sleeping bears, is enough to bring you to your knees.

“This is your home for the next few days,” says Leon Timothy of Tla'amin Nation as he and his team –– cultural interpreters, guides, cooks and skippers –– welcome us to Klahoose with warm smiles and beating drums. “Welcome! ʔi:mot tətᶿ kʷənome...it's good to see you!…” they all sing in unison.

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Photo by Chase Teron/Klahoose Wilderness Resort

Photo by Chase Teron/Klahoose Wilderness Resort

Photo by Dolf Vermeulen/Klahoose Wilderness Resort

Photo by Dolf Vermeulen/Klahoose Wilderness Resort

Photo by Dolf Vermeulen/Klahoose Wilderness Resort

Photo by Dolf Vermeulen/Klahoose Wilderness Resort

Photo by Indigenous Tourism BC

Photo by Indigenous Tourism BC

There are few experiences that bring us this close to the rawness and majesty of nature. Within an hour of arrival, we’ve leapt off the massive dock into waters as deep as the mountains are high, only to see three seal heads  –– black as liquorice –– bobbing in the water alongside us.

Early the next morning, one of the resort’s skippers invites us to pull in the prawn traps with him, prawns that later land on our plates.

“Welcome! ʔi:mot tətᶿ kʷənome...it's good to see you!”

Photo by Dolf Vermeulen/Klahoose Wilderness Resort

Photo by Dolf Vermeulen/Klahoose Wilderness Resort

When we journey into the Toba Inlet, a deep fjord northeast of Campbell River, everyone is keen to spot a bear, a pod of orcas or a humpback. Just to know that we’re swimming in their waters, hiking in their tracks, is enough of a thrill for my husband and I.

After lunch and some fishing off the side of the boat, we stop at a waterfall and a few of us jump into the exhilaratingly cold pool of glacial melt. “This is what the money’s for!” exclaims one guest, pure joy splashed across her face.

Photo by Dolf Vermeulen/Klahoose Wilderness Resort

Photo by Dolf Vermeulen/Klahoose Wilderness Resort

As we speed back to the resort — the vast waters changing shades from sea foam to indigo to black — our guide and cultural interpreter, Randy Louie shares his knowledge of the land. We stop so he can show us some Petroglyphs — a fish, a boat, a caribou –– in rock faces close to the resort. Randy says these finger painted markings could date as far back as the wooly mammoth. No one knows for sure.

Photo by Dolf Vermeulen/Klahoose Wilderness Resort

Photo by Dolf Vermeulen/Klahoose Wilderness Resort

Later that afternoon, I walk into the forest that surrounds the main lodge and I feel like I’ve entered some mystical land where trees wear moss green velvet cloaks and the light on their branches is spun from gold. I’m humming loudly as I walk just in case there are any grizzlies lurking behind the trees.

After a communal supper of cedar plank salmon (Leon’s catch) and a traditional smudge ceremony, Randy continues with his teachings as he walks us through the making of a deer skin drum. Corol, another young cultural Interpreter, shows our eight-year-old daughter how to make a rose from cedar bark. Other guests make hats from slithers of dried bark, or whittle tiny paddles from cedar wood with a pocket knife.

Down at the dock, a British family swims under the moonlight sky while a couple from Singapore basks in the sauna. One guest, a teacher from Vancouver Island, stays in the water well past midnight. “How often do we get to float in a darkened, silent ocean watching a Perseids shower?”

How often, indeed. Like many things experienced at Klahoose, it’s once in a lifetime.