Toronto Star, Oct 16, 2016: SONORA ISLAND, B.C.-The nearby evergreens start dancing as the helicopter descends onto the landing pad. The trees are swaying, their boughs waving wildly and offering us a hearty welcome to Sonora Resort, an hour-long helicopter ride north of Vancouver.
And what a ride — up along the Sunshine Coast amid low flat-bottomed clouds mimicking the shape of the green islands below and little boats leaving white stripes of wake in the blue water.
As we arrive at the luxury resort in the wilderness of the Discovery Islands, we tuck our cameras away long enough to get settled. Over ice tea in the main lodge, we’re briefed on the black bears that will run from us, the fast waters that will run away with us and the all-included mini-bars waiting for us.
When you walk in your room to big windows and a bigger view, it takes a few seconds to decide — settle in with the binoculars by the window or get out and explore.
Leaving the binoculars for later, I head to the pool to paddle around and see seals playing in the inlet.
I jump on a mountain bike and start up the five kilometres to Florence Lake. After the first couple of hills, I ditch the bike on the rocky road and start walking, reaching up to pick raspberries that drip off bushes as tall as NBA players.
There’s bear scat on the trail but no sight of the timid beasts in the bush. A not-so-timid eagle takes off crashing through branches just overhead, giving me an inkling of what prey must feel like. After one last giant hill I reach the lake, dip my toes in the cold water and lie on the dock for a few minutes before heading back to collect my bike.
In addition to mountain bikes, the all-inclusive resort has a gym, tennis court, putting green, conservatory, gorgeous gardens, a pool and a spa where they massage you with Canadian balsam oil so you emerge sans kinks and smelling like the great outdoors.
Sonora also has terrific food. The same servers bring you eggs benedict in the morning and salmon in the evening and if you’re lucky, one of them will play a little jazz on the piano for your group as you shut down the restaurant.
On the dock, guides weigh and fillet salmon that guests have caught on one of the resort’s 10 fishing boats.
The fishermen pose for photos as we jump in a big yellow zodiac to explore the water, starting with the seals lounging on the nearby rocks. We do a few doughnuts before zooming off to play hide and seek with the humpback whale that’s been hanging around the bay.
We see the blow and the whale’s black back before it disappears into the blue. While we wait for the humpback to surface — our eyes scanning the water in every direction — we sneak peeks at the billionaires’ compounds scattered along the shore and feel a bit like the seals on the rocks enjoying the sun.
After a few runs of “There he is!” and “There he goes!” the zodiac tears off around the corner of the bay so we can see the eagles.
There must be a hundred of them soaring and diving and feeding off fish. It’s hard to know where to look.
A tip: Look for a flash of silver in the water — hack — and keep your eye on the fish because an eagle is guaranteed to swoop down and get it. Another tip: after you’ve taken a few pictures, put your camera away and just sit back and watch the magnificent beasts eat their lunch.
Once we’ve had our fill of the eagle feast, we head back to the resort with the mist in our faces — “a west coast facial.”
We see whirlpools swirling in the water and we stop in the bay for one more looksee for the elusive humpback. We spot him just in time to see him dive once again, his massive flute pausing in the air for a second or two as if he’s waving goodbye.
When You Go
Get there: You can take a helicopter or seaplane from Vancouver for about $1,000 return, a water taxi from Campbell River for about $400 return or a charter flight from pretty much anywhere. See London Air Services for flights and Sonora Resort for other transportation information.
When to go: Sonora is only open May through October. Room rates range from $560 in low season to $1,125 in high season. Villas range from $3,875 to $11,960. sonoraresort.com/accommodation
What’s included: Your room rate includes three meals a day, liquor, beer, wine and other beverages (but you have to pay more for premium spirits and wines). You also get the use of all the amenities on the resort. Salmon fishing, zodiac tours and other expeditions are an additional cost. Fishing starts at $680 for a four-hour tour. The zodiac is $90 per person for an hour.
Do your research:Sonoraresort.com