There’s a bracing tang of salt and fish in the air in PRINCE RUPERT, a distinctive port on Kaien Island – linked by bridge to the mainland – that comes as an invigorating relief after the run out of Prince George. A stunning place when the mist lifts, it looks out over an archipelago of islands and is ringed by mountains that tumble to the sea along a beautiful fjord-cut coastline. A crowd of cars, backpackers and RVs washes daily through its streets off the Alaska, the Queen Charlotte and Port Hardy ferries, complementing the seafront’s vibrant activity, and adding to the coffers of a town clearly on the up. In the summer, cruise ships make four-hour pit stops here, spewing up to two thousand passengers ashore at a time to gorge on fish and chips and sightsee. There’s plenty of outdoor and indoor attractions, and it’s an amiable enough spot to while away a day while you’re waiting for a boat. Some of the highlights include tours of the world-renowned Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, whale-watching and a stop at the Museum of Northern British Columbia.
Ocean Light II Adventurest 604 328 5339, w oceanlight2.bc.ca. If you have the time, and plenty of spare change, the three-day tour on board the Ocean Light II offers a chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity to spot grizzlies in their natural habitat as you sail through the lush green Khutzeymateen Valley ($1850).
Palmerville t 250 624 8243, w palmerville.bc.ca. Runs a three-hour tour with access via floatplane (from $477), as well as offering rustic accommodation in a floating cabin just outside the sanctuary.
Prince Rupert Adventure Tourst 250 627 9166, t 1 800 201 8377, w adventuretours.net. Runs six-hour boat tours to the sanctuary starting at $225.
At first glance, you could easily mistake it for a polar or albino black bear. But the elusive kermode or “spirit” bear is actually a white-furred variation of the black bear; a recessive gene passed from both parents gives it its white fur. The kermode is unique to the rugged temperate rainforest along BC’s central coast, its habitat concentrated in the fifteen million acres stretching from Bella Coola to Prince Rupert (also known as the Great Bear Rainforest). Despite pressure from conservationists to preserve its habitat, the kermode remains under threat from logging, hunting and mining. The highest number of kermode bears can be found on Princess Royal Island, 200km south of Prince Rupert, where ten percent of black bears are born with white fur. No humans live on the island and access is by boat or floatplane only, usually from Hartley Bay, a remote community of 180 Gitga’at people 140km south of Prince Rupert. The best viewing months are between August and October, when the bears gather around the creeks to feed on spawning salmon.