The Inside passage is a spectacular boat trip that follows the Pacific Coastline from Washington State in the US, takes in the whole Canadian coast and finishes in Alaska. The patchwork of islands that runs up the coast lets ships travel in sheltered waters, avoiding the Pacific swell and ensuring a quicker, smoother passage. This, of course, has a benefit for the traveller, as the journey is a picturesque voyage through the mountains, forests and wildlife of the region, travelling nice and close to the shore.
The full journey can take a couple of weeks, but if you would like to experience the Inside Passage but only have a day or two, they consider a trip to Bella Coola from Vancouver Island. The Ferry leaves from Port Hardy in the north of Vancouver Island and takes 24 hours. Within minutes of leaving port you can be spotting Humpback whales which also use these sheltered waters to travel in. The ships staff are experts at spotting them, as well as orcas, in the waters and announcements are made over the tannoy whenever they are spotted from the bridge.
You get great views of the islands, mountains and forests as the wilderness slips past. Arrival at Bella Coola is in the early morning, waking to find the ferry navigating a long islet that leaves the valley 100 kilometres from the open Pacific Ocean. It slowly becomes a narrow fjord as it approaches the small jetty of the valley.
The valley of Bella Coola is a pristine piece of accessible wilderness, set in the Coastal Mountains of British Columbia. Its small town is down by the harbour, some small restaurants and hotels mixing with the houses and administration buildings as it spreads up the valley. The morning we were there a black bear was in town. Here you can book boat trips, yachts, helicopter tours, walking guides, accommodation and many other travel needs. Since resources are limited, best to contact and book before travelling.
There are plenty of inns and lodges sprinkled around the valley, with runs for some 80 kilometres until you reach a steep slope on the unsurfaced Highway 20, known as the Hill, which marks the point you climb out of the valley. The Eastern part of the valley is part of the Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, just under 1,000,000 acres of wilderness that is home to Grizzly and black bears, wolves, moose and mule deer. There are trails set out to follow, excellent fishing and stunning scenery.
The drive back to Vancouver is 1,000 kilometres, but with plenty to see en route it can be done over several days and make this trip of the Inside Passage, the Bella Coola Valley and the drive home a wonderful week-long tour.
By Julie Bowman