You expected a boring river cruise. You’d chug along at barely walking speed and listen to a dry history of the area. So you were surprised when you boarded the Eagle Master, a bright yellow, inflatable boat, and then handed a set of headphones. The boat eased away from the dock, quickly picked up speed, glided over rapids, and almost reached 50 mph. Firs, cedars, and uninhabited islands passed by in a blur. You felt like you were flying. But the best part was yet to come.
The next time the Eagle Master slows down, it looks like you’ve entered another world. A Steller sea lion yawns, exposing more than 30 teeth, as he bakes in the sun on a big rock. A pod of Dall’s porpoises streak beneath the boat. Two herons swoop down to pluck lunch from a whirlpool of silver fish. Your guide points out Pacific white-sided dolphins in the distance, and you keep your eyes peeled for a late-migrating killer whale. While three—no, make that four—bald eagles circle overhead. Welcome to the Discovery Islands.
The Discovery Islands sit in between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. There are few people, fewer roads, and no cities here. Water taxis and helicopters are the primary modes of transportation. Most of the islands are unspoiled and uninhabited, while quiet fishing lodges sit on the waterfront of just a handful of them.
You’re staying on Sonora Island, which was named after a Spanish schooner that explored the Pacific Northwest in 1775. The west side of the island is home to Thurston Bay Marine Provincial Park. A coast guard radio station sits atop Discovery Mountain. While the Sonora Resort, an eco-adventure resort, is spread out on the east side of the island. It’s only an hour from Vancouver, though it feels more like days or centuries.
Besides cruising around the islands, you spend your time fishing. First you take a fly-fishing refresher course in the stocked trout pond. Then you ride a Grady-White boat to cast for salmon: acrobatic cohos and feisty chums. You head into the moss-covered rainforest along the Orford River to watch for grizzly bears coming down the mountain to feed on salmon. You hike the Blue Loop, an old logging trail, past red huckleberries and thimbleberries, American robins and Steller’s jays, and busy Douglas Squirrels. Or you follow the Top Loop Trail 853 feet above sea level for views of Bute Inlet, the Pacific Coast Range, and the Yaculta Rapids.
By late afternoon, you’re exhausted each day. You return to the Sonora Resort and relax by the outdoor heated pool. You sink into a deep armchair for a pre-dinner cocktail in the piano lounge as the sun sets. You sample the best Pacific Northwest cuisine: Quadra Island scallops, roasted carrot tortellini, and poached halibut cheeks from Queen Charlotte one night; green garlic soup, Pacific octopus, and wild Chinook salmon the next. Finally, you retreat to your room, where a goose-down duvet and a stone fireplace keep you cozy, regardless of how low the temperature drops. Boredom never crosses your mind.