The interior of Inlets Restaurant in Egmont echoes the form of a First Nations longhouse: a vast open space of wood, built post-and-beam style with a peaked roofline. On one side is a bar; on the other, a lounge area with a spirited fire. The floor, retrieved from a Delta school scheduled for demolition, is made of Douglas-fir boards that are 80 years old, polished to a rich orange sheen by decades of children's shoes. First Nations masks and carvings adorn the walls. It's a warm, inspirational space, airy but intimate.
And then there's the view. The restaurant sits on a bluff, one end enclosed by glass; we look out over a panorama of ocean and mountain that fills the entire wall of windows. We can see over the Sutton Islets in Skookumchuck Narrows to Egmont Point and into Jervis Inlet beyond. Egmont, at the northern tip of the Sechelt Peninsula, 85 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, is a jumping-off point for any number of outdoor adventures. Because Inlets is part of the West Coast Wilderness Lodge, where we're staying for a couple of days, we can see exactly where we'll be kayaking tomorrow.
West Coast Wilderness Lodge is the work and world of Patti and Paul Hansen. Paul, originally from Copenhagen, is an outdoors-education specialist who has run camps for children with disabilities and designed wilderness programs for schools. Patti, from Vancouver, is a nurse. With the help of many friends and family members, they built the resort in 1997, milling the lumber from trees on the property and using a variety of reclaimed and recycled materials. The lodge opened in 1998; "there's a story behind nearly every part of it," Paul says.
Besides the main lodge, with its restaurant, reception, recreation areas, meeting rooms, enormous deck, and hot tub, there are five satellite guest bungalows, each with four rooms or suites. Forested trails connect the cabins and lead to the sea, where a dozen or more kayaks are stored beside a floating dock. Canoes are also kept at Phantom Lake, a turquoise tarn in the heart of the alpine, where guests can be flown in for an unforgettable day in remote wilderness. In summer, the majority of the resort's clients come from the U.S., with a significant minority from Europe, but in the off-season the lodge tries to cater more to the local and Vancouver markets. We're here in February, beginning our 2005 outdoor season in style.
In the morning, after a grand buffet breakfast, my partner, Katherine, and I grab a pair of kayaks and paddle over to the Sutton Islets. Paul or one of his guides would normally lead us, but because we're fairly experienced (and Paul is busy hanging new doors for his kitchen), we head off by ourselves. The Suttons are fun to paddle around and make an ideal short outing from Egmont: one islet is undeveloped; the other has been converted into a million-dollar private hideaway with intricate stonework terraces and an arched stone gazebo (to shelter you, no doubt, while you're waiting beside the helicopter landing pad). We watch a family of eagles make short work of a fish carcass, then we recross Skookumchuck Narrows and explore the marinas and houses on the Egmont shoreline.
Next on the agenda for most visitors is a 10-kilometre return hike to the Sechelt Rapids, one of B.C.'s most dramatic tidal phenomena, where currents of up to 16 knots create huge standing waves that are popular both with expert white-water kayakers and with high-and-dry bystanders. For big spenders, the Hansens can arrange helicopter tours of Freil Falls or floatplane trips to Princess Louisa Inlet and Whistler. For the rest of us, a range of inexpensive kayaking, canoeing, and hiking tours are available nearby, as are rock-climbing, archery, and mountain biking. "We're not hoteliers," Paul explains. "Our aim is to provide a comfortable safety net for a variety of outdoor activities so that guests can try new things and have a good time."
To me, the West Coast Wilderness Lodge is the perfect place to escape the city and hunker down for an indulgent shoulder-season weekend. Laze around, get outside a bit, and enjoy a meal or two at Inlets, where the menu emphasizes seafood, game, and B.C. wines. Try these on for size: Egmont octopus, saffron-poached crab claws with sea asparagus, wild-mushroom ragout, B.C. spot prawns with tequila-lime beurre blanc, couscous-stuffed roasted onions, Pemberton tomato tartare, warm fennel-apple salad, Cowichan Bay duck breast. Not all at once, of course. Oh, what the hell-do as you please.
To help with your mission, the lodge offers a spring weekend getaway, priced at $85 per person, that includes one night's accommodation, plus breakfast and dinner. See the West Coast Wilderness Lodge Web site (www.wcwl .com/) for dozens of other deals. For more information, phone them (1-877-988-3838) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. -
Andrew Scott's latest book, Secret Coastline II: More Journeys & Discoveries Along BC's Shores, will be published in May by Whitecap Books. The writer can be contacted through www.andrew-scott.ca/.