As the son of a pilot, I learned early the thrill of soaring into the wild blue in a private plane. But my father's two-seater Grumman was a far cry from the sleek Cessna Caravan Amphibian floatplane that awaited me one morning at VIH Execujet, the private aviation company located alongside Victoria Airport in British Columbia.
Upon arrival in Victoria, VIH passengers embark upon a breathtaking 90-minute floatplane flight over the extraordinary landscape of western British Columbia. Cocktails and in-flight catering were followed by an offer to sit in the cockpit as the Cessna glided through the Broughton Archipelago and prepared for a water landing at the Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort in the 21 million-acre Great Bear Rainforest.
Started by a family raised in a float house with no electricity, the Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort has evolved over the past 35 years into one of North America's premier wilderness lodges. Guests are housed in nine waterside cabins or woodland chalets connected to the main lodge by floating docks. A helipad serves guests who come to Nimmo Bay for heli-fishing or heli-hiking adventures that traverse 50,000 square miles of wilderness.
Apart from orca-watching and grizzly bear adventures, daily itineraries at Nimmo Bay are tailor-made for every guest's bucket list and might include kayaking, hiking, glacier tours, paddleboarding and saltwater salmon fishing.
A member of the Magnificent 7 collection of luxury wilderness lodges of Canada, Nimmo Bay pampers its guests with a Pacific Northwest menu of foraged plants and local seafood such as wild salmon, spot prawns, albacore tuna and Dungeness crab, all supplemented by a bountiful kitchen garden.
The Fairmont Empress has partnered with Nimmo Bay for exclusive luxury adventure packages. One of the thrills of flying VIH Execujet is the flawless water landing at Victoria's Inner Harbour Airport, which is used solely for floatplanes and seaplanes. Passengers disembark virtually at the feet of the Empress, the majestic chateau-style hotel that crowns a verdant knoll overlooking the water.
The Fairmont Empress in Victoria, British Columbia, welcomed King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939.
Built in 1908 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Empress has retained its grandeur, with generations of guests cherishing the civility of tea at the Empress. Pomp and protocol has been a hallmark of the hotel since the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939, and the hallways are wide enough for two women in ballgowns to pass without their silk rustling.
The Empress' recent $60 million restoration was dubbed "Return of the Queen" in honor of Queen Victoria, the Empress of India. Fairmont Gold guests have access to a hotel-within-a-hotel experience with private check-in and a superlative lounge and terrace overlooking Inner Harbour. All 464 guestrooms at the Empress have been refreshed in a palette of jewel tones, including royal purple, and the commodious suites retain original marble fireplaces and period furnishings reflective of imperial visits.
At Q Bar, the classic 1908 cocktail celebrates the Empress with a mauve elixir infused with butterfly pea blossom. Dinner at Q at the Empress is equally intoxicating, thanks to partnerships with local farmers and fishermen and a focus on Pacific Northwest cuisine, such as Pacific geoduck ceviche and honey from the Empress' garden apiary, which yields close to 1,500 pounds annually.
For another perspective on the beauty of Vancouver Island, Oak Bay on the island's eastern shore evokes a classic seaside getaway with its maritime charm and tree-lined avenues. The waterfront Boathouse Spa & Baths at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel features three heated, outdoor mineral baths at the edge of the Salish Sea with views of snowcapped Mount Baker in the distance. A therapeutic oasis, the manor house hotel is a veritable wellness retreat with an exemplary restaurant and a neighborhood pub that dates to 1954.
Daily rates at Nimmo Bay start at $1,995 per person for Wilderness and Wildlife adventures, which are offered in packages of three, four and seven days. Rates start at $240 at the Fairmont Empress and $190 at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel.