The largely unspoken truth about luxury travel is that the further you go up the food chain, the less likely you are to experience genuine surprise. The high-end brands make their hay by ensuring that every whim that might occur to you—from a bespoke room fragrance to a mini-bar stocked with your favourite single malt—is anticipated such that you spend one day to the next having your needs met before you know you even have them. They have assembled the perfect building blocks for a respite from everyday decision-making—one that helps recharge the batteries magnificently—but if there’s an Achilles’ heel to such hedonism, it exists in the memories department. Who comes home from their trip with a story about how the wine was every bit as good as they’d hoped?

Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge 8Jeremy Koreski

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I’m thinking about the post-vacation stories I might tell as I crane my neck to look into the open cockpit of the Twin Otter that is transporting me straight over the hump of Vancouver Island to the isolated idyll that is Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge. 7,500 feet. That’s what the scarily imprecise altimeter was reading by the time we were just 10 minutes past Parksville. Out here on the coast, we’ve become used to the quirkiness of the ancient de Havillands that routinely jump us over to Victoria or the Gulf Islands. But what seem like small quirks at 1,000 feet over the well-travelled Georgia Strait—doorlatches that don’t quite seal, a liberal use of duct tape, an age that ranks a full four decades older than any car I’d consider driving on a highway—somehow grow in size with each additional turn of the dial. And by the time you get to 7,500 feet, when civilization is a full mile and a half below you, you start to really pick up on the fact that the pilot is wearing shorts.

All of which is to say: I’m 20 minutes into my trip and I already have my first story.

Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge 10The digs at CWL skew toward Ralph Lauren’s idea of the outdoors: equal parts rugged and luxurious. Photo: Jeremy Koreski

If there’s one resort in B.C. that has a reputation people will brave spirited travel for, it’s Clayoquot. The late founder, Richard Genovese, had a vision for the former logging outpost (which, allegedly, got its earliest start as a rough-and-tumble settlement called Bear Town): he believed it was the perfect location for a resort that joined the wild-edge luxury of an African safari with the rugged isolation of the far West Coast.

Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge 5Jeremy Koreski

By all accounts, it was a labour of love—emphasis on both, if that’s possible. Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, as it was called then, became famous the world over for its ability to capture a rare slice of seemingly untouched nature that even the most remote safaris in Africa struggle to achieve, and the fact that you don’t have to fly 14 hours and eight time zones to experience it made the resort a magnet for North America’s rich and famous. Genovese was able to strike that perfect balance between roughing it (read: tents) and not roughing it at all (read: heated floors on the ensuites attached to said tents).

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Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge 7Jeremy Koreski

The resort had become so interconnected with its founder that when Genovese passed away in 2017, there were real questions about how it might continue... and while those were being sorted out, COVID arrived. For a place any less special the two hits would have been a death knell; but, on the other side of the globe, there were some like-minded travellers who knew just how rare it is to find a place that is truly unique.

Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge 11Jeremy Koreski

Australia’s James and Hayley Baillie burst onto the global travel scene in 2008 with the opening of Southern Ocean Lodge, a luxe uber-remote outpost on their home country’s isolated Kangaroo Island. It seemed to hit the zeitgeist like no other spot, emphasizing a sense of place above all else—a luxury of experience rather than indulgence. The duo added several more utterly unique lodges across Australia in the following years and, by the time 2019 rolled around, they were looking to expand outside their borders. Clayoquot, one of the few truly independent high-end resorts, seemed a perfect fit.

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Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge 3Jeremy Koreski

Repeat visitors to the lodge might be hard-pressed to notice any changes (even former GM Sarah Cruse was lured back by the Baillies after a three-year stint in Colorado). It has become Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge, not Resort. There are a few subtle updates to the tents (the blanket and linens game has improved nicely) and a new bar has been added, but for the most part the only obvious nod to Oz comes when new head chef Asher Blackford speaks to a sous in a gravelly voice that could be described as “what if Russell Crowe ate a bucket of nails.” (The resort has always sought out great chefs, but the addition of Blackford, who was chef at Southern Ocean Lodge, is a major step up.)

Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge 9Jeremy Koreski

What hasn’t changed is the ability of this place to manufacture stories like they were widgets. My story #1 is followed five minutes later by story #2, when our Twin Otter dramatically dives down into the verdant Bedwell Valley before banking hard to land at the resort’s footprint at the head of Bedwell Inlet. There, a team of horses is standing ready to transport passengers and gear to our rooms. From there, the stories start to present themselves so quickly that I worry there will be too many to properly convey to anyone—forcing me to become the modern equivalent of the host holding guests captive in a dark living room while slides of a trip to Niagara Falls whir by on the wall.

Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge 2Jeremy Koreski

But memory #8 turns out to be a keeper (I’ll save 3-7 for another time). It happens on Day 2 and, like most great memories, it takes you by surprise. It starts with a guide asking if you’ve ever considered canyoning (most days feature a morning or afternoon option), then explaining what canyoning is. You demur repeatedly until the guide more or less begs you to give it a shot, and next thing you know, you’re pulling on a wetsuit and heading up an old logging road that follows the rushing Bedwell River. It’s the suggestion that you hop on a paddleboard in said freezing cold river that really gives you pause; then, after a few hundred metres of surprisingly easy paddling, you get a bigger moment of hesitation when your guide tells you to jump into an eddy near the bank. But everyone is doing it, and so you do too—and, after a split second of cold shock, equilibrium returns and you and your crew start hiking and swimming upriver, oblivious to the freezing water and enamoured of your rough-and-ready surroundings. In about a half hour you’re at your goal—the base of a waterfall dropping into a huge, slowly churning pool that, as a look under the water with a snorkelling mask shows, is full of spawning salmon. I mean, c’mon. Every single person here is now an immediate canyoning acolyte.

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While you’re more than welcome to simply chill out in the fancy digs, most visitors take part in the twice-daily excursions to whale watch, saddle up or enjoy a solo paddle. Photo: Jeremy Koreski.

The rest of the vacation plays out with similar stories popping up regularly. A solitary paddle through the estuary, a hike to see some rare stands of old-growth Sitka fir, having Blackford cook a fish for your group that you and he plucked out of Bedwell Sound not 60 minutes previous (while a pod of resident orcas ambled by your Grady-White fishing boat). It’s verging on an embarrassment of riches, but coming at the end of 18 months of grey lockdowns and bad news, it seems like the perfect tonic: an isolated outpost in the heart of a biosphere—one that’s in your own backyard but feels as exotic as the Serengeti—where you can eat like you’re in Paris and adventure like you’re in Patagonia.

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