Nature Unblemished

By Mary Anne Hajer

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"There is a calm tranquility, which stretches from the smooth surface of the reflecting water straight up into infinity. The deep calm of eternal silences is only disturbed by the muffled roar of throbbing waterfalls as they plunge down from sheer cliffs. There is no scenery in the world that can beat it. Not that Iíve seen the rest of the world. I don't need to. I've seen Princess Louisa Inlet."  -  Erle Stanley Gardner, "Log of a Landlubber"

Princess Louisa Inlet, considered by some to be the most beautiful place on earth, is nestled deep in B.C.'s coastal range and accessible only by water or air. Surrounded and protected by mountains as high as 2,100 metres, it is the premier destination on the coast for recreational boaters, as well as a major attraction for visitors from all over the world.

Time and effort, however, are needed to get there. Boats must first navigate 80 kilometres up the long and winding Jervis Inlet to Princess Louisa Inlet's narrow opening. There, unless equipped with engines powerful enough to handle the surging current, they must wait for slack water to safely navigate the Malibu Rapids that guard the entrance.

I first saw Princess Louisa Inlet in the summer of 2002. We were relatively new to boating, and this was the farthest we had travelled from our home base of Bridgeport (now River Rock) Marina on the North Arm of the Fraser River in Richmond. The previous day had been sunny and hot without a breath of wind, so we had motored up Jervis Inlet from Egmont in our sailboat, the Zephyr, taking close to five hours for the 60-kilometre trip.

We saw few other boaters on this leg of our journey, and even fewer signs of human habitation on shore. The area was much as Captain George Vancouver would have found it when he and his men rowed up the inlet in longboats in the summer of 1792, charting the shoreline in their search for the Northwest Passage. Like him, we passed between steep walls of granite, some as high as 2,500 metres, scarred with evidence of past avalanches and punctuated by numerous waterfalls. In places, forests of hemlock, cedar and Douglas fir clung precariously to the rocky slopes, in places reaching all the way down the mountainside to dip their lower branches daintily into the water.

It was mid-afternoon when we made the turn into Queen's Reach, the most inland section of Jervis Inlet, and too late that day for a slack tide during daylight hours. So, we dropped the hook at Patrick Point, a small anchorage off the western shore, and the same place Vancouver and his men spent the night over 200 years before. They had missed the entrance to Princess Louisa Inlet; the s-shaped curve of Malibu Rapids deceiving them into thinking the rapidly flowing water was simply another creek.

Frank and I spent the rest of that day alone in the wilderness. We basked in the sun, bathed in the clear water, ate our leisurely dinner in the cockpit surrounded by a million-dollar view, toasted the sunset and fell asleep listening to the gurgle of a nearby stream.

Early the next morning, we struggled out of our berths before dawn, pulled on our fleeces and made a thermos of coffee. We started our engine, hauled up the anchor and pointed the Zephyr's bow across the water to Malibu Rapids, adjusting our speed so we would arrive at the slack. Usually, a boat going through the rapids has to take its place in a line of at least half a dozen others but, at this early hour, we were the only ones heading in, although we met a few boats leaving.

Just as we entered the Inlet, the first rays of the rising sun appeared above the mountains in the east, bathing the opposite peaks in a sea of molten gold that, as the sun rose higher, flowed slowly down the tree-covered slopes to the still water below. Not a whisper of wind stirred the surface of the Inlet as its colour changed from black to indigo and, finally, to a clear cerulean blue, always mirroring the sky above. Thick forests covered the lower reaches of the surrounding mountains in heavy green blankets, torn in places by avalanches that left gashes of bare rock in their wake. Innumerable small waterfalls splashed into the Inlet, turning the salt water at their base a milky white.

When we reached the public dock at the head of the Inlet, our feeling of solitude in paradise vanished. The early departures had left space for us to tie up, and those already there were happy to catch our lines and help us manoeuvre into place.

The dock was crowded with pleasure boats of all kinds - luxury yachts and sleek, expensive sailboats shared the space with handyman's specials like the Zephyr. Some skippers had anchored their boats at the base of Chatterbox Falls, the largest of the Inlet's waterfalls and the focal point of the marine park.

Thousands come to the park every summer now, but just a few centuries ago, the only visitors were the Sechelt Indians, who used the Inlet as a seasonal campsite.

Then, in 1900, a German army deserter named Herman Caspar homesteaded the flat area at the mouth of the Inlet. According to the Sunshine Coast Museum Archives, he worked as a blacksmith for local loggers, performed songs he had composed on his zither and raised cats - 26 in all.

In 1940, Caspar sold his land to the aviation tycoon, Thomas Hamilton, who built the Malibu Club, a luxury resort designed to attract the rich and famous. Although initially successful, by 1950, it was no longer financially viable, and Hamilton abandoned the project.

In 1953, Jim Rayburn, founder of the non-denominational Christian society, Young Life, purchased the resort with the view to operate it as a summer camp. As such, Malibu continues to welcome young people today.

In 1927, James F. MacDonald (Mac) bought 45 acres at the head of the Inlet, built a beautiful log cabin and acted as unofficial host to visiting boaters. Feeling that such a magnificent place should belong to the public, in 1953, he deeded his property to the boaters of the Northwest, under the administration of the newly-formed Princess Louisa International Society.

In 1964, the area became a Class A Marine Park under the auspices of the B.C. Parks Department, although the Society still advises on its operation and raises funds to help with maintenance.

Since then, the park has expanded to include MacDonald Island and other small parcels of land. In 2001, the Society secured options to purchase the Inlet's remaining freehold land from Weyerhaeuser Co. Ltd. Canada and, in 2003, was able to purchase 2,221 acres of the land surrounding Mac's original holdings. Now, over 800 metres of trails and boardwalks allow visitors to safely explore the area at the base of Chatterbox Falls.

June is a particularly wonderful time to come to the park because, not only are the Falls at maximum volume due to the spring run-off, but many wildflowers are in bloom. Foam flowers, cinquefoil, bleeding heart and others entice amateur botanists into capturing their delicate beauty forever in a photograph. Winding paths lure walkers into the rainforest, where they marvel at the variety of mosses and lichens covering the rocks and trees and the many kinds of ferns growing in the shady, damp hollows.

Those looking for a challenge can hike to the Trapper's Cabin, a steep and often slippery climb that takes about four hours return. Even more adventurous trekkers can climb all the way up to the tree line, but this is an overnight journey and not for amateurs.

Today's visitors to Princess Louisa Inlet are not limited to those who have access to private boats. A quick search on the Internet will reveal many options available for non-boaters who wish to make the trip.

In the summer, sightseeing tours (approximately five to six hours in duration) leave frequently from Egmont and Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast. Passengers are transported in fast, sturdy boats that are powerful enough to run Malibu Rapids at any time of the day.

Kayakers paddle the whole length of Jervis Inlet, and then run the rapids into Princess Louisa Inlet with a view to setting up camp in the government-run campsites. One of these is located near the dock at Chatterbox Falls, the other on MacDonald Island, and both have tent sites, toilet facilities and access to fresh water. Other campers arrange with water taxis to be dropped off and picked up with their gear.

Regional airlines offer charter flights to the Inlet, giving passengers an unforgettable bird's eye view of mountaintops, glaciers and inland waterways. There are also "fly and float" options, travelling to Princess Louisa Inlet by boat and back by floatplane.

Visitors with a little more money to spend can board chartered sailboats that transport them there in luxury, sometimes taking up to a week for the return trip, visiting other places of interest on the way. Or, if they are experienced on the water, they can charter their own boat and set sail for the trip of a lifetime.



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