The adventure begins before you get to Sonora Resort. Before you even get near to Sonora Resort, actually. You see, there are no roads to this pristine wilderness destination, so your access is either by air (float plane or helicopter), or by sea. And unless you’re an orca whale, bald eagle or wild salmon, it’s highly unlikely you’d ever pass Sonora Island in a lifetime.
Tucked between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, Sonora Island is one of the Discovery Islands, off the town of Campbell River. This rugged archipelago is considered part of the Northern Gulf Islands, and most of the small islands have few, if any, human residents. The primary draws for this region, repeatedly referred to as one of the most beautiful and unspoiled places on Earth, is fishing and wildlife viewing, and both are rich in abundance. Though it’s only a quick (and breathtaking) 50 minute flight from Vancouver, or 75 minute water taxi ride from Campbell River, arriving here truly feels like you’ve landed worlds away. *See sidebar for travel details.
Sonora Island has been called the “jewel in the crown” of this western coastal island paradise, and is home to the luxurious Relais & Châteaux recognized Sonora Resort. The waterfront property has evolved greatly since its inception as a men’s fishing lodge, most significantly when billionaire Brandt Louie, fishing-fanatic and art-aficionado, took over the property in 2001. Mr. Louie, head of London Drugs and numerous other interests (including resort helicopter provider London Air), had a long-term vision to transform the simply appointed cottages to a sustainable and ecologically vibrant five star resort. Open from May through October, the resort still attracts fishing enthusiasts from around the world, but is now also fully equipped for welcoming families, couples and corporate retreats. Various accommodation options allow for groups of all sizes, from sumptuous suites for one or two, to entire lodge rentals. Of particular note is Sea Lion Pointe, Mr. Louie’s private residence when he visits (very often during the summer), and it’s on its own oceanfront peninsula. One of the largest BC art commissions floods the space, as does sunlight through oversized windows. Natural elements and decor are utilized everywhere, blurring the line between exterior and interior space. Four suites are contained here, as is every amenity imaginable for entertaining as well as peaceful solitude.
These high quality amenities are present everywhere on the property. Want to try your hand at fly-fishing? There’s a stocked trout lake, gear and expert guides ready to train you. Fancy a tennis match? Head over to the covered bubble, where you’ll find all the equipment you need, plus basketball and table tennis gear. Archery? Not a problem, pick your bow. Golf? You have your choice between outdoor on the putting green or inside with the latest virtual golf technology. If you need some down time, there’s the movie theatre, where you can select from hundreds of current and classic movies, and steaming bags of old fashioned popcorn is freshly made just for you. Or for real quiet time, block off a few hours to be pampered at the Island Currents Spa. Guests can meander through the Therapeutic Channel of mineral pools, showers and steams before a West Coast inspired relaxation massage. It’s hard to imagine wanting to leave the resort proper, but if you want to experience nature’s splendor, there is an extensive list of excursions the resort has arranged, from salmon fishing to sea kayaking and helicopter glacier tours. If you are a keen fisher, there are even workshops where you can learn how to fillet flounder. There really is something for everyone. “All you need to do is ask any one of our staff.” I heard this over and over again during my visit. It was clearly evident the highly trained and attentive staff was here to personally ensure guests’ every need was met, or they’d find someone who could.
Of course, as a wine professional I was very much interested in the food and beverage facilities on site. Within the first five minutes of my arrival on the docks, I knew I was in good hands. My bags were whisked away to my room, and I was seated in the great room of the Tyee Lodge, refreshing cocktail of choice in hand, and nibbling on local cheese and housemade crisps. Each guest received a personalized itinerary for his or her stay, and we were welcomed with a warm introduction by Sonora’s General Manager, Sean Ross, who gave us a brief overview of the resort, amenities and local wildlife (cougars and bears also habitat on Sonora Island).
Throughout the resort, the food and drinks were of the same high caliber-local, seasonal, freshly made (on-site whenever possible) and thoughtfully delicious. Executive Chef Terry Pichor is well known locally, both as a respected member of the local restaurant community, and from his guest posts in local media on his culinary travels. Four years at Sonora has imbued Chef Pichor with mastery of the local ingredients and suppliers, and his firsthand foraged knowledge along with lengthy classical experience makes the cuisine at once approachably comfortable and dramatically memorable. Menus change regularly-highlights when I visited included Pacific octopus, plancha-style, with puttanesca, charred fennel, green almonds and coriander; and 64 degree egg with house brioche, English peas, white asparagus and morel mushrooms. And possibly most impressive? All of your meals and snacks, house wines, liquor, beer, soda, juices and water are included in your accommodation price, making indulging in three course lunches and lazy breakfasts overlooking the dock all the more appealing and relaxing. Premium wines and spirits are available for an additional price, and run the gamut from boutique BC wineries to first growth Bordeaux. The experienced restaurant servers were happy to answer my wine questions and suggest pairing recommendations to each course, any hour of the day.
Though Sonora Resort may not be the easiest place to get to, it’s certainly one of the hardest to leave. I could have easily stayed a week and not taken in all that the property and surrounding wilderness had to offer. Even though I was raised and reside on Vancouver Island, and am in daily contact with the splendor of the Pacific Northwest, this is certainly one of the most spectacular and beautiful places I’ve visited. I’m already dreaming about my return visit. Archery anyone?
Getting to Sonora Resort
Though remote, the resort can be quickly reached from Vancouver via a scenic 50 minute helicopter or float plane flight. Resort staff can personally arrange all transportation when you book your reservation.
Sonora Resort’s sister company, London Air, offers helicopter transportation to Sonora Island from Vancouver. Float plane charters from Vancouver or Seattle can also easily be arranged through the resort.
Water taxis leave daily from Campbell River’s Discovery Harbour Marina.
Access & Rates:
Sonora Resort is open May to October annually. Room rates begin at $575 CDN per night per couple before transfers (includes food and libations).