18 MAR 2019: Maple Leaf Adventures, a Canadian-owned enterprise, has morphed into a boutique eco-tourism initiative that leads guests to uncharted territories for award-winning bespoke wilderness encounters. High experience tourism is pegged as one of the fastest growing sectors in cruising. As one cruise insider notes, Canada's fabled Pacific Coast is ready for mindful exploration.

In Toronto recently to discuss the emerging destination, Travel Industry Today had a chance to sit down with Maureen Gordon, marketing manager and co-owner of Maple Leaf Adventures, to discuss the company’s initiative.

“We have one of the last remaining tracts of coastal temperate rainforests in the world where there are big enough water systems and ecosystems for large animals like grizzly bears to survive and thrive,” said Maureen, adding that for a long time, Canadians took the precious ecosystem for granted.

In the past three decades the return of baleen whales in the Great Bear Rainforest can be attributed to the coastal conservation efforts. “Now there are enough whales that have come back to this critical habitat.”

Passengers on an adventure cruise can see whales dive down and blow bubbles that rise up, trapping schools of fish. All the while other whales come by with their mouths open.

In 2001, Maple Leaf Adventures was among five other businesses that established the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC. “We stopped the trophy bear hunt in BC,” she adds. Her husband Kevin Smith, the CEO and co-owner of Maple Leaf Adventures previously worked as a marine and backcountry park ranger for various BC Parks.

The bear viewing experience is possible by maintaining the ecosystem for the protection of grizzly bears.

This is home to one of the last remaining tracts on earth with incredible biomass. “More stuff grows here than in a tropical rainforest,” she says.

Geography The 44,000 km of coastline includes islands and fjords. “It's 360 degree views surrounded by the world around you,” says Maureen, describing the vantage point on board their flagship (tall ship), the Maple Leaf for which the company is named.

The Cruise Locations

The cruise itineraries encompass Alaska and six coastal regions in Canada such as the Broughton Archipelago, Desolation Sound, the Haida Gwaii, and the newest, the Wild Side of the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Cruise lengths vary but average around 1-week of coastal adventures.

Awards and Recognition

Treks like the above have received recognition by National Geographic, which rated them as one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.” Destination Canada (previously known as the Canadian Tourism Commission) has selected their Haida Gwaii program as a Canadian Signature Experience, a curated collection that represents the country's finest travel excursions.

The Magic of Whales and Brown Bears

Gordon says the company collaborates with researchers to provide more meaningful eco-encounters. For instance, in Alaska they work with the Alaska Whale Foundation.

Few tour operators are permitted to tread on Alaska's Pack Creek Bear Sanctuary on the northeast corner of Admiralty Island. Maple Leaf Adventures has “been given permission to bring our guests largely because of our ecotourism principals,” she explains.

The bear viewing distance is safe and guests are outfitted in gear that will not damage the ecosystem.

The Magic of The Great Bear Rainforest

The Great Bear Rainforest is where the earliest human footprints in North America have been discovered.

“There are stories about that place which suggests they have been there a lot longer than 13,000 years,” Gordon says of the fossilized human footprints scientists located on a beach on remote Calvert Island.

The Maple Leaf Adventures Difference

By night the small ship, (one of three), anchors in a secluded bay in the same waters the big Alaska cruisers sail. “Shore trips in the morning, shore trips in the afternoon at another place maybe a beach or a hot spring,” she says, describing an itinerary that is as fluid as the sea it sails.

Clients arrive at remote cruise ports usually via a 30-seater aircraft to places like Bella Bella, Masset in BC or Sitka, Alaska.

Packing lists are provided.

Select from ships: the Maple Leaf, the Swell and the new Cascadia.

Consult with Maple Leaf Adventures on commissions, yacht charters and brochures

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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