A B&B in the wilds of Montana offers hospitality to wolves as well as humans, writes Rhys Davies.
Being woken up at 3am by the howls of a pack of hungry wolves would normally be a little disturbing. But at the Howlers Inn Bed and Breakfast, it's the highlight of the stay.
Howlers, just outside the Montana town of Bozeman, is the only place in North America where you can stay at a functioning wolf sanctuary.
The B&B is owned and operated by Chris and Mary-Martha who live on site with their two daughters, caring for guests ... and for the eight wolves that live as two separate packs in a 2ha sanctuary next to the main house. Our room looked directly out over the enclosure and, every so often, one of the wolves would come by to give us a somewhat disdainful look.
A walk around the perimeter of the sanctuary is the perfect way to enjoy the stillness and serenity of the location. Standing in the crisp, late-autumn air and watching the sun set over the distant mountains made for a moment of unmatched natural beauty.
We were invited down to watch the wolves being served their dinner. Chris donned a protective jumpsuit and entered the sanctuary to feed the packs what looked like two wheelbarrows' worth of premium dog biscuits.
Most of the wolves have grown up in the sanctuary, so treat Chris and Mary-Martha as their parents, jumping around and licking them. The protective gear is necessary, though, as a love nip from even a young wolf could do some damage.
As the wolves ate, we were allowed to give them a stroke from the other side of the fence. Comanche, the alpha male of the larger pack, turned and gave me a quick sniff and lick. Once we had met with their leader's approval, a few of the other wolves trotted over to say hi.
From a distance, a wolf can look like a big dog, but up close the difference is clear. The muscular upper body, huge claws and glowing yellow eyes make for one intimidating canine. Their fur is remarkably thick and so warm that a wolf can sleep quite comfortably covered in snow.
We headed into Bozeman for our own dinner at the Montana Ale Works, which serves traditional Montana favourites like gourmet elk burgers and a selection of local brews.
Bozeman is a university town ringed by several massive mountain ranges. Locals are quiet and very friendly. The interesting mixture of Native American and cowboy history in the area makes for some really nice arts and crafts, and the food is great.
At breakfast the next morning, we sipped our coffee and watched Comanche shake the icicles off his fur, then stroll up to the window to give us his best puppy-dog eyes. Obviously he wanted to get in on the scrumptious German apple pancakes made by Mary-Martha.
Those yellow eyes were very appealing. But having watched him idly seize and consume a bird the previous afternoon, I decided he didn't really need any of my apple pancake. After all, he is a wild carnivore.
Getting there: Air New Zealand has daily flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Domestic flights depart from both airports to Bozeman.
Getting around: Rental cars are very reasonably priced in Montana as it is one of just four states in the US with no sales tax.
Where to stay: Howlers Inn Bed & Breakfast and Wolf Sanctuary is in Bridger Canyon, Bozeman.
What to do: If you're looking for world-class hiking and fly-fishing, visit during summer/autumn from late June through early October. This is also the best time to visit nearby Yellowstone National Park. If you prefer dog sledding and skiing, December until May is best.
Rhys Davies made his own way around Montana.