Tess Nichol is all the richer for spotting a humpback whale and witnessing swooping bald eagles at an exclusive resort in British Columbia.

I'm relaxing in an outdoor mineral hot tub, preparing my body for a massage while looking out across some of Canada's most stunning terrain when it hits me — my life is probably never going to get better than this.

The harsh realisation there are zero private islands, no free minibars and a complete lack of helicopter rides in my boring everyday life is starting to make me sad. Suddenly, out the corner of my eye, I see something rustling, which diverts my attention.

Two deer! Having a nibble on a bush at the edge of the outdoor pools. Cute!

And, just like that, I'm happy again.


It's hard to feel down for long at Sonora Resort, a private island resort for the wealthy and fabulous, one of the outer islands of the Discovery Islands of British Columbia.

It's accessible only by float plane or helicopter and its two private villas can cost upwards of C$10,000 in the high season. A single room starts at C$560 a night and that doesn't include the thousands you'll spend airlifting yourself to the destination in the first place.

So, unless you're likely to be cast in an upcoming series of the Real Housewives of Auckland, Sonora is a bit of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But what an experience it is.

Included in the price is a minibar, as well as all other drinks and meals. You can take those meals sitting on a deck overlooking neighbouring islands, swirling ocean currents and bald eagles swooping on their prey while seals sunbathe on a nearby rock.

The rooms offer the same views, plus a pair of binoculars to zoom in on the amazing array of wildlife.

A seasoned travel writer in our group sums up her feelings: "There's not too many hotel-room views that make me say 'holy shit' anymore."

Sonora is the perfect destination for a really, really special occasion.

There's a variety of things to do, many of them incorporate exploring the great outdoors. A sports centre with a tennis court which doubles for basketball and a gym means fitness buffs don't have to skip leg day.


For those wanting a slower pace, a gorgeous conservatory filled with couches and plants offers the perfect reading nook.

Pools, saunas and a fully-equipped day spa are also on site for days of pampering.

The resort's spa swears by the Swiss hydrotherapy technique, where you switch between warm, hot and cold mineral baths to prime your body for a relaxing massage.

Wrapped in a luxuriously soft robe, you make your way upstairs to the massage room, where you soak your feet and sip herbal tea overlooking the mountains before the massage begins.

My hour-long massage sends me to sleep as the masseuse expertly detangles the knots in my shoulder blades formed after hours spent hunching over a computer.

Sonora Resort in British Columbia. Photo / Darren Bernaerdt
Sonora Resort in British Columbia. Photo / Darren Bernaerdt

I head to the spa's deck and relax in a sun lounger, napping and breathing in the island's fresh air.

Hikes to a lake further inland are also recommended, and over breakfast I overhear other guests saying they saw a bear during their morning walk.

Despite desperately wanting to see one, I am not so lucky, but the no-show bear is made up for during our Adventure Eco-Tour around the Discovery Islands. A humpback whale has made the area its home for the past few days, our Zodiac boat guide tells us, and our first port of call is to find it.

Scanning the waters one of our group spots the telltale sign of shooting water — the whale is coming up for air a couple of hundred metres away from us. It's a truly incredible animal to witness up close, but even the whale can't compare with the bald eagles we jet over to next.

I've always thought of bald eagles as symbolic rather than actual animals, but here they are in their hundreds, swooping for fish and perching in trees lining the craggy edges of the islands. I train my binoculars on one as it dives down and see it claw a fish from the water, toss it into the air and eat it mid-flight. It's a magical sight and it feels good to be reminded of how incredible nature can be.

Dinner that evening is a reminder of how delicious nature can be. A three-course chef's seasonal menu features pork, scallops and endless rounds of British Columbia bubbles.

Tess Nichol about to board a helicopter to reach the private island resort. Photo / Sophia Cheng
Tess Nichol about to board a helicopter to reach the private island resort. Photo / Sophia Cheng

Our waiter, Michael, is exactly the kind of host a group of tipsy writers want — slightly cheeky, very knowledgeable, and extremely chatty.

In fact, I feel so fond of him by the time we leave that I misjudge our closeness and go in for the goodbye hug, catching him by surprise. Luckily our private float plane is waiting to take us away from the island and this awkward situation.

If I ever get the chance to go back I'll make sure to buy Michael a beer to make up for it. As if I even needed a reason to return.

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Vancouver.

Staying there: Sonora Resort is on Sonora Island in British Columbia, Canada.

Further information: See hellobc.com