Hallo Bay guide wins international award

A lot of miles separate London from the remote stretch of beach known as Hallo Bay in Katmai National Park. Brown bear guide Simyra Taback-Hlebechuk of Hallo Bay Bear Camp has bridged that gap and then some.

As proof, at an Oct. 4 awards ceremony of the Royal Geographic Society in London, Taback-Hlebechuk, who also serves on the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council’s board of directors, received the silver 2012 Wanderlust World Guide award. 

“Simyra is an unparalleled outdoorswoman and guide who treats everyone the same — like royalty,” said the judges in a press release announcing the award. “When a veteran Planet Earth cameraman calls her an exemplar (charming, polite, knowledgeable and accommodating) you know you’ve found someone very special indeed. Her professionalism shines through and she’s highly respected on the Kenai Peninsula, sitting on the board of its tourism body.”

The judges’ comments were backed by a flood of support from the readers of Wanderlust, an adventure and travel magazine launched in the United Kingdom in 1993. Since 2005, it has held the Wanderlust World Guide Awards in honor of the magazine’s co-founder Paul Morris. Award judges include Bill Bryson, Michael Palin, Kate Humble and Mark Carwardine. 

Among the many comments submitted by readers:

n “Simyra protects a unique sanctuary from a mass of tourists.”

n “If you love nature and you love Alaska, Simyra is the guide you want with you.”

n “She understands the role of humans in a pristine wild environment as well as the impact we can have unintentionally.”

The World Guide gold award went to Luca Alfatti, a driver for the overland adventure company Dragoman; bronze awards went to Nyi Nyi “Frankie” Naing of GoldenTravel/Panoramic Journeys and Bhupendra Sharma of G Adventures.

With Taback-Hlebechuk in London was Sara Leibold, also of Hallo Bay, while husband Clint Hlebechuk held down the fort in Homer.

“I am very happy that my Simyra was recognized for her outstanding efforts to preserve and protect the natural order of the wildlife she guides people to view and the pristine wilderness habitat she is entrusted with,” said Hlebechuk.

The silver World Guide Award is only one example of the attention the efforts of Taback-Hlebechuk, who will return to Homer from London on Saturday, has drawn to the bear camp, the Kenai Peninsula and Alaska.

“She got a letter from the queen and Prince Charles, and from the Canadian premier reminding her she is also a Canadian, that she has dual citizenship,” said Hlebechuk of correspondence received from Queen Elizabeth II, her son Prince Charles and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

In Homer, Hlebechuk has received an increased number of inquiries about Hallo Bay Bear Camp since the award was announced. Press coverage of the awards, including representatives of The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Travel and several other travel publications doing pieces on Alaska and Taback-Hlebechuk, have helped spread the word.

“I never thought it was such a big deal until all of a sudden it’s just unloaded,” Hlebechuk said of phone calls he’s received. “They’re also asking about Homer and the Kenai Peninsula. We try to steer them to the entire Kenai Peninsula where you can use up 10-12 days real easy.”

Before returning to Homer, Taback-Hlebechuk is making the most of her time in England.

“The press coverage over there is unbelievable. She said she could just not believe it,” Hlebechuk said of reaction to the award announcement. 

Taback-Hlebechuk and Leibold also are taking time to do some touring of their own. 

“On (Friday) after the last news media thing, she and (Leibold) went to Bristol, touring the ‘Hollywood’ of the U.K.,” said Hlebechuk. 

While there, the two were guests in the studios of Emmy-award winning cinematographer Gavin Thurston, where Disneynature’s 2014 motion picture “Bears” is being produced. The movie was filmed at Hallo Bay. It is due to be released in the spring.

• For more about Hallo Bay Bear Camp, visit www.hallobay.com.

• For more about “Bears,” visit www.stitchkingdom.com/disney-bears-disneynature-relased-spring-2014-22289/.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.