by Annette Lucido

A system of lakes in the British Columbia interior, with several arms and channels, spreads its tentacles like an octopus among the Shuswap Highlands, where the desert-like terrain of the Kamloops area gives way to the verdant forests of interior mountain ranges. The Shuswap Lakes, with more than 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) of shoreline, offer an infinite variety of recreational opportunity and the guarantee of one of the most relaxing vacations possible. Once you are on the lakes, the pace of life suddenly changes.

Whoever says you can't take all the comforts of home with you on fishing trips into the wilderness has not rented a houseboat on the Shuswap Lakes which, because of this unique setting, have gained the title of "houseboat capital of Canada". Here you can travel for days and days, exploring the snug and tucked away channels of the lakes on houseboats equipped to sleep anywhere from six to 10 people, with fridge, freezer, stove, oven, dual sinks, shower, head with flush toilet, AM\FM and cassette stereo, gas barbecue and, in some cases, even a water slide from the top of the boat.

If you find a spot that's just right, stop for a few nights. It's as luxurious as a rented cottage or motel room but you get to pick in which part of a magic wilderness your cottage will be located that night. And a delicious supper is likely swimming around your houseboat waiting to grab your line.

Fishing in these lakes - for kokanee, lake trout, Dolly Varden and, most prized of all, rainbow trout - has attracted people for centuries. It's very easy, when water temperatures run around 70 degrees, to "troll" on the go with small plugs or spoons. You can troll or jig deep for kokanee and other species. Live stream inlets and shoreline cover hold fish as well.

Bring along a canoe or small skiff and you can head out early or late in the day to cast for rising trout. All of this just a short distance from hot coffee and a warm cabin means you can extend your season early and later in the year too.

There is much to explore here also - evidence of ancient pit-house winter dwellings of the Shuswap Indians long ago, pictographs painted on cliff faces, or the nearby Adams River where millions of salmon crowd to spawn after a miraculous marathon journey up the Fraser and Thompson rivers from the Pacific Ocean. There are miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, scenic lookouts and cliffs from which the more daring visitors can dive into the lake.

On the east end of the lake system, highlands give way to mountains visible in the distance, the Monashee Range, with dense forest to the water's edge. On the west end, the terrain changes to desert-like highland plateau. Much of the shoreline is inaccessible to vehicles so when you beach your houseboat, it's just you, the lakes, the trees and the abundant wildlife to share a magnificent Shuswap sunset. At other points, there are restaurants along the shore where you can pull in to share supper with other houseboaters and `land-lubbers'. You can stay in touch with civilization at Salmon Arm, right on the lake, or leave it behind to anchor at one of the many provincial parks located throughout the lakes where camping and trails are the preserve of those with boats. 

There are several companies that rent houseboats on the Shuswap Lakes. They are headquartered primarily in Sicamous and Salmon Arm. Boats are generally rented by the week in the high season - mid-July to mid-August - and can be rented for mid-week periods or weekends in the shoulder seasons in spring and fall.

If you want to go in complete luxury, a houseboat of the executive type sleeping 10 can cost you $1,500 or so for a week in peak season, 20 per cent less in the shoulder season. However, smaller boats which sleep four can be rented for the week for half that price in the high season and little more than a third in the shoulder season. The nice part about these boats is that you normally have nothing to bring but your  food and clothing (though some operators ask you to supply your own bedding).

Of course, if you own a small craft of your own, and understand aquatic camping you can enjoy the lake at a fraction of the cost.

Shuswap houseboating offers a unique, relaxing, family vacation experience, a floating holiday cruising the sparkling waters of a recreational paradise, in a fully-equipped home away from home.