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A restored ferry route will whisk passengers from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest.

The Northern Sea Wolf arrived at the Port Hardy ferry terminal Monday night, completing its inaugural 10-hour voyage from Bella Coola.

"We had a whale and it breached for us, and we had dolphins and lots of friendly staff," said passenger Carol Pounder, among the first to test out the refurbished vessel.

The Northern Sea Wolf will shuttle a maximum of 150 passengers and crew members and about 35 vehicles between Port Hardy and Bella Coola, a gateway to B.C.'s pristine Great Bear Rainforest.

It will also make commuter runs to other locations on B.C.'s Central Coast and is expected to be a draw for tourists.

"This is an opportunity to do more of the Central Coast. There's some beautiful towns and places up there to visit," said Elizabeth Aman-Hume, executive director of the Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce. "Certainly the wildlife you're going to see, the marine life."

The North Island communities of Port Hardy and Port McNeill are also looking forward to the increased tourism.

"We're already seeing visitors coming to this area that have reservations," said Rick Restell, manager of visitor service for Port McNeill.

He said one family even came to the town a week in advance of their reservation on the Northern Sea Wolf.

BC Ferries has provided direct service from Port Hardy to Bella Coola before, but the route was cancelled by the then-BC Liberal government in 2013.

The vessel, built in Greece in 2000, has been modernized with a new galley and bridge, upgraded washrooms, an elevator and a new cafeteria and passenger lounge. An outdoor seating area will also be open to passengers who want to see breathtaking views of B.C.'s coast.

It also boasts a sea wolf logo on the bow and interior art designed by First Nations artist Richard Hunt.

"To have my work displayed up in the north coast, to show our culture, it's important to me," said Hunt. "This is where I come from and I thought it would be an honour to have my work displayed on this so my family can see it."

Non-stop voyages to Bella Coola will depart two to three times a week starting Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. BC Ferries strongly advises making reservations.

The seasonal route will run through Oct. 10, 2019.