Big bears, big trees beckon you
Haida Gwaii is off the beaten track and that's a good thing
August 1, 2022 | View PDF
To get a taste of how lush Haida Gwaii in British Columbia is, once called Queen Charlotte Islands, think back on that Alaska Marine Highway ferry ride to Bellingham or Prince Rupert.
Sailing past the village of Bella Bella through a tight narrows on the Inside Passage, it's as if you could spread your arms and touch both shores. The almost primordial growth of cedars and firs, ferns and devil's club crowd right to the waterline, making access into the forest very difficult, but a beautiful sight.
There are 1,884 islands in the archipelago with snow-top mountains and deep fiords, mist-shrouded forests and sandy beaches. The seven largest of the islands are Langara, Graham, Moresby, Louise, Lyell, Burnaby and Kunghit Island. Looking like peaks of a submerged mountain chain, the tallest are capped in snow all seasons.
A mere population of 6,000 people live here.
Home of the Haida
The Queen Charlotte Islands were officially renamed Haida Gwaii in December 2009 as part of a historic reconciliation agreement between the Haida Nation and the province of British Columbia. The name Haida Gwaii translates as "islands of the people" in the Haida language. An older name calls it Xhaaidlagha Gwaayaai – Islands at the Boundary of the World.
Called the Galapogos of the North for its incredibly diverse plant and animal life, it has the largest-sized black bears in the world, which the Haida call Taan, or "Brother of Man." If you've ever seen a skinned bear it does look just like a human. For an interactive map of the British Columbia First Peoples regions and languages see https://maps.fpcc.ca/.
Also, see an orientation for visitors to Haida Gwaii at https://haidagwaiipledge.ca/. Note that only fully vaccinated visitors are allowed.
National Parks and Preserves
These two parks are for the very adventurous and physically robust.
Naikoon Provincial Park on northeastern Graham Island is the ancestral home of the Gwak'rala'chala people, one of the many tribes that form the Native group Haida. It is a popular destination for adventurous campers because of its seclusion. For more information go to https://bcparks.ca/explore/parkpgs/naikoon/.
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area
Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site is also quite isolated with no road access, stores, cell phone coverage and little signage. It is a true wilderness experience.
You must register in order to visit. Go to https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/bc/gwaiihaanas/visit for information on registering and guiding outfits for hire. You may also do an independent visit.
Less strenuous activities
Visit the Xaaydas Giinaa.ah Naay Haida Heritage Centre and Saahlinda Naay Haida Gwaii Museum at Kay Llnagaay that are wheelchair accessible. Although the inside of the Centre is fully accessible, the outside area where the monumental pole tours are conducted has problems due to the uneven ground. In the summer, tours at the Centre include the monumental pole, Gyaa K'id Naay carving house, Haida canoe and weaving tours.
The Haida Heritage Centre is a two-minute drive or a 10-minute walk from Skidegate Landing. See https://haidaheritagecentre.com/.
SGaanuwee Supernatural Beings inhabit all of Haida Gwaii. A half-hour drive east from Masset is Taaw Tldáaw Tow Hill at the north shore of Graham Island.
Drive the well-maintained gravel road through old-growth forests, then follow a boardwalk to
Taaw's foot. With a flooding tide and strong swell, Kwahtsiisda the Blow Hole throws sea spray high into the air.
On the eastern bank of the Hl'yaalan Gandlee Hiellen river is Hl'yaalan 'Llnagee Hiellen village, one of the villages where it is said the SGaanuwee live. There are numerous cabins and campsites in the area, plus gift shops and a coffee bus.
For more accessible activities go to https://gohaidagwaii.ca/accessibility/.
Where to stay, how to get there
Here's a list of places to stay, ranging from small and simple to classic rustic lodges: https://gohaidagwaii.ca/accommodations/. Remember, as of late July, the exchange rate makes the dollar go further in Canada with the dollar worth 30 cents more.
Take the Alaska Marine Highway to Prince Rupert and from there a ferry to Skidegate on Graham Island. The ferry from Prince Rupert takes about seven hours to cross Hecate Strait. Once at Skidegate Landing, take a second BC Ferry to Alliford Bay on Moresby Island, about a 20-minute voyage. Sandspit is a 15-kilometer drive east from this ferry terminal. Go to https://www.bcferries.com/routes-fares/schedules?redir=301 for more information.
The only flights available are from Vancouver, but they are pricy at over $1,000.
Really, ferry travel is the way to go. You're retired-what's the rush? Enjoy the scenery.