Friday, September 9, 2016

haida gwaii ~ islands of the people

If Haida Gwaii means nothing to you...maybe Queen Charlotte Islands rings a bell. 

The name of this group of some 150 islands off the north coast of British Columbia was officially changed in 2010...and literally means 'islands of the people'.

Those 'people' would be the Haida...who claim these islands as their ancestral home.  Today they make up almost half of the population of 4500 who call these islands home.

We decided to go and see for ourselves why Haida Gwaii was chosen last year as one of National Geographic's Top 20 places to see in the world.

On a beautiful and hot sunny day we set sail from the port of Prince Rupert.  Did you know that Prince Rupert has North America's deepest ice-free natural harbour?

It was rather like a summer cruise.  We could have stayed out on the deck for the entire six or seven hour crossing of the Hecate Straight.

We had been warned that this would be a 'trip to remember'.  

It was...but in a pleasant way!

Before we knew it, we were passing by islands of the Haida Gwaii archipelago...

...with the occasional cabin or dock along the shore.

Our destination was the dock at Skidegate.  We had arrived on Graham Island...where we would be spending the next four days.  

Restaurants are few and far between over there...and we knew we should have a bite to eat before checking into our 'bed and breakfast' accommodation.   The Crows Nest Cafe was the only eating place in the area...and it didn't look all that promising.  But it was perfect!  Great coffee, fresh baked goods and delicious sandwiches; we went back several times.

We stayed at the Haida House near the village of  Tlell.

It's a beautiful lodge that faces the Tlell River.

...a river with a large Coho salmon run.

It also backs onto the rugged ocean shores of the Hecate Strait. We checked in to our room...and then walked along the shore.

We were all alone out there.  Just the wind and the waves and the blowing sand.

The Haida House is right next to Naikoon Provincial Park...and a hike that leads to the Pesuta Shipwreck.

It was somewhat drizzly when we set out one morning on our four hour hike....along a lush forest trail.

The trail led upward and along a windswept ridge before dropping back down to he beach...and the shipwreck we had heard so much about.  The Pesuta was a 264 foot log barge that washed ashore in 1928 during a wicked storm. For almost a century hikers have been visiting what remains of the ship...and carving their initials into timbers of the bow.

It seemed we were the only ones on the trail that day...but when we arrived at the shipwreck we met two gals who had camped there overnight.

They were hiking the East Coast Trail...all 89 kms. of it!  The trail to the shipwreck and back was long enough for us! 

Graham Island has only one main road running the length of the island along the east coast.  It was a much better road than we expected!

We saw many of these tiny deer beside the road.

Old Massett...a Haida community on the north coast of the island...has the largest collection of totem poles.  We thought we might have lunch in Old Massett...but the gal at the 'cafe' said she did not know how to make soup and the owner was away that day.  She could make coffee though.

So we drove a few kilometers to Massett...Mile 0 of the Yellowhead Highway...and had lunch at the Mile 0 Dining Room.  It hit the spot.

Canadian Forces Station in Massett.  Here on the northern tip of Haida Gwai...Canada has a security and intelligence station.  Apparently the waters just off the shore (Dixon Entrance) are still disputed territory.  We'll let the powers that be decide that one...but it seems Telus thinks that they belong to the USA.  In fact...Telus thinks all of northern Haida Gwaii belongs to the USA...according to the messages I was getting on my iphone! 

From Massett...we carried on down gravel/dirt roads to Tow Hill.

Tow Hill is a hill of lava rock rising up from the low land all around. 

The trailhead was well marked...with steps on all the steep sections. 

Part of the way up...we had a great view of North Beach, where a few 4x4's were joy-riding.

The view from the top was great....for the first 30 seconds. We arrived at the top as the fog rolled in...and within one minute our view of the beach below was gone!

One day we did a 'circle tour of Graham Island.  Our first stop was Port Clements...on Massett Inlet.

What would one expect to see at the port but logs?

Logging trucks...coming, going and parked.  It seems there is still logging happening over there.

From Port Clements we took the gravel road south...and stopped  to visit 'The Golden Spruce'.  For years people traveled from far and wide to see this giant tree...a mutation of the sitka spruce which was totally gold in colour.  In 1997 a disgruntled ex-forestry worker chopped down the tree to make a political statement.

Though the tree is no longer's still a great hike! 

There are plenty of other trees!  And lots of amazing moss.

There it is...the tip of the downed golden spruce lying on the other side of the pond.

The pond is actually...the Yakoun River.  We left the golden spruce behind and carried on south on a forestry road.  For forty kilometers we drove through thick forests...

...past logged tracts and reforestation projects, and we never met another vehicle.  By this time we wished we had a decent map, since there were lots of side roads that looked like the main road!

Finally we met a forestry worker beside the road...who told us we must visit Yakoun Lake nearby.  It seemed like the perfect place to have our picnic lunch.

Thankfully...our rental truck was made for these roads!  We were glad we had left the motorhome behind in Prince Rupert.

After another hike through thick old growth forest...

...we arrived at Yakoun Lake.  Bliss.  When is one ever alone at a beautiful spot like that?  We sat on a log and enjoyed our lunch.  There were just a few anxious moments when we realized that most of the 'footprints' around us were 'bear prints'.  And we were there without bear spray...or a whistle.  It was lovely though...and a highlight of our time at Haida Gwaii. As we hiked back from the lake...we actually met two more hikers. And on the drive from Yakoun Lake south to Queen Charlotte village...we passed the occasional vehicle.  We were back in civilization!

Skidegate is a Haida village...home to some 720 people.

The Haida Heritage Center has a great collection of totem poles...five long houses...and a carving shed.  And lots of Haida hats...on display or for sale.

Haida hats were the head gear of choice on the islands...woven by the Haida women from strips of red cedar.

Also in Skidegate...the famous 'balance rock'.  It is both a mystery...and a 'silent dare'.  The Global BC News crew was in Haida Gwaii earlier this year...and tried unsuccessfully to topple it!

We left our calling card as well...though that would likely topple with the first wind!

We watched a BC ferry coming into the dock at Skidegate as we built our inukshuk.

This post is plenty long let me end with a Haida quote. 

Everyone I know that has been to Haida Gwaii was there for fishing or for work.  We just went 'to see'.  We saw a lot in four days and know why it was chosen as one of the 'top 20 places to visit'.
Thanks for joining me on this Haida Gwaii tour!


  1. Now that was fast! I just wished to read more of your adventures and pop - there was another post :)

    Wow! That was quite a trip. I think I would have been nervous about bears too. We don't have anything bigger than a coyote here on the Island.

  2. PS Was that disgruntled ex-forestry worker jailed? What a shame he cut that tree down!

    1. He met a worse fate than jail time! I'm just reading the book about the mysterious tree, it's demise and the passionate man who did the deed. It is called...The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed by John Vaillant.

  3. What a fascinating trip. So glad you could go and show us all the highlights!

  4. What a fabulous and interesting trip you were on Judy. Margaret and I enjoyed both posts of your travels to Haida Gwaii. Your photos are wonderful. Those ancient trees are magnificent!

  5. Wow Judy!! Great post... this has definitely made me want to visit there one day :)

  6. Definitely off the beaten path. You folks sure enjoy your adventures, which I, an unadventurous person, have benefited from. Not likely that I shall ever visit that location, but I feel as if I have been privileged to
    be along for the journey. Might have to have a stash of granola bars next time!

  7. Glad you enjoyed your time on Haida Gwaii. One of the most remote places to visit in BC. Our only grandkids live there so we visit Sandspit often.

  8. What a beautiful post! The excellent photos and your words simply paints such a perfect picture that it was almost like being there in person! Thank you!

  9. Wow!!!! What a unique and beautiful place to visit. You inspire me.

  10. I just maravel at the research you must do to be such a great tour guide! I loved the photos of the trees/logging trails, especially. That book you are reading about the disgruntled forestry worker sounds interesting.

  11. What a fantastic place to visit - on my list, for sure! Your photos are beautiful and you tell your adventures so well.

  12. Amazing, Amazing adventure! We were in prince Rupert last summer. Wish we had know about this hidden gem.

  13. This truly was a unique adventure. This vacation was definitely packed with excitement and wonder.
    I can imagine my anxiety about being the only ones on the trails and worrying about bears....but it looks like you were well protected and made many more memories.

  14. Looks like you started a trend. Prince William and Duchess Kate went there today.


'The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.'
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson