They lie on the edge of the province’s collective memory like a dream
scarce remembered; mythical and elusive, full of meaning and great
beauty, yet incomprehensible to the waking mind. Impossible not to
marvel at, and revel in, this is Haida Gwaii, the former Queen Charlotte
Islands of British Columbia, arguably one of the most beautiful and
diverse landscapes in the world. The islands are the ancestral home
of the Haida - the West Coast First Nations who have lived here for
thousands of years.
of the Old Haida Village of Ninstints
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, a remote
collection of 138 islands in the southern part of Haida Gwaii (Queen
Charlotte Islands), was established in 1988 amidst a tense confrontation
that divided the island’s population, as well as public opinion
across Canada and around the world. There are perhaps only 6,000
permanent residents in Haida Gwaii, but 3 million people pledged
their support to see logging stopped in this area. At the height
of the confrontation, 72 Haida were arrested and charged with criminal
contempt of court, an act that shocked the international community.
In a gesture of good faith, the Canadian government passed a resolution
to support the Haida’s wishes, and Gwaii Haanas was formed.
The park - the place of wonder - is an untamed wilderness
with no roads and limited facilities. The San Christoval Mountains
dominate the area at an elevation of 1,123 m. Access to the park
is by boat or chartered aircraft only. Here one may glimpse a part
of the Haida’s ancestral history in the numerous old villages of
carved totem poles and longhouses still intact amidst enormous moss-clad
trees. The names: T’anuu, K’una (Skedans); where artist Emily Carr
captured the spirit of the Rainforest villages in her glorious paintings,
Hik’yaah (Windy Bay), Gundl’kiin (Hotspring Island); where the visitor
can relax in one of several hot springs pools, and Skung Gwaii (Anthony
Island) reflect their ancient beginnings. In the remote southern
half of the park Skung Gwaii (village of Nunsting) is an UNESCO
World Heritage Site with the largest collection of standing totem
poles in their original location in North America.
Note: Following the 7.7 magnitude
earthquake that rocked Haida Gwaii on Saturday October 27, 2012,
the three hotspring pools commonly accessed by visitors to Hot Spring
Island, or Gandll K'in Gwaayaay, are now cold and empty. The shifting
tectonic plates and reorganization of stress has evidently affected
the pathways the water took to the surface.
arrangements to Gwaii Haanas should be made with a licensed tour operator,
and up to 25 commercial operators are licensed for the park reserve.
Reservations are required for independent travel in Gwaii Haanas -
glacier-sculpted peaks of the Queen Charlotte Mountains
If you choose
to travel independently you are advised to be highly skilled in
marine and wilderness travel. There is a cap on the number of visitors
entering Gwaii Haanas each day, and if you choose NOT to make an
advance reservation, there are only 6 stand-by spaces available
each day on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.
There is a 60-minute
compulsory orientation session for all visitors prior to entry to
the park reserve. No reservations are required for regularly scheduled
orientations at the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay in Skidegate.
For the current orientation schedule visit the Gwaii Haanas website
at www.pc.gc.ca/gwaiihaanas or call (250) 559-8818.
varied landscape, camping on white sandy beaches, pools of clear
tepid water, rich fishing grounds and meandering rivers and estuaries
make the Haida Gwaii islands a paradise for the outdoor enthusiast.
Topping it all is the rich culture and history of these islands
that is alive in the old settlements and present day art of the
Among the hundreds of Haida sites in the park are the remains of
SGang Gwaay (Ninstints on Anthony Island), which was declared a
World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981. The village site of SGang
Gwaay 'llnagaay on this island is considered to have the world's
finest examples of Haida mortuary poles - all more than a hundred
years old. Visits to the basecamps staffed by Haida Gwaii Watchmen
at key cultural and natural features in Gwaii Haanas provide a face-to-face
encounter with the living Haida culture. For most visitors, it is
the spiritual aspect of these sites which echoes in them long after
they've gone home.
The Haida Gwaii
Watchmen serve as site guardians and hosts in Gwaii Haanas. Base
camps are located at SGang Gwaay (Anthony Island), Gandll K'in Gwaayaay
(Hotspring Island), T'anuu 'llnagaayu (Tanu), and Hlk'yaah GaawGa
(Windy Bay). They are open from June 1 to September 15.
Haida Gwaii is rich in wildlife in the sky and sea, and on the ground,
and Gwaii Haanas harbours around 39 species of plants and animals
not found anywhere else on the planet. Among the native species,
expect to see black bears and river otters, birds such as bald eagles,
Steller's jays, and peregrine falcons, and all kinds of ocean creatures,
from grey and killer whales to jellyfish and starfish.
One of the
best places to see the latter is in Burnaby Narrows on the
east side of Moresby Island, accessible only by boat from Moresby
camp. Also known as Dolomite Narrows, the waterway connects Juan
Perez Sound with Skincuttle Inlet. The narrows are about half a
mile (1 km) long, about 160 feet (50 m) wide, and quite shallow,
especially at low tide. The bottom is coloured with a cornucopia
of sea life: starfish, sea urchins, moon snails, clams, needlefish,
sea cucumbers, sea blubbers, red crab . . . the list goes on and
on. Because of the high nutrient content in the water, the aquatic
life is almost impossibly large and vibrant. From a kayak or other
small boat the viewing is good; with a mask and snorkel, it's even
better. At low tide it is possible to walk along the shore, but
as this can't be done without treading on delicate life forms, it
It can be reached
only by boat or plane, but nothing is more idyllic than relaxing
in a hot spring on Hotspring Island and watching a pod of
orcas swim past. Killer whales, or orcas, are often sighted in the
Juan Perez Sound region. Best time for whale watching is late spring
and early summer. Eagles are a common sight, as are dozens of other
birds scattered about the islands. Fully one third of the province's
sea lion population calls Haida Gwaii home. A large colony hauls
up on a string of islands called the Kerouards, a water-access-only
site at the southernmost tip of Haida Gwaii. All manner of seabirds,
including the horned puffin, can also be seen. Visitors in this
area can never be sure what manner of creature will show up. A pod
of orcas, a grey or a humpbacked whale, or perhaps a gang of Dall's
porpoises, numbering up to 300 strong, may escort you as you sail
or paddle along in the southern section of Gwaii Haanas.
viewing spots include the ecological reserves of East Copper Island
and Rankine Island, Cape Fanny at the southern tip of Gwaii Haanas,
and Puffin Cove on Puffin Island.
The kayak is a boon to the free spirit. It offers flexibility and
mobility to the person who doesn’t wish to be hampered by destination-driven
travel schedules or a timetable other than the rhythm of the tides.
Such is the lure of kayaking around Haida Gwaii. What need is there
of a specific destination where every place is as magical as the
next, save those coastlines ravaged by logging? The entire cluster
of islands has been circumnavigated by kayak, and is open to the
seafaring explorer. That said, Gwaii Haanas is by far the most popular
kayaking playground, with such destinations as Hotspring Island,
Burnaby Narrows, Windy Bay, Anthony Island (Ninstints), Tanu, All
Alone Stone, Rose Harbour, St. James Island, Flatrock Island, Echo
Harbour . . . the list goes on and on.
The west coast
of Moresby Island is steep and rocky with pounding surf and lengthy
stretches of coast where landing is impossible or very difficult.
It is not recommended for kayakers. The east side, with its range
of islands, islets and inlets offers more options for alternate
routes during changing weather conditions and more sheltered route
choices if an exposed route becomes too dangerous. The east coast
is still a challenging area to paddle and getting to destinations
such as Hlk'yaah GaawGa (Windy Bay) and Gandll K’in Gwaayaay (Hotspring
Island) involves exposed crossings and hazardous stretches of coastline
are essential for exploring Gwaii Haanas. Booklets published annually
by the Hydrographic Service provide instructions on the use of tables
to determine daily tides (time and height) for specific locations.
For Haida Gwaii you should obtain: Canadian Tide & Current Tables
Volume 6 (current year), "Barkley Sound and Discovery Passage to
Dixon Entrance" (available from Supply and Services Canada). The
"Coastal Pilot" also contains useful local information on tides.
For more detailed information, consult a knowledgeable local mariner
or the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
to Gwaii Haanas travel with organized tour groups. Commercial operators
offer services in Gwaii Haanas from May through September. Services
include guided tours, charter vessel services, passenger and cargo
transport between points. A popular way to kayak this wonderland
is from the comfort and security of a kayak mothership. Paddlers
return to the warm, comfortable vessel to enjoy hot showers, good
food, and comfortable beds, setting out the next day to further
explore the islands. There is considerable range in the size, nature
and price of the kayaking services to the park. It is advisable
to make reservations well in advance of your trip. Only licensed
commercial operators may provide services in Gwaii Haanas National
Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.
facilities closest to Gwaii Haanas are at Moresby Camp on Cumshewa
Inlet. Moresby Camp is a private industrial site, accessible by
sea kayaks or small boats at Moresby Camp can travel the relatively
protected inside waters of Carmichael Pass south to Gwaii Haanas.
Travelling time by kayak from Moresby Camp to the northern boundary
of Gwaii Haanas is approximately 2 days, weather permitting. You
could spend months, even years, exploring the coasts in Gwaii Haanas,
stopping to investigate the many onshore and inland attractions,
and still not feel that you knew the place. But that’s part of the
magic and appeal of Haida Gwaii.
Random camping is the rule in Gwaii Haanas. There are no designated
campsites within Gwaii Haanas - you camp where you please, preferably
on sand or stone, or wherever else you will have as little impact
as possible. Camping is not permitted at T'anuu Village, or on Gandla'kin
(Hotspring), Ata Naa (House), Copper, Jeffrey, Rankine, or Skung
Gwaii (Anthony) Islands, or Slug Islet. These areas are particularly
sensitive cultural sites or important bird-nesting areas. If in
doubt, ask at any of the Watchmen base camps. There is no camping
at any Haida Gwaii Watchmen site in the park except for Windy Bay,
or Hik'yaah, where the stand against logging was taken by the Haida
Nation back in the 1980s.
There are no designated or maintained hiking trails in Gwaii Haanas.
All hiking is of the "bushwhacking" variety. It is easy to get lost
due to fog, and density of forest. Hikers should have excellent
compass skills and use map and compass at all times.
The climate of the islands is typical of British Columbia’s outer
west coast - cool and wet virtually any time of the year. The driest
months are usually May, June, and July and usually, the best weather
is between mid-June and mid-August. The rainy season can begin as
early as mid-August. The east side of the islands is considerably
drier than the west, which can receive between 500 and 800 centimetres
of rain a year.
westerly winds prevail in summer and can blow strongly for lengthy
periods. These winds funnel over the islands and down inlets of
the east coast creating gusty conditions that can be a hazard especially
for kayaks. Storms associated with frontal systems hammer the islands
from the southeast and southwest. These occur frequently in winter,
and are not uncommon in the summer months. Build enough time in
your travel plans to include days of being "weathered in."
If you are not
travelling with a guide or guided tour, file a trip plan with the
Canadian Coast Guard in Prince Rupert. Call collect, (250) 627-3082.
Be sure to contact them as soon as you return. If you don’t, you
may be held responsible for any unnecessary search and rescue initiated
on your behalf.
Visitor Information Centres are located in the Sandspit Airport
and in the village of Queen Charlotte City on Wharf Street. Both
centres have a trip planning area with marine charts and topographic
maps to assist you in planning your route, and a marine VHF radio
to check the weather and sea conditions. The centres operate from
May 1 to September 30.
For a free Gwaii
Haanas information package contact: Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve
and Haida Heritage Site, P.O. Box 37, Queen Charlotte, BC, phone
(250) 559-8818, email email@example.com or visit www.pc.gc.ca/gwaiihaanas
The Gwaii Haanas
National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site office is located
at the new Haida Heritage Centre, 60 Second Beach Road, Skidegate.
The office is open Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to noon, and 1 p.m. to
The only private
commercial facilities in the park are located at Rose Harbour,
a former whaling station, located on the north coast of Kunghit
Island. Bed and Breakfast accommodation and boat transportation
to Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands)
There are only 120 kms of paved roads in Haida Gwaii, and the cost
of transporting your car on the ferry is high, so you could consider
leaving your car behind and letting boats, foot, or taxi be your
mode of transport.
16 serves the two main islands, running from Sandspit to Alliford
Bay on Moresby Island, continuing from Skidegate to Masset and Old
Masset on Graham Island (71 miles/113 kms). Alliford Bay and Skidegate
are connected by a ferry across Skidegate Inlet. On the way, the
highway passess through Port Clements, Tlell, and Queen Charlotte
City, the navel of Haida Gwaii. The logging companies have extensive
road systems, principally in the plateau areas from Juskatla to
Moresby, with a private road connecting Juskatla with Port Clements.
Across Skidegate Inlet on Moresby Island, a logging road runs 40
kms south from Alliford Bay to Moresby Camp, or via Sandspit and
Gray Bay, the first 15 kilometres of which are paved.
The Haida Gwaii islands are northwest of Vancouver, about 770 km
by air. Year-round air service is available from Vancouver International
Airport to Sandspit.
Rupert: Take the six to eight-hour ferry crossing from Prince
Rupert to the Skidegate Landing
Ferry Terminal on Graham Island (93 miles/135 km). BC Ferries
operates 6 round-trip sailings per week during the summer months,
and 3 weekly round-trips in winter. Reservations are strongly recommended.
You can also fly from Prince Rupert to Sandspit on Moresby Island.
to Prince Rupert
Drive the Yellowhead Highway 16 from Prince George to Prince Rupert
Travel by VIA Rail to Prince Rupert
Sail with BC Ferries to Prince Rupert, from Port Hardy, on Vancouver
Alaska State Ferry to Prince Rupert from Alaska
View a map
of Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands)
View a map of Prince Rupert
to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site:
Floatplane access to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida
Heritage Site is from Queen Charlotte City. The closest road access
to the park is at Moresby Camp, from where visitors can reach the
park by boat or kayak. The nearest boundary of the park is 30 miles
(50 km) from Moresby Camp.