It looks re­mote on the map and it is, but it’s not that hard to get to. The big rea­son to go is Gwaii Haanas, the huge south­ern Canada/Haida-Nation park. It is re­al­ly hard to get to and, since it’s a large ex­panse of rocky is­land­s, hard to get around in. But you can do it.

The rest of Hai­da Gwaii · I mean, out­side the park. It’s beau­ti­ful and has roads and bridges and fer­ries so you can drive around and see it. We on­ly al­lowed a sin­gle day and that was a mis­take; you need two. We spent it driv­ing from Sand­spit, where the flights from Van­cou­ver land and the tours to Gwai Haanas jump of­f, tak­ing the fer­ry from Mores­by to Gra­ham is­land­s, north through Skide­gate and Tlell and Mas­set to Tow Hill, a huge chunk of vol­canic rock with a nice board­walk to the top. Here it is:

Tow Head, Haida Gwaii

Fu­ji X-T2, XF35m­mF1.4R, 1/300 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

Those are big trees. Which is to say, it’s a big rock! Here are views look­ing down, then south, then north; in the last, you can see the Alas­ka pan­han­dle on the hori­zon.

Looking down from Tow Hill, Haida Gwaii

Fu­ji X-T2, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8, 95m­m, 1/280 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

Looking south from Tow Hill, Haida Gwaii

Pix­el 2, 1/3900 sec at f/1.8, ISO 53

Looking north from Tow Hill, Haida Gwaii

Pix­el 2, 1/3900 sec at f/1.8, ISO 68

Tow Head is great, and we en­joyed the ru­ral old-fashioned-ness of Mas­set, and stopped a cou­ple of times at re­al­ly beau­ti­ful places on the way up and back. Al­so, some­one had left the Beatles’ White Al­bum 2nd CD in the rental car, so that was nice. But get­ting from Sand­spit up to the top of the is­land and back took the whole day. So we didn’t get to take in the Mu­se­um and Hai­da Her­itage Cen­tre, which ev­ery­one says is fab­u­lous; and it might have giv­en us a lit­tle con­text for our con­ver­sa­tion with the Hai­da peo­ple we met in the park.

The park · There are ba­si­cal­ly three ways to vis­it the park. First, if you’re a super-athletic, super-skilled, super-courageous ocean kayak­er, you can camp on any ran­dom beach and get about as close as pos­si­ble to na­ture. We saw sev­er­al par­ties of kayak­er­s, and I’m in awe of what they’re do­ing. Se­cond, if you’re wealthy enough to have a boat that can make it across the 70 scary km of the He­cate Strait from the main­land, and com­pe­tent enough to drive it and moor it, that looks like a good op­tion.

But what most peo­ple do, and what we did, was take a guid­ed tour, in our case guid­ed by Mores­by Ex­plor­ers (the pic­tures on the front page of their Web site are nice­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of what you see). Nor­mal­ly I’m not much for guid­ed tours, but this was great; in a four-day out­ing we saw a whole lot of the park. And al­so our guide Mar­i­lyn Deschênes was be­yond awe­some. Her knowl­edge of boat pi­lot­ing, ge­ol­o­gy, bird­s, fish, trees, and Na­tive cul­ture, along with her en­er­gy, was ef­fec­tive­ly in­finite. Moresby’s price, which in­clud­ed three nights lodg­ing and all the meal­s, seemed very rea­son­able. Here was our route.

Our route through Gwaii Haanas

Zo­di­ac tour­ing · Here’s how it work­s. First, you put on a T-shirt and shirt and fleece and rain­coat; then Mores­by gives you heavy wa­ter­proof over­alls and coat and gum­boot­s. Then you climb on to a 12-seat open-top Zo­di­ac, and af­ter your pi­lot has warmed things up, she cranks it up to 30 or 40 knots (in the 60k­m/h or 40mph range) and you blast away across the Paci­fic. Even on a warm day you to­tal­ly need all those lay­er­s. Of course, you feel sort of like the Miche­lin Man, and ev­ery time you stop you have to bud­get ten min­utes for climb­ing out of the wa­ter­proofs and back in. The Zo­di­ac has a rea­son­ably com­fy padded bench to sit on which dou­bles as wa­ter­proof stor­age for your overnight stuff.

In be­tween vis­its to Hai­da vil­lage sites and their Watch­men, there are stops at ran­dom beach­es for lunch, snack­s, or just to vis­it an in­ter­est­ing tree. Ba­si­cal­ly ev­ery one of these stops is breath­tak­ing­ly beau­ti­ful. Here’s a pic­ture of our Zo­di­ac pulled up, peo­ple still in Michelin-Man mod­e; then a cou­ple of ran­dom shots from places where we pulled up for snacks or what­ev­er.

Walking up a beach in Gwaii Haanas

Pix­el 2, 1/2300 sec at f/1.8, ISO 51

Lushness behind a beach in Gwaii Haanas

Fu­ji X-T2, XF35m­mF1.4R, 1/1250 sec at f/5.6, ISO 5000

Trees behind a beach in Gwaii Haanas

Pix­el 2, 1/4700 sec at f/1.8, ISO 78

When you’re blast­ing around on the Zo­di­ac, you see lots of beau­ti­ful scenery:

Big rocks in Gwaii Haanas

Pix­el 2, 1/7800 sec at f/1.8, ISO 83

Small wooded island in Gwaii Haanas

Fu­ji X-T2, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8, 110m­m, 1/680 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

Tidelines in Gwaii Haanas

Pix­el 2, 1/730 sec at f/1.8, ISO 51

Check out the tide-lines on that bot­tom pic­ture; there are 10m of tide!

The oth­er thing you see is wildlife. Let’s start with an ea­gle, of which there are plen­ty up there; this pic­ture is most­ly about the trees.

Eagle in Haida Gwaii

Fu­ji X-T2, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8, 95m­m, 1/210 sec at f/5.0, ISO 200

Nex­t, a lit­tle is­land full of Steller Sea Lions. They were fun to watch, but what struck me hard­est was the sound and the smell. Any­where with­in a cou­ple of hun­dred me­ter­s, the melo­di­ous rough-edged bas­so bel­low­ing was a con­tin­u­ous flow; then as we ma­neu­vered around their rock, Mar­i­lyn said “we don’t want to stay down­wind too long” and in­deed, the smell was as mul­ti­di­men­sion­al as the sound; phew!

Steller Sea Lions in Gwaii Haanas

Fu­ji X-T2, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8, 190m­m, 1/2200 sec at f/4.8, ISO 250

And then, hump­back whales, of which we saw at least three. My big take-away here is the swooshy “Ooooooh” they make breath­ing, au­di­ble a long way of­f. Sor­ry, the pic­tures aren’t up to much, be­cause there was some sort of marine-food flur­ry go­ing on with a horde of seag­ulls cir­cling and squawk­ing; those whales were too busy chow­ing down to show of­f.

Humpback whale fins in Gwaii Haanas

Fu­ji X-T2, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8, 200m­m, 1/2900 sec at f/5.6, ISO 250

Humpback whale back in Gwaii Hanas

Fu­ji X-T2, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8, 200m­m, 1/3000 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

And fi­nal­ly, a fried egg jel­ly­fish (Pha­cel­lopho­ra camtschat­i­ca); these things are freak­ing im­mense, the best part of a me­ter across.

Fried egg jellyfish in Gwaii Haanas

Fu­ji X-T2, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8, 78m­m, 1/450 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

The white things are cloud re­flec­tion­s.

We stayed for two nights at Mores­by Explorers’ float­ing lodge in Cres­cent In­let; a fine com­fy place where they gave us a de­li­cious, hearty, meal; that jel­ly above was just off the porch. Here’s the view from that porch as the sun set­s, right side up and then re­flect­ed.

Crescent Inlet, Moresby Island, Haida Gwaii

Fu­ji X-T2, XF35m­mF1.4R, 1/210 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

Crescent Inlet, Moresby Island, Haida Gwaii

Fu­ji X-T2, XF35m­mF1.4R, 1/210 sec at f/3.6, ISO 200

It’s a peace­ful place.


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July 21, 2018
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