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:
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.
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.
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.
When you’re blasting around on the Zodiac, you see lots of beautiful scenery:
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.
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!
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.
And finally, a fried egg jellyfish (Phacellophora camtschatica); these things are freaking immense, the best part of a meter across.
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.
It’s a peaceful place.