Long ago, in ancient times, a lonely raven wandered the world. Walking on the beaches of a deserted island, the Raven uncovered a very large clamshell. Underneath the clamshell were humans who were anxious to be set free. The Island was Haida Gwaii (“Islands of the People”). The Raven in Haida culture represents one of two main branches of the Haida people. The Eagle represents the other branch.
After months of planning and anticipation, my wife, Judy, and I and our beagle, Mia, set out on a 7-week journey in our Unity CB from our home in Sea Ranch California (100 miles north of San Francisco).
Before arriving in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) via ferry, our route took us to Fortuna, California; Waldport, Oregon; Port Angeles, Washington; Victoria, Whistler, Prince George, and Prince Rupert, BC. We stayed at the Hidden Island RV Resort on Tow Road. (Hwy 16 turns into Tow Road at the Masset causeway).
What a wonderful way to spend 11 days from May 10 – May 21, in our private green tunnel within a rainforest. Our Resort hosts, Brian and Deb could not have been more accommodating for our pre-season arrival.
The island, just like the Haida clans, is divided into two general areas: Graham Island, which stretches from Queen Charlotte City/Skidegate to beyond Masset, and Moresby Islands where the Gwaii Haanas (Islands of Beauty) National Park Reserve and the Haida Heritage site are located. The two Island groups are not connected by road. More about that later.
We chose to stay in Masset in the northern portion of Graham Island. The RV resort is in walking distance to town where the Co-Op grocery store provided us with any needed provisions at very reasonable prices. The Delkatla Wildlife Preserve is across the street and is in earshot of the morning moose bugling and the geese honking.
Our campsite was 113 km by highway from Queen Charlotte City at the southern tip of Graham Island. We decided to rent a car for 6 days to simplify exploration along the length of the island.
When we first arrived we were looking for the tourist bureau or a chamber of commerce to direct us to the “must see” things to do and see during our short, precious time in this unique place. The tourist office was closed until June and no detailed maps of the area were readily available. In fact, the atmosphere was anything but a “hot tourist location.”
But leave it to my wife to find answers in a jewellery shop. We asked lots of question of this helpful local who sketched out a map of the island and included the “must see” components we were looking for.
Our many encounters with the local residents could not have been more friendly and welcoming. We eventually found a very detailed commercial map in the Co-Op.
We will start this list beginning in the North and work south.
– Tow Hill is 22 km from Hidden Island. Climb to the top of Tow Hill and view both north and south beaches that stretch for over 2 km in both directions. The path is actually a boardwalk over what would be a very soggy terrain.
– Clamming in the tidal fields at low tide
– Dip Netting for Dungeness Crab during summer months at low tide
– Agate collecting at Agate Beach (“island’s gift to you”). An informative identification guide is also available at the Co-Op.
– Walking the Delkatla Wildlife Preserve
There are few commercial establishments in town. In addition to the grocery store and hardware store (Co-Op), we located a coffee shop which was not open every day.
A distinctive feature in the community is the uniquely carved poles outside of homes and other buildings. Some people refer to them as totem poles but the Haidas don’t use that term. They are referred to as Crests. Buildings are adorned with Haida symbols celebrating figures from their mythology, especially the Raven and the Eagle. There are four gift shops as well as a “gas and grill” in Old Masset (known to locals as The Village) – a long walk from Masset.
Masset has a small fishing fleet. Walk down to the dock and ask around for who might be available to take you out for 1/2 day. I was able to go out with one of the locals on his boat and catch a limit of salmon. Our tiny freezer was jammed with very red salmon filets.
We forced ourselves to have Salmon poached, grilled, and in the soup just to make some room.
Highway 16 winds its way south and hugs the east coast of the island. Between Masset and Queen Charlotte, there are some great opportunities to hike and explore. Our must not miss outings:
At about the halfway mark between Masset and Queen Charlotte, just north of the Misty Meadows Campground along the Tlell River, there is a parking area east of the highway where the trailhead begins. Our objective was to view the old shipwreck, the Pesuta, an 80-metre log barge that ran aground in 1928.
The trail initially winds through the beautiful rainforest for 2.5 km and then eventually drops down to the Tlell riverbank and on to the beach for another 2.5 km. The hike is listed as “moderate” in difficulty. We found out what a 10km distance was all about.
A few km north from Skidegate, the trailhead is marked with a traditional Haida wood structure on the west side of the highway. This hike is also listed as “moderate” but not as long as the hike to the Pesuta. An initial steep climb brings you into the rainforest. The trail is bordered by a gurgling stream. The objective is to view two lakes surrounded by Sitka spruce, red cedar and hemlock.
The city itself, larger than Masset, is a bit south of Skidegate where the ferry terminal is located. One recommended attraction as a “must see” is the Haida Museum and Heritage Center. This is a first class, a well-funded museum that depicts the history and culture of Haida Gwaii. This stop is an instructive primer to a potential tour of Gwaii Haanas, the National Park Preserve and Haida Heritage site.
As mentioned before, Haida Gwaii is two separate island groups and represents two distinctly different environments. Moresby Island has few improved roads and publicly accessible campgrounds. The islands are accessed by local ferry. A few campgrounds are accessible by kayak or small boat; however, the Heritage site is off limits except for authorized tour groups.
Haida Style is the tour group we selected for our Heritage site tour. The ocean-going Zodiac picks up the passengers at the dock at Queen Charlotte harbour. Fitted with float suits, rubber boots and gloves, fellow adventures speed off at 25 mph. On our way to the first heritage site, we encountered an Orca pod circling a seal colony on a rock outcropping.
Our first stop after 2 1/2 hours of high-speed view of stunning coastline with a backdrop of snow-capped peaks, was Windy Bay. The ride was chilly but the bay was balmy warm. The Watchmen were even donning shorts and flip-flops.
We were served lunch (salmon and venison) following a hike through the local rainforest where we were treated to tales of Haida lore. Windy Bay is where the Haidas made their stand in protest to the wholesale logging of their ancestral land. The protests eventually led to the recognition of the Gwaii Haanas Heritage site.
The second stop following lunch was the hot springs, another sacred site once inhabited by the Haidas. The watchmen greeted us and invited the willing to enjoy the 98-degree pools of rock-lined crystal clear water.
A few of the woman came prepared with appropriate swimsuits for a unique experience.
Our last stop before returning was the village of K’uuna. More cultural history was proudly provided by our guides of their ancestors that frequented these ancient sites.
Once again, if possible, don’t miss this essential part of the Haida Gwaii experience.
Judy, Mia and I thoroughly enjoyed our cultural and outdoor experiences on Haida Gwaii.
We expected to be exposed to perpetual rain and came prepared. Not so. We were truly blessed with blue skies and the amazing green everywhere we walked off road.