Travel Review  

Haida Gwaii

Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands - Haida Gwaii is 300 km long, in a rough triangular shape from 100 km wide across the top, tapering to a point at Cape St. James at the south end. Tucked under the coastline of islands that form the Alaska panhandle they are 75 km from the American border, approximately 120 km west of the outer islands of the northern BC coastline and 770 km by air from Vancouver, BC.

The climate of the Queen Charlottes is very mild. The annual temperature is a balmy 8°C (46°F). The summer temperatures are similar to those in Northern and Central BC. It is the winter temperatures, which are moderated by the Japanese current that are much higher than winter temperatures of inland BC and the rest of Canada. This makes these waters the perfect spot for both land animals and sea creatures.

Queen Charlotte Islands is a collection of about 150 islands resting on the western edge of the continental shelf. There are two main islands, Graham Island to the north and Moresby Island to the south. About 5,000 people share these islands, most residing on Graham Island in the communities of Queen Charlotte City, Tlell, Port Clements, Masset and the two Haida communities of Skidegate and Old Masset. Sandspit is located on the northeastern tip of Moresby Island. A 20 minute ferry ride and 130 kilometers of pavement connect the two islands and their communities.

The southern part of Moresby Island is Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve/Haida Heritage Site. The area, unique because of its spectacular west coast scenery, rich ecology and Haida culture is cooperatively managed by Parks Canada and the Council of the Haida Nation - the Archipelago Management Board, plans, operates and shares the management of Gwaii Haanas. Experience wilderness, solitude, adventure, discovery and Haida culture. Wildlife encounters may include whales, bald eagles, colourful ocean life, or some of the one million seabirds nesting along the shores, as well as black bears, river otters and sea lions.

These islands have been home to the Haida for thousands of years. A recent archaeological inventory of the area has documented more than 500 Haida archaeological and historical sites. The village of SGang Gwaay, located at the southern end of Gwaii Haanas is considered to have the world's finest display of Haida mortuary poles, all over one hundred years old. In consultation with the Haida, UNESCO declared Nan Sdins Illnagaay (Ninstints) a World Heritage Site in 1981. Gwaii Haanas is considered a wilderness park and is accessible by air or water and reservations and participation in an orientation are required if traveling independently.

Naikoon Provincial Park is situated on the northeast part of Graham Island and covers an area of 72,640 hectare of Haida Gwaii. It is a park of diverse environments - sandy beaches, sand dunes, old-growth forests, rivers, and oceans. Sitka spruce and hemlock flourish in well drained areas. The vegetation on the beaches is similar along the whole coastline of the park. The main attraction of Naikoon Provincial Park is its seemingly endless kilometres of broad sand beaches. Towl Hill, a 100 metre outcrop of basalt columns stands out as a prominent landmark on the north beach and Rose Spit, an ecological reserve that offers great opportunities to observe migrating birds traveling south on the Pacific flyway. Add to this the rich heritage and mystic of the Haida culture and the more recent settler history and you have a truly unique experience. Naikoon has two vehicle access campgrounds and endless opportunities for wilderness walk-in camping.

Misty Meadows campground is located at the south end of the park just behind the sand dunes in the community of Tlell and provides a great central base for fishing the Tlell River, boating on Mayer Lake, hiking East Beach, and exploring the rest of the islands. Agate Beach campground, located 26 km east of Masset offers beachfront campsites and easy access to Tow Hill, North Beach, and the Cape Fife Trailhead. Both campgrounds offer picnic shelters to dry out on rainy days, pit toilets, water, and firewood. Open year round there is a fee collected from mid May through September.

Reservations are not available for either campground. Wilderness camping is permitted throughout the park, with three rustic shelters located along East Beach at the mouths of the Cape Ball and Oceanda Rivers, and at Fife Point. Naikoon is considered a wilderness park without supplies of any kind. For more information on Naikoon park and hiking the East beach, please visit BC Parks.

Most famous though is the Queen Charlotte's for its amazing fishing for all levels of fisherman. Not only can you arrange all types of fishing tours and excursions, but through your local travel agent you can make arrangements for kayaking, air and land tours, sail boating, power boating tours, diving excursions and much more!

Air Canada offers regular daily flights from Vancouver International Airport to Sandspit.

North Pacific Seaplanes has daily float plane service between Prince Rupert and Masset and service three times a week between Prince Rupert and Sandspit/Queen Charlotte City.

Pacific Coastal Airlines also provides daily service from Vancouver's South Terminal to Masset during the summer and service three times a week during the shoulder and winter season.

If flying is not for you then how about an adventure on BC Ferries. The Queen Charlotte Islands are accessed by a six hour ferry trip from the port city of Prince Rupert on the mainland coast of British Columbia three times a week. Reservations are highly recommended and the earlier the better.
For more information on this Canadian Coastal Treasure of Islands, have a chat with your Travel Agent or visit this website: http://queencharlottevisitorcentre.com/ 

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About the Author

Laura has been a successful Certified Travel Counsellor since February 1999. She has worked in both Corporate and Vacation travel departments and has extensive experience as an avid traveller. She currently works as a Senior Consultant at one of the Okanagan's most popular agencies.

To reach her for inquiries you can email: [email protected]


"If you look like your passport photo - you probably need the vacation!"

Your Travel Agent

Laura-Beth Konschuh-Penney

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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