Yáahl soared free, high above the world’s last remaining old-growth rainforest, its shrill “caw” echoing past towering, ancient spruce and cedar trees, until he broke through an opening which revealed the island’s expansive beaches. There, in the sand, Yáahl, the lonely black raven, spotted a cockle shell from which he heard the faint cries of a young girl. Upon opening this shell, a relationship was forged from which all People were created. – Haida Nation Legend
Discovering the Unique Culture on Haida Gwaii
Colorful folklore and unique traditions are at the center of the Haida Nation, which dates back some 13,000 years. Formidable island-dwellers, the people of Haida Gwaii take great pride in their indigenous culture and work exhaustively to preserve and protect the unique natural legacy of their sacred island lands. We are teaming up with Expedia.ca to inspire your family to explore island heritage on Haida Gwaii, one of the world’s most breathtaking places.Coined the Galapagos of the North, Haida Gwaii is an archipelago comprised of more than 450 separate islands, situated just 90 nautical miles west of the British Canadian coast. Its remote location gives visitors permission to “let things unfold,” says Canadian poet and writer Susan Musgrave. Proprietor of Copper Beech Guest House bed and breakfast, Musgrave urges guests to surrender to the unexpected experiences island life, “If you ask for a ride, you’ll end up at a party on the beach by the fire, eating crab. That’s how things happen here.”
When to Visit Haida Gwaii
Planning when your family should visit Haida Gwaii depends on what activities you enjoy most. Love riding the waves? Surf season is from October to May. Avid hiker? June through August is perfect for exploring the wild terrain by foot. Just don’t forget your rain jacket. With annual precipitation ranging from about 52 inches (east coast) to about 168 (along the west coast), you can pretty much bet, you’ll get wet.
Although most of the larger islands are accessible year-round, you will find that the majority of hotels and restaurants are closed on the off-season. If you’re looking for less crowds, travel is recommended during the shoulder season months of May, June, and September. Optimal weather and all manner of guest amenities, however, are most plentiful during the peak season months of July and August.
Keep in mind, that tour companies, outfitters, campsites, and other types of accommodations are generally booked well in advance, so don’t wait until Spring to make plans.
Getting to Haida Gwaii
Haida Gwaii is accessible by air or water, year-round. Air Canada offers flights from Vancouver International Airport to Sandspit and Pacific Coastal Airlines flies between Vancouver’s South Terminal and Masset Municipal Airport. BC Ferries offers sailings from Prince Rupert to Skidegate, or consider taking their more scenic ferry route departing from Port Hardy, up the “Inside Passage”, to Prince Rupert on the north coast.
How to Get Around Haida Gwaii
Only two of the islands, Graham and Moresby, have roads, and although there are shuttle services and taxis available here, a car is necessary if you plan on doing any exploring on your own. If you’re ferrying in, you may want to grab your rental in Vancouver and transport it over with you, or you can reserve a car from one of 4 car rental companies on the island.
More remote exploration of Haida Gwaii requires thoughtful planning. Since you’ll be island hopping, consider booking float-plane excursions and tour packages with expert guides who can authentically lead you across a land whose biology is so abundant, you’ll lose track of which animal – whale, bear, crab, eagle, deer – you spotted last.
What to See on Haida Gwaii
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve
Located in the southernmost quadrant of Haida Gwaii, Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve is teeming with ocean wildlife, moss-covered inlets, and historic Haida village sites. This Unesco World Heritage site, encompassing Moresby and 137 smaller islands, and welcomes adventurers of all types to discover its diverse environments up close and personal.
Naikoon Provincial Park
The site of Haida Gwaii’s first Colonial settlement in the 1900s, Naikoon Provincial Park offers explorers a mixture of coastal rainforests, wetlands and bogs, and a stunning 100 kilometers of beaches and sand dunes. This region’s iconic natural features include Tow Hill and Rose Spit, both of which are prominently featured in traditional Haida folklore, and a untouched ecological paradise full of opportunities to camp, hike, beachcomb, or bird watch.
Haida Heritage Centre
Opened to the public in 2007, the Haida Heritage Centre is the premier cultural center for the Haida people. Located on Graham Island, the largest in the archipelago, the center was designed, by architect David Nairne, to resemble a series of longhouses, a customary communal dwelling found in traditional Haida villages.The center is the perfect gathering place for Haida and non-Haida alike, to learn about Haida art, culture, customs, and traditions, and celebrate local history through festive parades and exhibitions. Guests can browse the displays in the Haida Gwaii Museum, watch an artist at work in the Carving House, learn to weave cedar bark bracelets in the Bill Reid Teaching Centre, or relax with a coffee at the Kay Bistro.
Jennifer Fontaine is the founder of Outdoor Families Magazine, publisher of MommyHiker.com, a blog to encourage outdoor activities with children, and an activist filmmaker inspiring dynamic change in the world. She lives in Southern California with her family.