Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Haida Gwaii: Queen Charlotte Islands

Whenever we have a chance to get away for a few days, we have a habit of going to places "less travelled" away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Call it exploring. It is generally known at "the office" that I am usually out of cell phone range so don't bother trying to get hold of me. So it was recently when we decided to go to the "Queen Charlottes" for a week of R&R.
I am usually very thorough in my investigation of places to visit. I have found that the internet is usually your friend. We decided to book a tour into Gwaii Haanas as we wanted to visit a couple of old abandoned Haida villages. Gwaii Haanas NP comprises over half of the "Charlottes" and is only accessible by Boat or Seaplane and normal folks are not just allowed to step onto Haida land without taking a 3 hour orientation (at an approved centre) or be guided in by an approved Tour Operator (which you can find on the Government website). We decided to go Mid September as we have found that when school is in, there are usually less crowds (ie: tourists).
We should have realized that there were many omens which conspired to ruin our vacation. Our plane finally landed at Sandspit and we took the local transport to Queen Charlotte City to check into our Hotel. According to their website I had requested a suite with kitchen facilities. Of course the owner had decided to give us their 'best' room on the 2nd level with a view of the water (with NO kitchen). They were fully booked so no chance of exchanging rooms but he said he would loan us an electric skillet and coffee maker. Upon check-in he asked "how long are you staying" I replied "one week" Then he mumbled "what are you going to do for a week ?" Of course, I already knew that there were limited activities to do this time of year but we had already arranged some zodiac time with a local tour operator who was going to occupy some of our time. I had been in contact with this TO (tour operator) many times since booking our tour and each time they assured us that there would be NO problem and to come anyway, as they usually insist on having a minimum number of persons before they will actually proceed with the tour, or else you would have to pay for the whole boat, rather than just the per person charge. Well . . . the next morning I phoned the TO to confirm our tour and they told us that they had finished the season and would not be running any more tours until next season. Now we had to scramble to book a tour with someone else. It seems that being this late in the season is risky to do tours down in Gwaii Haanas NP (GH) because of the winds (and heavy wave action), and the only TO that was running tours was fully booked. Looks like our holidays were ruined. As a last resort we went into the tourist information building to ask about tours. The lady there told us that there was a chance that this TO would take us but when she told me their name I said forget it. I just got off the phone with them 15 minutes ago and they were fully booked. She called them anyway and it seems that they were trying to get hold of us at the hotel, but we had already left, and just had a cancellation for 2 persons. So YAHOO we were in. They also had an opening the next day for another full day tour down to Hot Springs Island and stopping at Skedans. A big thank you to Moresby Explorers (Heron & Laura) for making our trip a memorable and exciting experience.
All of their tours leave from Moresby Camp which is a ferry ride from Queen Charlotte City and a one hour logging road away. Along the way we stopped at a fish hatchery and surprised a family of these . . .


they were everywhere. There must have been 6 or 7 of them all around us. I looked down at the fish ladder and there was one trying to catch the fish coming down the chute. It must have been only 5 feet away from me.
They told us to dress warmly in layers and bring waterproof shoes and jackets. They also supplied rubber pants, boots and outerware. We could hardly move and had to waddle around. Eventually we got onto the Zodiac and headed south . . .


Our guide, Heron (from Moresby Explorers) was very good about explaining everything, pointing out scenic points of interest and giving history lessons about the area and the Haida, as well as stopping the Zodiac so we could mingle with the whales along the way. He stopped many times. Once we somehow got in the middle of a pod and were surrounded by whales. You could hear them snorting, blowin and grunting, we were that close.
Hotsprings Island is approx 3 hours south of Moresby Camp, so our tour included stopping at Skedans to see the weathered totem poles and remnants of an abandoned Haida village.

Here's another view of Skedans Bay

That's Laura on the left
Notice the white shells. You are not allowed to walk outside of designated areas as outlined. You cannot remove anything from the land and all garbage and waste has to be carried out.

You are not allowed to 'prop' up a totem pole
Poles must remain where they fall and be allowed to go back to the earth


These poles were originally the beams of a house. It's amazing to think that the Haida people once lived here and this was a thriving community (Village) in an earlier time.

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