There is no shortage of places to visit, experience and appreciate in Gwaii Haanas. We’ve listed a few of our favourite locations below, but these are just a small part of the whole Gwaii Haanas adventure!
Gwaii Haanas is the southern third of Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) – the first protected area in the world to be managed from mountain top to sea floor. On our trips you can expect to explore rich intertidal environments, kayak along rocky shorelines, visit ancient village sites, and hike up lush salmon streams. That said, we are flexible and adjust to the desires of each group of guests. Some people are keen to get into the backcountry, others want to spend time on the water, and still others just want to rest and relax in comfort on board. We are happy to design trips based on group and individual interests as much as possible.
A typical day begins with a tasty breakfast, followed by a morning kayak to explore the surrounding inlet where the MV Atlas is anchored. Once the anchor is up, we usually travel to an ancient Haida village site. Along the way we often witness whales, bears, eagles and sea lions. If time permits, we might try a little fishing. After a tour of the village, we hop back on the boat and continue to explore the archipelago. A hike into lush old growth forests, beach walking, or more kayaking are common afternoon activities. A spectacular dinner as the sun sets wraps up the day, with guests falling into their comfortable bunks satisfied and wowed by the day’s adventures.
There is no shortage of places to visit, experience and appreciate in Gwaii Haanas. We’ve listed a few of our favourite locations below, but these are just a small part of the whole Gwaii Haanas adventrure!
K’uuna Llnagaay (Skedans)
In the mid-1800s almost 450 Haida lived in Skedans in about 26 longhouses. An 1878 survey recorded 56 monumental cedar sculptures, including frontal poles, single and double mortuary poles, memorial poles and mortuary figures. The famous Canadian artist Emily Carr visited the village site in 1907. Skedans has several standing poles and is located on a narrow isthmus, flanked on two sides by crescent-shaped beaches.
T’aanuu Llnagaay (Tanu)
The village of T’aanuu Llnagaay is hauntingly beautiful, following the shoreline of two beaches divided by a rocky point. The open forest and mossy paths winding through the collapsed longhouses is a quiet testament to times past when the village was the bustling home to Haidas of both Raven and Eagle lineages.
In the estuary at the head of Echo Harbour is a beautiful tidal falls. Bears are often seen fishing for salmon at the falls, attracted by the productive pink salmon stream. This scenic, steep walled harbour is an ideal location for wildlife viewing and exploring by kayak. Echo Harbour also provides a secure anchorage in all weather conditions.
Hlk’yah GaawGa (Windy Bay)
Windy Bay was once the site of a major Haida village and later became a summer fishing village, although evidence of this is no longer apparent in the lush forest cover. More recently, Windy Bay was the site where the Haida protested logging in Gwaii Haanas and received international coverage of their fight to protect their traditional territory. Giant old growth spruce trees tower in the forests edging the salmon-bearing stream that runs into the bay. In 2013 a monumental totem pole was raised at Windy Bay to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Gwaii Haanas Agreement between the Government of Canada and Council of the Haida Nation.
Gandll K’in Gwaayaay (Hotspring Island)
After the magnitude 7.7 earthquake in 2012, the hotsprings on this little island in Juan Perez Sound mysteriously dried up. On January 16th, 2013, “thermal activity” was recorded again on the island, and warm water has started seeping into small intertidal pools. New pools have now been developed in locations where the warm water has returned. Due to the significance of the quake and worldwide interest in the hotsprings, seismic equipment has been installed and members of the Haida Gwaii Watchmen Program are on site to talk about the earthquake and explain the equipment to visitors.
This collection of rocky treed islands just north of Hotsprings offers spectacular intertidal viewing and is a prime kayaking location where you can poke around islets and investigate nooks and crannies. A tucked away beach allows access to the forest for those interested in a little land-based exploring.
Island Bay/Yatza Mountain
Mount Yatza looms over Island Bay, located just west of Burnaby Island. For those who are interested in stretching their legs, this hike offers great views of Skincuttle Inlet, the shimmering Victoria Lakes, and the west coast. Alternatively, Island Bay is a great location for a paddle, exploring the rocky shorelines of the numerous little islets that speckle the bay.
Burnaby Narrows (Dolomite Narrows)
Only 50 m wide, this narrow channel between Burnaby Island and Moresby Island is globally-renowned for its incredible density of marine species. Fed by flooding and ebbing tides, colourful bat stars, turban snails, moon snails, limpets, mussels, sea cucumbers, urchins and clams are abundant. Over 200 species of intertidal creatures have been counted in the narrows, including an average of 74 bat stars per square metre. At a low tide, floating quietly in a kayak, Burnaby Narrows is a place you will never forget.
SGang Gwaay Llnagaay (Anthony Island, Ninstints)
The village site on SGang Gwaay Llnagaay was occupied until shortly after 1880. What survives is unique in the world, a 19th century Haida village where the ruins of houses and memorial and mortuary poles illustrate the power and artistry of Haida society. This UNESCO world heritage site is recognized as a place of importance “to the history of mankind” and is not to be missed. For more information see: whc.unesco.org
The Gordon Islands, near SGang Gwaay Llnagaay, offer a true taste of the west coast. Fantastic intertidal life, large kelp forests, a black sand beach and natural sea caves mark the shoreline and make this a fantastic place to explore by kayak or skiff. Short hikes result in spectacular vistas to the east and west.
Cape St James/Kerouard Islands
Cape St James is where the waters of the Pacific Ocean mix with Queen Charlotte Sound and Hecate Strait, resulting in huge tidal fluctuations and nutrient upwelling that attracts abundant marine life. The Kerouard Islands – called Ganhlaans by the Haida meaning “group standing together” – are rugged, barren islands that have major breeding colonies of seabirds and are the location of one of three sea lion rookeries on Haida Gwaii. The area is also a critical stopover in the northwest marine mammal and bird migration corridor. It is not uncommon to see humpback and fin whales, albatross and puffins in the area. Some of the largest waves on record have been reported here during the winter months. Cape St James is “the end of the world” on Haida Gwaii and, weather permitting, it is a powerful and impressive place to experience.
We try our best to visit as many village sites and other memorable locations on our tours as possible. But there is so much to see and experience in Gwaii Haanas, there’s rarely enough time to do it all. Sometimes weather does not cooperate and sites in more exposed locations might not be accessible. If that’s the case, we always find something interesting to do in calmer inside waters.