Travel Journal, Haida Gwaii October 18, 2022
The Misty Isles, the Magical Isles, the land shrouded in fog, Queen Charlotte Islands, and now Haida Gwaii or Xaaydaga Gwaay.yaay. The islands off the north coast of British Columbia have been known by many names, what remains now is a place of natural beauty, extreme weather, an old and proud indigenous history and a modern culture surviving in a very isolated place.
Theories indicate that it may have been part of the land bridge to the America’s in the closing years of the ice age. It was probably connected to the mainland at this time. Human habitation has been dated back as far as 13,000 years ago. These may have been peoples related to today’s Eskimo-Aleuts and Na-Dene peoples. What we see now are the Haida, a proud, strong peoples with wonderful artwork, culture and the ability to live and work in this normally harsh environment. The islands were first noted by Europeans in 1774 by Juan Perez and in 1778 by James Cook. By 1794 there was an active trade in sea otter pelts.
Haida Gwaii Skidegate July 26, 1878
As the ferry approaches Haida Gwaii you travel down the east coast of the island and work your way through small islands to the ferry terminal at Skidegate Landing on Graham Island. Our ferry trip was very pleasant, with calm weather and sunny skies all day. The ferry is large enough that you can drive on at the bow and turn around our small truck and trailer to be facing the bow again for departing on the overside. The return trip was not so simple. Today the village of Skidegate is much different from the past, small homes, some totem poles, a beautiful cemetery, and an elegant eagle sitting above its nest on a huge dead tree. We reached our first campsite at Tiell, Misty Meadows Provincial Park. The park ranger advised us to head down to the beach and watch the full moon rise over Hecate Strait. Sitting on drift wood we watched a sight that was well worth waiting for. The coast at Tiell is a mixture of rock, sandy beach and sand dunes with the Tiell River entering the ocean just north of the park. There are many walking trails taking you by the beach, along the sand dunes, and through the dense cedar, salal, and huckleberry forests, carefully avoiding the boggy marsh areas.
Our next day was a short journey to the northeast end of the island. A 25 km. drive east of Masset brings you to Agate Beach Campground the most northern of the Naikoon Provincial Parks vehicle campgrounds. This campsite is right on the exposed beach, open to Hecate Strait and Dixon entrance. The wind always blows and the waves crash and roll against the shore high and low tide. Again, we had clear, mild weather. One can only imagine what it would be like during stormy weather. As it was, a constant salty mist was blown up from the beach and across the campground. The trees are all sculptured by the wind. A high cobblestone beachhead gives way to long sandy beaches when the tide is out. Some brave souls even went for a swim. The sunsets were spectacular and there were often fishing boats to watch or aircraft, especially air ambulance helicopters coming and going from Prince Rupert to Masset. There are a lot of walking and hiking opportunities in the area. Walks along the beach at low tide-keep your eyes peeled for agates, a hike to see the blow hole at the base of Towhill or a climb to the top of Towhill with views back to the campsite and to the east, Rose Spite. For the adventurous, there are backpacking and camping trails along the east side of Rose Spite. The land is densely covered with cedar and salal and full of boggy marsh areas.
On a day trip to Masset and Old Masset you will find a museum devoted to the pioneers and seafarers of the area. Heading into Old Masset there are several totem poles and fine views of the sheltered waters of Masset Inlet. We were fortunate to see the Edenshaw totem that had recently been raised in Old Masset. There are shops and galleries to explore and food supplies that can be replenished. As with any isolated area it is best to bring what you require with you. Costs are somewhat higher than on the mainland and some items may be in short supply, especially during poor weather when the ferry may not make its regular trips.
A walk through the forest will give you views of the ocean, streams, plants, and critters.
Otter prints heading towards the river Hemlock Banana Slug
Some giants have fallen while other Spruce stand tall and straight
We will continue our journey on Haida Gwaii next time.
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