Canada is the second largest country in the world and boasts a breathtaking and diverse landscape. It is brimming with incredible national parks, bustling metropolises, snowcapped mountains, pristine lakes, and astounding natural marvels. The country also has several unexplored places replete with nature’s bounty. One such unknown treasure is Haida Gwaii –a cluster of remote islands – which was named one of National Geographic Traveler’s 20 must-see places in the world in 2015. Here is a detailed guide for exploring one of the Canadian hidden gems, Haida Gwaii.
History of Haida Gwaii
Haida Gwaii is an isolated group of more than 150 islands in the Pacific Ocean perched on the western edge of the continental shelf. This archipelago spans 250 km and is separated from the rest of British Columbia by an ocean. Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii has a rich culture and rugged beauty rife with dense rainforests, ancient villages, sandy beaches, and abundant wildlife. Off the coast of British Columbia, the two main islands Graham and Moresby are located about 50 kilometers and 150 kilometers, respectively.
Captain George Dixon named this archipelago the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1787 after one of his ships. It was the official name until 2010, after which they were named Haida Gwaii. Archaeological evidence suggests that humans occupied Haida Gwaii for at least 6000 to 8000 years.
Things to do in Haida Gwaii
From relaxing on beaches and whale watching to learning about the culture, here are the best things to do and see in Haida Gwaii.
Gwaii Haanas National Park
No trip to Haida Gwaii is complete without a visit to the Gwaii Haanas National Park. It is a protected nature reserve flanked by lush rainforests and unique wildlife, such as the Haidi Gwaii black bear and whales. The waters around these islands are rich in coral reefs, kelp forests, and myriad aquatic animals. Several fallen longhouses and ancient carved totem poles are an integral part of Haida’s culture. Parks Canada and the Haida Nation jointly manage this national park. It is also known as the best kayaking place in the world.
Also known as G̱andll K’in Gwaay.yaay, the Hotspring Islands are an excellent pitstop on the way to Gwaii Haanas. These natural hot springs have mineral-rich waters which can relax your sore muscles. In 2012, a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake temporarily drained the water from these springs. However, the hot springs have gradually returned, and you can soak in these warm waters while enjoying a splendid view of Juan Perez Sound.
Naikoon Provincial Park
Naikoon Provincial Park spans most of the northeastern side of Graham Island. It is rich in flora and fauna, with imposing ancient trees, endless sandy beaches, outstanding wildlife, old shipwrecks, majestic rocky cliffs, excellent surfing opportunities, and the vast ocean. Many of Haida Gwaii’s famous attractions are located within the boundaries of this national park. If you love hiking, this park has several beautiful hiking trails nestled amidst unflawed nature. Some popular ones are Agate Beach, The East Beach Trail, The Pesuta Shipwreck Trail, and The Cape Fife Trail.
North Beach is one of the popular attractions in the Naikoon Provincial Park, between Tow Hill and Rose Spit Ecological Reserve. This long beach has soft sand and is an ideal spot to laze around and feast your eyes on the spellbinding ocean views. You can try other activities such as hiking, swimming, fishing, and surfing. ATV rides are also allowed on the beach, but you need to check the timings of the tides before doing them.
Tow Hill and the Blow Hole
Tow Hill is a massive 400-foot volcanic plug offering stunning ocean views and is one of the best places to visit in Canada. Situated in the Naikoon Provincial Park, it was formed due to erupting lava, glacial retreat, and coastal erosion over millions of years ago. You can go hiking or ride ATVs to explore the sites around it. At the base of the cliff is the Blow Hole, a surge channel. It sprays clouds of mist when large ocean waves crash into it. From the top of Tow Hill, you can see jaw-dropping ocean views as far as the Alaska Panhandle.
Haida Gwaii is known as “the Galapagos of the North” and houses over 200 bird species, a great sea lion population, and highly diverse marine wildlife in Canada. One of the most exciting experiences in Haida Gwaii is going on a whale-watching tour. Orcas swim in these waters almost all year round. You can see humpback whales from February until the fall, and gray whales visit from March to June. You might even encounter a blue or fin whale off the west coast if you are lucky.
Rose Spit Ecological Reserve
Another attraction in Naikoon Provincial Park is the Rose Spit Ecological Reserve. It is located at the north-easternmost tip of Haida Gwaii, and you can reach it by driving along North Beach or the Cape Fife Trail. This long and massive spit extends to the ocean for about 18 km and another 3 km under the sea. Rose Spit protects rare plants and birds, and the beach is a fantastic spot to see grey whales. You can see the merger of the Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance at the tip of the sandbar.
Haida Gwaii Museum
The Haida Gwaii Museum was founded in 1976 at Second Beach in Skidegate and pays tribute to the ancestors of the people. It traces the history of the region and its people through the different eras and present times through historical objects, archives, contemporary art, and natural history collections.
Haida Heritage Centre
The Haida Heritage Centre, one of the best places to visit in Haida Gwaii, faces the ocean with six poles representing the southernmost villages of the region. It is designed like a traditional village; you can watch performances in the auditorium and see fine arts like totem poles and canoes made in the carving house. The gift shop is well stocked, and you can buy authentic Haida artwork and artifacts as souvenirs. The Haida Heritage Centre is famous for the Bill Reid Teaching Centre, named after Bill Reid, a Haida artist whose sculptures are displayed across the Pacific Northwest.
Visiting the longhouses is a great way to experience the culture of Haida Gwaii. These cultural sites date back thousands of years. You can sign up for guided tours from Haida Nation members between April and October. You can see the remains of uniquely constructed longhouses and get a sneak peek into the cultural practices of the Haida people.
Haida Gwaii transports you to a magical place combining adventure, fun, culture, and nature. So, the next time you feel like visiting an offbeat destination, do visit this place which is Canada’s best-kept secret.