Haida Gwaii means "islands of the people," yet the archipelago, off the coast of northern British Columbia, remains a solitary paradise where time has changed little, the people are easy going, and the recreational opportunities are endless. Totems still stand tall in the forests, orcas still breach the water off the remote coastline, otters play, and seals sun themselves on the rocks. It is a natural treasure, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that few have had the opportunity to discover. One of the best ways to explore the area is by sea kayak thanks to the myriad of inlets and waterways the run in and around the 150 small islands protecting travellers from the wild and woolly Pacific Ocean waters.
What is it: Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, are in a remote area of northern British Columbia some 75 kilometres from the mainland and 60 kilometres from Alaska, and are only accessible by boat or plane. The area is made of up two main islands — Moresby and Graham — as well as a stretch of approximately 150 smaller islands primarily to the southeast.
Why bother? There are few places, well, anywhere that offer fairly easy access to a place so stunning and both naturally and culturally rich that it defies adequate description. It has been called the Galapagos of the north thanks to the immense biological diversity in the region from the mossy ancient rainforests straight out of fairy tales to the beaches and marine life in the Pacific coastal waters. But, it is also home to a 10,000-year-old native culture that includes carving totems that dot the many islands in the archipelago.
What to do: Kayaking opportunities are many, and there are plenty of operators in the region offering trips of seven to 10 days. Some of the better areas to create your own adventures include the sheltered inlets near Skidegate and Masset. And a more challenging destination is the Gwaii Haanas National Park where the Burnaby Narrows offers up some of the richest tidal life anywhere on the planet.
Sidetrip: Despite the northern climes, the area has an active surfing scene centred around the Masset area, also the location of Haida Gwaii's lone surf shop (northbeachsurfshop.com), especially during the fall months. Don't forget the wetsuit, a very thick wetsuit.
When to go: Well, it is remote so it never gets overrun, but the summer months are busiest, businesses shut down during the winter, but theirs is a fairly mild fall that coincides with mushroom hunting season if you fancy a chanterelle hunt.
Where to stay: The Copper Beech House in Massett was recently purchased by well-known Canadian poet Susan Musgrave (copperbeechhouse.com), but there are plenty of bed and breakfasts and cabins available for rent (www.gohaidagwaii.ca).