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Go Haida Gwaii


The Pesuta Shipwreck Trail will lead you along East Beach to the remains of the Pesuta, a log barge that ran aground in 1928 - Photo: Owen Perry

Roadside whale-watching in May is a popular activity in Skidegate - Photo: Owen Perry

The Rennell Sound area offers exceptional wilderness camping and short trails for accessing remote west coast beaches - Photo: Owen Perry

Rose Spit - where the Hecate Strait meets Dixon Entrance - Photo: Owen Perry

The rainforest experience - moss carpeted paths, a lingering scent of fresh cedar and the sounds of silence - Photo: Owen Perry

The Looking Around and Blinking House at Windy Bay was built to provide shelter for people during the 1985 blockade against logging on Lyell Island - Photo: Owen Perry

Step into another world as you tour ancient Haida village sites in Gwaii Haanas - Photo: Owen Perry

Visit the award-winning Haida Heritage Centre and Museum at Second Beach in Skidegate - Photo: Flavien Mabit


Echos of the Ancestors

By Marcella Andrews

This adventure to SGang Gwaay, a world heritage site at the most southern end of Haida Gwaii, or what I had known as Ninstints, had been on my mind for over 30 years. It began with a presentation many years ago by a fellow at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, and has tugged on my heart ever since.

When I won a trip to visit Haida Gwaii last fall, I knew this was my chance.  I decided that Summer Solstice would be an auspicious time to visit, both Haida Gwaii and SGang Gwaay. I invited my sister to join me, and so the planning began. We decided, with James, at Haida Style Expeditions, that Saturday, June 20 would be a reasonable time to make the journey to SGang Gwaay, so we planned our trip around that day.

Photo: Marcella Andrews

Little did I know what a challenge it could be to plan adventures on the water.  It is a very long way, requiring fair weather, favourable tides and enough other participants who want to go. So it was not till a couple of days before, that the stars all lined up.  We would journey to SGang Gwaay in two days.

We needed to be at the Queen Charlotte dock by 6:30 am for a 7am departure. Though we had to rise at around 4:30 to drive from North Beach, we were there with time to spare. We dressed in our layers of sweaters, jackets and wind breakers, and that was before we donned the floater pants, coats and boots. We were keen, and took the very front bench seat on the zodiac, looking like a couple of red marshmallow girls with too small heads.

Photo: Marcella Andrews

There were 10 of us hearty souls that day, plus James and Cohen. It did not take long for us adventurers to get dressed and settled, then we cast off and flew out the harbour on the tide, skipping across the waves.   We soon discovered that they were correct, the front seat is the most bumpy. It did not look rough, but my back side can tell you that it was, for about the first hour. The sea settled as the sun burned through clouds, and we headed south through the beautiful Islands of the national park, Gwaii Hanaas.

Photo: Haida Style Expeditions

We passed amazing towers of rock, housing hundreds of seabirds. Islands of trees and mountains flew past us, as time and our adventure unfolded.  Puffy clouds and blue, blue sky were mirrored perfectly in the deep dark sea.

Photo: Marcella Andrews

It would be a long journey of about 4 hours and we got very chilly after awhile. I was offered a second hat, which I gratefully accepted.  We made a stop on a dock in a quiet cove.  Hot drinks, cookies and a bathroom break were most welcome. Hanging over the side into the water, I was amazed by the sea creatures who live there, clinging to the side of the dock.

Photo: Marcella Andrews

Once on our way again, I kept my eyes constantly watching for the whales' telltale plume of mist in the distance. Finally, I spotted a blow just off to the left. We slowed, and all waited with baited breath for another sighting. We were not disappointed.  During the course of the day, we saw several Humpback whales.

Photo: Marcella Andrews

Hours later, we arrived at the beach behind the village of Ninstints.  By then it was a beautiful, summer day, and all our layers of extra clothing could come off. Three Haida Watchmen greeted us and walked us over a ridge to their camp. In the meantime, James and friend prepared us a delicious lunch of barbecued salmon, shishkabobs, rice and salad. They also picked sea urchins off the rocks, of which there were many. When they broke them open, we could see the insides. They carefully removed the golden, yellow eggs and offered them to us to taste. Of course, I had to try.  They were a bit crunchy, salty and sweet too, and a particularly big hit with the one Japanese fellow adventurer. Cohen entertained us with a story, drumming and a song. Wonderful.

Photo: Gail Porter

Before long, it was time to be led over the island to the village, by two Watchmen.  They came with our group to tell stories of the history, the poles and of their ancestors.

The path we took was like a magic land.  The moss was almost a foot thick, with a path cut through it. Many trees and plants I knew, seemed unusual to me, as they grew larger, or appeared differently. The valley we walked through had high cliffs.  There were caves near the top, where the women and children would run to if they were under attack. The calls and shouts of people I imagined, were like echoes racing through my mind.

Photo: Marcella Andrews

As we approached the village and the poles came into view, a hush fell upon the group. I was glad, as I needed the sacred silence to absorb the history, the mystery and to accept the fact that I was finally here. Cohen and Reg told us stories about each pole and Reg led a few of us up to the longhouse above the poles.

Photo: Marcella Andrews

We could see the roof beams covered in moss and sunk into the middle and a corner post had a tree growing right up the center. Cohen led us in a dance and a song there above the beach in front of the poles that were now slowly dissolving back into the earth. Again, I imagined distant echoes from the past. 

Photo: Marcella Andrews

After a time, the group began to make their way back over to the beach where we would soon have to gear up and travel back through the magic islands and sea. It was hard for me to go.  I really wanted some quiet time to sit, think and contemplate how it must have been to live here. Perhaps I will be so blessed by another visit, with time to brood. 

Photo: Marcella Andrews

I guess I had spent longer than I should, as when I returned to the beach, the group was in the zodiac and ready to go.  I soon clothed my now hot body into all the layers of gear and climbed back into the boat.         

A little while later, we were out in the channel at the south end of Gwaii Hanaas and just about to head north.  James said that now was a good time to toss out the message in a bottle that my sister and I had prepared. It flew end over end through the air into the sea, where the current will take it on a journey to an unknown beach somewhere in this amazing world. Perhaps someday we will hear of its voyage and who may have found it.

Photo: Gail Porter

Our expedition home seemed to take longer, as we sped back up the outside of the islands a few miles off shore. I know I was certainly colder, and though it was summer, gloves will be in order on the next voyage.  We continued to watch for whale spouts and saw a few.  It was fun and exciting to come across a small, rocky island covered with an array of sealions. There were several huge males, more females and lots and lots of youngsters. The smell they gave off was a bit shocking.  Oh my. The males shouted at us in their raspy lion calls, as we made several turns around the island, and the young ones all dove in and swam near us in great cusiosity.

Photo: Marcella Andrews

After this, we sped north well out to sea. As we bumped over waves and continued to watch for wildlife, my cold self kept thinking the next bay would be our turn.  Hours passed and the miles dissappeared behind us till finally we did, in fact, begin to curve towards the west, and home.  By the time we made it back to the dock, the sun was getting closer to the western horizon.  The day flew by, and though sometimes a challenge, I did not want it to end.  It was quite a sojourn with really great fellow adventurers.  We felt safe and always educated and entertained. My memories of the time on the water, in the forest and in the presence of the ancestors will stay with me always, nourishing and inspiring, and hopefully, draw me back again someday.

Photo: Marcella Andrews


Contact Us

Queen Charlotte Visitor Centre

email: | telephone: 250-559-8316

Sandspit Visitor Centre

email: | telephone: 250.637.5362

Port Clements Visitor Centre

email: | telephone: 250-557-4576

Masset Visitor Centre

email: | telephone: 250-626-3982

Haida Gwaii Tourism

Destination Marketing Organization

Super Natural British Columbia