Haida Gwaii Unguided: 72 Hours on the Edge of the World

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Recently we took a trip home to Haida Gwaii. While we usually return as locals, we decided for this trip we would put our tourist hats on instead, do a few things we wouldn’t normally do, and have a great time. 

Knowing Haida Gwaii inside and out, this is how we spent our weekend. And how we recommend others to spend theirs on an unguided trip to the edge of the world. 

Day 1 | SKIDEGATE

11 am – Rent a Scooter at Haida Gwaii Scooters

Fast and fun, zip around Skidegate on a brand-new Yamaha Zuma and discover the most popular local hotspots with Haida Gwaii Scooters. Haida Gwaii is all about the connections, as made clear by the Haida phrase you are likely to hear while on island, “Gina ‘Waadluxan gud ad K’waagiid” which translates to “everything is connected”. A scooter is a great way to connect with the place, making your drive a visceral experience where the smells of the forest and seas are carried by the breeze and enrich what might otherwise simply be a beautiful drive. No need for any special license to partake in this unique experience of Haida Gwaii, a standard driver’s license, short safety briefing with accompanying paperwork and fees, and you are on the road. 

Curious to learn more with a local? Hire Owner and Operator, Aileen Hans to show you the ropes. Born and raised on Haida Gwaii and with over 10 years of tourism experience, an hour with Aileen will ensure you will not miss any of the hidden gems in Skidegate!

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1 pm - Celebrate Haida Culture at the Haida Heritage Centre

No trip to Haida Gwaii is complete without a trip to the award-winning Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay which showcases the living culture of the Haida through art, stories, songs, and language. Located at “Kay Llnagaay” or “Sea Lion Town” the 5,000 sq ft Centre was made to resemble the traditional Haida village that once stood in its place. A great introduction to the Haida culture, the Haida Heritage Centre is a place for the Haida voice to be heard! 

Join a daily tour given by one of the Haida Staff for a more in depth look at the poles, canoes, and other pieces showcased at the centre. If you would rather take in the beauty at your own pace a walk through the facility can take anywhere from an hour to a full day,  depending on the extent of your curiosity. Regardless of the time spent looking in all the nooks and drawers, you are sure to get a deeper appreciation of the many connections on Haida Gwaii.

Don’t forget to stop by the Gina DaahlGahl Naay or the Trading House (gift shop) to pick up a souvenir! 

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3 pm - Hike Spirit Lake

A local favourite, Spirit Lake caters to a broad range of hikers. Depending on the hike, this walk should take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Spirit Lake is said to be home to the ‘WaasGo, a supernatural being which presented itself as a cross between a wolf and a killer whale. The WaasGo,was said to have a tunnel from its home in Spirit Lake to Skidegate Inlet where it would hunt whatever came in its path. Thankfully a Haida warrior was able to slay the supernatural and today a beautiful trail network has been created to guide people through the dense emerald forest to the sparkling gem at the heart of it. 

Looking to learn more about Spirit Lake and the flora and fauna? During the summer (June 18 – August 23) you can join a Gwaii Haanas Interpreter for a few hours of learning about the temperate rainforest. Learn more at https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/bc/gwaiihaanas/activ/decouvertes-tours/interp.

5:30 pm – Enjoy local foods at Keenawaii’s Kitchen

At Keenawaii’s Kitchen, food is so much more than sustenance. It is a way to fill your soul, to connect with culture.  Chef Roberta Olsen’s (Keenawaii) multi-course dinner is all made from fresh local ingredients showcasing various traditional Haida foods. This includes tsiljii (dried smoked salmon), sgyuu (dried seaweed), k’aaw (herring roe on kelp) and much more. Keenawaii’s Kitchen is also a wonderful opportunity for local Haida youth to gain some work experience in the service industry, and a great opportunity to connect for visitors.  Dinner concludes outside on the patio at the edge of the beach, as Keenawaii’s isn’t just a preferred dining location of people, but of the eagles and ravens as well. Listen and watch, as birds descend within seconds from every direction onto the beach looking for a piece of the unusable remains of the fish used to create her mouth watering dishes. This dinner is a unique opportunity to see the food chain in action, and those very same connections mentioned before. 

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Balance Rock

9:30 pm - Watch the Sunset at Balance Rock

As the colours in the sky slowly begin to fade away into the night, enjoy a moment of tranquility at Balance Rock. While the waves lap at the shore made of volcanic rock, it is certainly a picturesque moment as the massive boulder made of rock not found in the area perches, set against the darkening sky and the familiar sounds of the sea, perfectly balanced.

DAY 2 | GWAII HAANAS

7:30 am - Check in and Suit Up

Start your day meeting at the Queen Charlotte docks with the Haida Style Expeditions team. The crew will then get you all the appropriate gear (rainboots, waterproof jackets etc) you will need for a day on the water and, if you are lucky enough to be on a trip to hotsprings, in the water! After a brief orientation and safety introduction you will be underway either on the K’aa Gwaay (Sea Monster) an open 28’ Zodiac style RHIB or the Tluu Isguudang (Canoe) a 30’ enclosed aluminum landing craft.

Did you know Haida Style Expeditions has been designated Authentic Indigenous? Learn more here.

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10:00 am - Coffee Break at K’uuna Llnagaay/Skedans

The first stop of our journey started at K’uuna Llnagaay or Skedans. At the height of its time, K’uuna Llnagaay was once home to 26-30 longhouses. Today this spot is now home to few memorial and mortuary poles as well as longhouse pit remains. After a brief washroom break head down to the beach where homemade cinnamon buns and coffee wait for you.

11 am - Soak in the Pools at Hotsprings

After a boat ride further south along Lyell Island you will land on a small island which seems no different to the others which encompass it. Yet, after a short walk through a gorgeous canopied forests you emerge into the far side of the island between the Watchman cabin and a few other small older cabins and you will find yourself in a truly magical place. Change into your swimsuit and rinse off in the shower or in the ocean and then step into the pools set into the ridges of the island and attempt to take in the breathtaking unobstructed view unfolded before you. When the Haida talk about connecting to the land and sea it may become very evident in this moment.  The warm water will nourish and comfort the body and soul.

12:00 pm - Lunch

After soaking in the pools, rinse off in the showers then change back into your regular clothes. Head back over to the deck of the watchmen cabin where lunch awaits. One wouldn’t normally imagine a feast in such a remote place, but that is what is served anyway. Enjoy Salmon, salad, potatoes, vegetables, skewered meat and assortment of other foods that are a welcome sight after all the activities of the day.

2:00 pm - Hlk'yah GawGa | Windy Bay

A relatively short boat ride from Hot Springs will have you at Hlk’yah GawGa or Windy Bay. Shortly after the first blockade, that eventually led to the creation of Gwaii Haanas as a National Park Reserve, a second blockade was planned here in Windy Bay if no deal was reached between the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada. It was in this uncertainty that a Haida longhouse was constructed in Windy Bay to establish a hub for the next possible blockade. This longhouse still stands there today, but not alone, along with the Haida Gwaii watchmen longhouse Gwaii Haanas raised the Legacy Pole a monumental pole at Windy Bay that shares the history and legends of Gwaii Haanas. Don’t forget to hop on the boat across to the other side of the river, and walk the trail. Estimated to be anywhere from 800-900 years old, along the trail is your chance to see the giant spruce tree! 

Haida Style Expeditions

4:30 pm - Check Out Wildlife

On your journey home, keep your eyes peeled for any marine life in the area. Be it tufted puffins, pigeon guillemonts, herons or shearwaters Haida Gwaii is home to over 1.2 million seabirds and they are as beautiful as they are diverse. You may smell them before you can see them depending on the direction of the wind, but you may also stop by a Sea Lion rookery to see the massive creatures sun tanning on the rocks. If you are lucky you may see a mist of water on the horizon as the many species of whales migrating through the waters of Haida Gwaii breach the surface. Between the white-sided porpoises, seals, eagles, deer, black bears, and intertidal life, you are sure to interact with some of the many residents of the Islands of Beauty.

DAY 3 | MASSET

8:00 am - Discover Northern Haida Gwaii

Head north along the coast and through the trees for an hour and a half and you will reach the communities of Masset and Old Massett, hubs of nature and culture. If you continue straight along the Highway you will find Agate Beach, Tow Hill, and North Beach. Masset provides all the resources you may need to continue on your journey, with a grocery store, hardware store, restaurants and everything else you might need on your unguided trip. Old Massett, home to the northern clans of Haida Gwaii speaks its own distinct dialect of the Haida language compared to the southern clans, but you will find the familiar monumental poles and longhouses that are scattered among both Haida communities and the many villages of the past.

11:00 am - Explore Tow Hill

North Beach is a must when visiting Haida Gwaii. From the long sandy beaches to the moss laden forests, it truly is a nature enthusiasts dream. After enjoying the views of the top of Tow Hill, head over to the blowhole. When the tide is right, the natural blowhole spouts water high into the sky. If hiking is not for you, a leisurely stroll along the kilometres of sand looking for intertidal life, agates, and some cool photo opportunities may be a better fit. Whether you’re beachcombing or hiking, make sure to bundle up! The wind at Tow Hill can get quite chilly, but on a clear day you may be able to catch a glimpse of the Alaskan panhandle! 

*Know before you go – There isn’t any cell service at North Beach. So be prepared to disconnect when you make your way to the beach.

Looking to stay on Tow Hill? Try Hiellen Longhouses. The Haida longhouse village is designed to give you a truly unforgettable experience. Using local cedar, hemlock and spruce, the seven traditional Haida style longhouses all provide comfy accommodation. Learn more at http://www.haidalonghouses.ca/facilities.html.

3:00 pm - Check into Gwaii Naay Island House

Located in the heart of Masset, Gwaii Naay Island House is a great base for exploring the northern end of Haida Gwaii. Owner, Elsie Gale, offers seven comfortable guest rooms ranging from Queen rooms with en-suites to rooms with twin beds. All guests have access to a fully equipped kitchen, lounge, spacious bathrooms and wifi. With a background in textile weaving, Watchmen and cultural specialist, Elsie is a great resource for all things Haida. Spend some time with Elsie and learn about the traditional art of textile weaving and Haida culture. 

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5:30 pm - Spend Your Evening with Davidson Descendants

From the moment you enter Sarah’s Longhouse you are welcomed by the Brown clan. Descendants of Florence and Robert Davidson Sr, Leslie Brown and family have spent their lives learning songs, dances and language in their Haida culture. Start your evening eating dinner featuring locally caught seafood. Then enjoy stories and songs by Internationally acclaimed Haida Artist, Reg Davidson. Finally, Leslie takes the stage as she begins singing  and is joined by family as they dance and share their traditional Haida way of life with guests. Experience the art, culture, food, and natural wonder of Haida Gwaii from an Indigenous perspective as a guest on the traditional territory of the Haida.  After each song, Leslie explains each song, the mask used and answers any questions guests may have about the performance. Participation is encouraged as the family sings the women’s song and men’s song. Davidson Descendants is the perfect way to end your stay on Haida Gwaii.

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