This week’s dream
South of Alaska, paddling into an ancient world
I had never heard of Haida Gwaii before a friend of mine put it on her bucket list, said Diane Mancini in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “A magical place,” the archipelago off the coast of British Columbia, just south of Alaska, was formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. But it was renamed in 2010 to honor the Haida people, who have inhabited the islands for at least 8,000 years. In 1985, Haida protesters locked arms to block logging trucks from entering Lyell Island, a move that led to the preservation of the archipelago’s southern third as a Canadian national park preserve. To explore this unspoiled corner of North America, my friend and I joined a group kayaking trip, an eight-day adventure that began with an “exhilarating but chilly” boat ride.
We’d flown to the islands in a prop plane from Vancouver before boarding a Zodiac in Moresby Cove. Crossing open sea and racing through stunning mountain-lined straits, we reached the southern tip of Gwaii Haanas National Park Preserve four hours later and camped on a rock-strewn beach under towering cedars. The next day, we paddled to SGang Gwaay, where a Haida Watchman showed us his ancestors’ village. Western diseases ravaged the islands in the 1800s, and most of the Haida’s longhouses are now gone, while many of their artifacts sit in Canadian museums. But I was struck by a series of tall, intricately carved mortuary poles designed to hold the bones of the dead. Every day, we paddled five or six hours between campsites, often spotting bald eagles and sea lions. We ate our meals on the beach, bathed in mountain streams, and even found time to read and relax.
On our final morning, a black bear was roaming the beach in front of us, eating mussels and crabs. When we heard the motor of the Zodiac approaching, announcing the end of our getaway, “my heart sank a bit.” On the return trip, though, our driver spotted a humpback whale, turned the boat toward it, and cut the engine. The massive creature spouted a second time, fluked its tail, then dove beneath the waves.
Tofino Expeditions (tofino.com) offers eight-day kayaking tours in Haida Gwaii for $1,990 a person. ■