Haida Gwaii – the very name conjures up images of windblown spruce clinging to rocks surrounded by foamy waves. Not unlike an Emily Carr painting. Haida Gwaii had always been high on our wish list, so being invited to speak in schools and libraries here was pretty much a dream come true. The archipelago stretches along the northern BC coast almost to Alaska. You can reach it by ferry from Prince Rupert or fly in from Vancouver.
We flew into Sandspit, a tiny town on the north east shore of huge Moresby Island. Our son had often visited these remote islands and recommended we visit the very southern tip which is in a National Park called Gwaii Hanas. Basically the only way to reach this remote region is by a zodiak tour offered by a local wilderness company called Moresby Explorers: http://www.moresbyexplorers.com
We studied our options, counting our coins and decided to splurge on a four day trip with a photography theme.
Moresby Explorers also owns a B & B in Sandspit so it was easy to walk out of the airport and find our accommodations just down the road. Seaport B & B is a newly built house with sweeping views of the water front. Eagles perched in the trees along the strait. Our room was plain but large with comfortable beds and warm cookies were waiting. There is no one living in the house but we found a note with our room number and someone came in at 6 AM to cook us breakfast before we were picked up at 7:30. No need to lock anything on Haida Gwaii.
Bryan, our guide and skipper, picked us up and also the five other guests with whom we would spend the next 4 days on a zodiak. We drove from Sandspit across a ridge of Moresby Island, on dirt logging roads, to Moresby Landing where we were outfitted with bibbed rain pants, a large rain jacket and gumboots. We’d live in these for the next few days. We wore undershirts, a sweater, a fleece jacket topped by our own rain jackets and then the provided rain gear over top.This meant we could only wobble like astronauts in a space suit…
Of course we had prepared ourselves for four days of driving rain, grey skies and grey waves. Fortunately, we were lucky and only ended up with a half day rain and three-and-a-half days of blue sky and sun and/or cloudy but dry weather. Considering that Gwaii Hanas averages rain for about 230 days a year, we were lucky.
We had not even left the Landing when I spotted the first black bear browsing on the intertidal beach. The island’s bears have evolved to have much longer snouts than the mountain bears we are used to seeing. Like the Galapagos, even the same species of animals have made adaptations to different local environments resulting in, among others, a different sub species of stickleback fish in every lake. At least 39 distinct subspecies of plants and animals evolved in the archipelago, including seven mammals, three birds and fifteen species of the stickleback fish that are found nowhere else in the world.
We cruised across inlets, around Louise Island to spend the first night at Moresby Float Camp, the house anchored in a secluded fjord. The blue skies reflected in mirror calm green waters. We docked and were welcomed by the two young women who cooked for us, with tasty appetizers, tea, coffee and hot chocolate. They even had a fireplace giving us much needed warmth to warm our chilled hands and feet. After a great dinner of bbq salmon, salad, veggies and rice we fell asleep in no time. Most of our fellow adventurers had brought along their own bottle of wine. We hadn’t realized you could do that. If you like a glass of wine with your dinner, bring a bottle in your pack!
The next morning we had fresh coffee, eggs, homemade bread, granola and yogurt before bundling up again. This became a ritual: two or three layers of warm clothes, thick socks and gloves. Then our own outer gear, the provided rain pants tucked into the gumboots and the rainjacket over top of everything else. By the time you can’t bend down anymore, you still have to maneuver into a lifejacket and into the waiting zodiak. We’d pull a warm hat and scarf over nose, mouth and face and then we were ready to zoom across the Hecate Strait to our next destination.
Moresby Float Camp has a large open living room, kitchen and bedrooms. There’s no shower but running water and regular toilets. Bedding was well organized: we took our (provided) sheets and pillowcases with us for 3 nights.
To be continued…