Haida Gwaii, Cox Island Photo: Destination BC/Grant Harder
The moody, misty islands of Haida Gwaii, previously called the Queen Charlotte Islands are 300 km (180 mi) long and located 100 km (60 mi) off the northwest coast of British Columbia. The two main islands, Graham Island in the north and Moresby in the south, are divided by Skidegate Channel and separated from mainland BC by Hecate Strait. The islands have developed in isolation from the rest of the province and were spared the effects of the ice that covered the rest of BC until 10,000 years ago. As a result, the coastal rainforests, wetlands, sand dunes, beaches, rugged mountains, streams and lakes of Haida Gwaii nurture an extensive population of plants and animals that exist nowhere else on earth. In fact, because so many unique life forms have developed, the islands are referred to as Canada’s Galapagos. The endless opportunities to experience the unique wilderness of Haida Gwaii include ocean kayaking, scuba diving, flight seeing, birding, wildlife observation, traditional canoeing, Llama trekking, cycling and hiking.
Getting to and from Haida Gwaii is as easy as walking onto a ferry or a plane. The BC Ferries ferry ride between Prince Rupert and Skidegate is six and a half hours. The alternative is to fly from Vancouver International Airport or Prince Rupert to Sandspit Airport. On the Island, Highway 16 is the main road stretching from Masset to Skidegate. It is paved and in relatively good condition. It should be noted however, that roads off the highway are gravel and many are used by logging trucks. Do proper planning before you head out.
Nestled on the southern tip of Graham Island, Queen Charlotte City was the first registered town site on the Islands. It is the largest community on the island and has a range of services to make your stay enjoyable and is also the jumping off point for many adventures to more remote parts of Haida Gwaii. Queen Charlotte City is located 4 km (2.4 mi) west of the BC ferry dock at Skidegate Landing. Visitors can relax, unwind and enjoy warm friendly ambiance of this small coastal community.
Aside from the wilderness, every visitor should explore the cultural heritage unique to Haida Gwaii. As the land of the Haida people, you will be greeted by Haida artistry throughout the Islands. Including world renowned totem poles and carvings. The most compelling reason to visit is to explore the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve & Haida Heritage Site. It offers an inspiring glimpse of rugged coastal beauty blended with rich coastal ecology. An astonishing reserve, this park encompasses 137 smaller islands of the Queen Charlotte archipelago. More than 500 ancient Haida sites can be found among these islands, which offer a glimpse into the past of BC’s predominant aboriginal peoples. To access the park, visitors would be wise to plan several days in advance. Special arrangements by boat or plane should be made, as there is no vehicle access. Also, you are required to have reservations, as there is a limit on the number of people who can use the park at any given time. Visitors who have not been to the park in the past 3 years are required to take a 90-minute orientation session. Visitors who invest the time to discover the deep heritage of Haida Gwaii will be handsomely rewarded. Here, there exists a unique opportunity to peer into 10,000 years of history left behind by the Haida nation. Exploring this park is arguably the number one reason for coming to – and returning to – Haida Gwaii.