Looking for agates on East Beach as the setting sun colours the sky purple. Counting 70 baby-sized adult deer within an hour during a night-time drive. Cruising along the coast with the rising sun to catch the Prince Rupert-bound ferry. And so my seven-day visit in Haida Gwaii finished with a sigh last Monday, not including the seven-hour ferry back to the mainland and the seven-hour drive back to the geographic centre of B.C.
(That’s three sevens!)
I had such an amazing time on the islands, and so much to share, that it’s unfortunately taking more than a seven-hour ferry ride to process and decide on a story to focus on, so here’s some highlights!
Travelling by boat tour, my friend and I visited old logging camps, marked by leftover rusting machinery and boots, as well as abandoned settlements New Clew and Skedans, where tombstones covered by overgrown moss and the remnants of decaying or fallen mortuary/totem poles can still be glimpsed today.
We drove through really bumpy, hilly, and at times cliffy and bottom-scratching logging roads in a small car, following a pickup truck with a radio, to beautiful Rennell Sound on the west coast of Haida Gwaii, where we tented in the pouring rain by the misty ocean view.
We ran across a carving-in-progress totem pole dedicated to the residential school legacy, to be shipped by barge to Vancouver and raised in UBC by mid-October.
[April 1, 2017 Update] The finished pole has now been raised in UBC, through traditional methods, by hundreds of Haida Nation members and other ceremony attendees.
It’s vibrant green hikes up Tow Hill, where we got a breathtaking view of North Beach and the coastal foliage, and to the Pseuta shipwreck during low tide. A bright rainbow appeared just as we approached the shipwreck and gave us some surprising extra photo ops.
Moon Over Naikoon Bakery
The coolest bakery I’ve ever seen is found off a driveway into the woods east of Masset, in the form of a colourfully-painted yellow school bus beside which visitors can lounge in a hammock or patio seating under a garden trestle. It’s also where we ran into the young(-looking) mayor of Masset. Toasty warm from the oven and filled with the smell of fresh baking, the bus warmed us with hearty chowder and delicious flaky buns. Mmmmm.
People and their stories — or antics — are certainlyinstrumental in connecting the passing visitor to a place, and in this case, it started with a good friend in Vanderhoof that last worked in Haida Gwaii 10 years ago and shared advice on where to go, what to do, and who to say hi — or give a high five — to.
The search for these spots turned parts of the trip into a scavenger hunt, such as the agate-filled beach that’s not called Agate Beach, “There are really a lot of agates here!” Or the tackle shop that used to serve to-died-for fish and chips, “We stopped doing that in 2012, too much work.”
And that’s how I met Kurt, who manages the one and only gas bar in Masset. His books of shame and history not only feature black and white photographs of long-time Masset residents, but also all — RCMP officers included — who got stuck while driving through the intertidal beach or mud, and called for his towing services. Photograph first, then rescue.
Haida Gwaii’s pool and other tales
An archaeologist, who hosted us with her forester husband at their octagon-shaped home overlooking Queen Charlotte’s island-studded bay, regaled us with their stories of inconvenient convenience stores, pizza places with no pizza, seafood allergies in a seafood-rich place, as well as the fact that a pool on the island was decommissioned a few years ago but communities are disagreeing where a potential new pool should be.
According to most I’ve chatted with, tourism numbers in Haida Gwaii are way up this year; one even said it’s a 30 per cent increase from last year! While logging continues, Haida Gwaii — with a similar population size to Vanderhoof — needs to focus on improving its economy with tourism as well as its Internet speed, a concerned citizen said. How feasible is a fibre optic through the Hecate Strait from Prince Rupert?
A highlight that’s as bright as the high beam from the opposite lane is when i lost or dropped my wallet on the trip’s first day, thus derailing our original plan to stop by Smithers for a hike to Crater Lake. I would also have liked to kayak, surf, crab, and dance for razor clams — stamping in a circle in knee-deep water — next time, not necessarily in this order or at the same time.
And that’s all, folks! If you really want to hear more — I can go on and on — you know where to find me.
Thanks! Or as the Haida say, “Haawa!”