Tony and Dawnelle Guenther
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Finally... Haida Gwaii
We've been married for 30 years. Yeah us!!
And for most of those 30 years we've talked & dreamed about making a trip to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii). As our 30th Anniversary drew closer we thought... "What better reason did we need?" Celebrate 30 years of marriage & exploring British Columbia by going on the ultimate road trip!
So the planning began. Those of you who know us know that we don't go anywhere without a plan & without doing a lot of research ahead of time. For us that's half the fun! If you're reading our blog right now because you're thinking of a trip to Haida Gwaii I hope you'll find this entry useful & helpful. I've written it with some how-to's, recommendations & must-do's!!
Before we left on our trip there were a few things we needed to do ahead of time. We reserved our spots on the ferry for there and back. Since the trip there was an overnight run we also booked a sleeping berth. I was very pleasantly surprised at our cozy little room on the Northern Expedition. With our own TV & bathroom and very comfy beds we actually slept a lot better than I expected. Another thing we did was book all our accommodations. We decided that we wanted to move around and explore different areas of the island so we reserved three different places - the Hecate Inn in Queen Charlotte City, the Sand Dollar cabin at North Beach Cabins near Massett and for the last three nights we stayed at Chateau Lawnhill in Lawnhill. The last thing we did (OK..I did) was put together a "Our Trip to Haida Gwaii" binder complete with copies of email correspondence, ferry confirmation numbers, special places we wanted to see and even a copy of tide table on the dates we planned to be there.
Exploring Haida Gwaii was like being on the pages of a National Geographic magazine. Everywhere we went we were struck by beauty. I think Tony got very tired of me saying... this is soooo beautiful! But it was true. We spent a week exploring from one end of Graham Island to the other. Here are some of our favourite spots...
Almost everything we read about Haida Gwaii said don't miss Rennell Sound so we figured that we'd better make sure to go there. Well the books weren't wrong.
We went to the sound on our first day on the island. We sure enjoyed the drive there....driving through beautiful forests on gravel roads has always been one of our favourite pastimes! We knew that there was a steep hill at the end of the drive but Tony managed the 24% grade like a pro! After the hill we continued on to the trail head for Gregory Beach. I was excited to learn that there was a cache hidden on this trail... just another bonus for visiting here. After we found the cache (GCX55R) we continued on down the trail to the ocean. Wow is all I can say! Rennell Sound is the only west coast beach on Graham Island that is accessible by road and apparently one of the best beach combing beaches on the entire west coast of North America. We didn't find anything special that day, no beautiful sea shells and no coveted glass fishing floats, but we did see an enormous black bear walking along the beach ahead of us. A once in a lifetime experience!
THE GOLDEN SPRUCE
A beautiful legend & a mystery all rolled into one....that is the story of Kiidk'yass or the Golden Spruce. Kiidk'yass was a tree with a rare genetic mutation that made its needles yellow. For centuries the Haida Nation had revered Kiidk'yass as a mythical force. sitting on the banks of the Yakoun River, it was a thing of beauty and according to the Haida, would be there till the end of generations. Then in 1997 an eco-terrorist named Grant Hadwin cut the tree down as "a wake-up call" against industrial logging. The logic of this act escapes me but that is not the end of the story. Released on bail, Grant Hadwin disappeared while on the way to his trial. His broken, abandoned kayak and belongings were found on a remote island but no trace of Hadwin was ever found or has been found since.
Fortunately, about 20 years previous, cuttings had been taken from Kiidk'yass by a group of botanists from UBC. After the Golden Spruce was felled, UBC offered one of the new golden saplings to the Haida people which they accepted and planted near the base of the original tree.
Today, beside the Yakoun River, you can still see the once mighty tree, now lying on its side, with a brand new yellow spruce planted at its roots.
The 10 minute walk to the Golden Spruce is accessed from the road to Juskatla and takes you past some of the most amazing old growth forest we have ever seen.
We arrived at our cabin on the very northern end of Graham Island on a beautiful sunny day... perfect timing to explore this amazing area. If you love long walks along the ocean (like me) then this is the place for you... sandy shoreline as far as the eye can see. Just to put it in perspective -- Long Beach, on Vancouver Island, is about 25km long. The continuous length of sandy beaches on Graham Island starts at Massett, continues all along the north coast, around Rose Spit and down to Tlell on the east coast, approximately 100 kms of sandy beach. Incredible and just waiting to be explored.
TOW HILL & NAIKOON PROVINCIAL PARK
Tow Hill, on the northeast end of Naikoon Provincial Park is a volcanic plug that stands out above the tree line, easily seen from miles away. The 45 minute hike to the top is an easy one since the entire trail is a boardwalk! First time I've ever seen that. At the top you're rewarded with a view that is awe-inspiring.. .and on a clear day you can see Alaska. Really.
THE WRECK OF THE PESUTA
The Pesuta Shipwreck was the one "must-do" that we never made it to. Weather, time constraints and high tides all made it a little difficult to get to but we have some friends who went there this summer and they really enjoyed the hike there and exploring the wreck.
It's one thing to see history in a glass case or read about it in a book. It's an entirely different thing to see it and touch in the middle of the rainforest. That was our experience when we hiked to one of 4 Haida canoes that have been abandoned on Haida Gwaii. No one knows why these half finished canoes were left to rot but they were. Were they not carved properly? Did they crack? It's a mystery and we love mysteries. You'll find the trail head for the Juskatla Canoe at N53 36.145 W132 16.913 and the canoe at N53 36.121 W132 16.701.
HAIDA HERITAGE CENTRE
This 26 million dollar museum & Heritage Centre in Skidegate is incredible. From the huge authentic totems to the tiny baskets woven with spruce roots... well worth the $15 entrance fee.
Balance Rock is a huge glacial erratic just north of Skidegate that sits perfectly balanced on the point of another rock in the middle of a beach near Skidegate. You've got to see it to really appreciate it.
There are many places to stay on Haida Gwaii... from campsites to B&Bs. The pitfalls of reserving a place through a website is that you never know if it's as good as it looks in the pictures! We were fortunate to find three wonderful accomodations and I'd highly recommend each one of them.
HECATE INN in Queen Charlotte City was clean and quiet. We had our own apartment with a separate bedroom and kitchen which was great for making our own meals. They also had internet access which can be pretty important if you need to keep in touch with your family. NORTH BEACH CABINS was the most rustic of the three places we stayed. The Sand Dollar, which was our cabin, had no electricity but it was cozy with a propane stove & heater and the incredible North beach was only minutes away. Lisa, our host, has added all sorts of beautiful touches to make her place special... even stained glass windows in the outhouses! CHATEAU LAWNHILL was the last place we stayed and from the moment we arrived Ron, our host, made sure we felt at home. We appreciated all the advice he gave us for exploring the island and sure enjoyed the huge salmon steaks he brought us!
Before we knew it our week had come to an end and it was time to head home. We really hated to see it come to end... there was so much more we would have liked to see but well, reality beckons.
The wonder & beauty of Haida Gwaii is not something we will soon forget. It truly was the trip of a lifetime.
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