Thursday, September 8, 2011

Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii)

The passage across Hecate Straight started out somewhat bouncy but by the time we were about half way across, we broke out into sun and the seas calmed. Lisa flew into Sandspit Airport the next day and our Haida Gwaii adventure began.
To go into Gwaii Hanaas (the National Park Reserve)you must attend an orientation presentation that lays out the rules inside the park boundaries but also shows some beautiful slides of the marine life.  Each person is issued a waterproof, tear-proof tag with their name on it that is to be displayed whenever you go to a village site within the park.  The orientation is done at the new Interpretive Centre and Museum that opened in 2008.  Cameras were not allowed in the museum but I took several photos of the new poles erected for the opening of the centre.

Food is always a major concern on all our trips whether they be canoeing or on the boat.  In keeping with our theme of "living off the land (and sea)" we enjoyed this lunch of crab and salmon sushi.

Crab and salmon sushi

Our first stop at a Haida village was at Tanu.  The villages we visited were all abandoned around 1900 when the populations were decimated by smallpox.  The missionaries encouraged the Haida to come to Skidigate on Moresby Island and Masset on Graham Island where they could look after them.  Most of the house totem poles were removed and taken to museums and private collections.  Several are at the Provincial Musuem in Victoria and are worth a visit if you are in the area.   Generally only mortuary poles were left.  The Haida believed that the soul of the chief, whose remains were placed at the top of the pole, would return to the earth and be reincarnated.   

The remains of house beams at Tanu

Our next stop was at Hotsprings Island, a very popular spot for visitors.  There are no poles at Hotsprings Island but the three hot pools more than make up for it.  In fact, we enjoyed it so much we made a second stop on our way back to Sandspit.

Captain and crew at Hotsprings Island

Watchmen's house and change rooms at Hotsprings Island
Our second visit to a Haida village was to SGaang Gwaii which is a UNESCO world heritage site.  The poles remaining here are again all mortuary poles but are in better condition than at any other site.  At the main historical sites there are Haida watchmen present.  The watchmen program is based in the village of Skidagate and trains the Haida who stay at the sites to oversee the activities there.  The number of visitors at any one time is limited and it is necessary to radio ahead for permission to land.  The watchmen also tour visitors through the sites and provide information about the carvings on the poles and history about the village.  It’s an excellent program and the information provided by the watchmen greatly enhances the visit.

Not that the Haida sites were anything to yawn about but the highlight of the trip for me was paddling around in Dolomite Narrows at low tide in my glass-bottomed kayak.  Dolomite Narrows is an amazing place to observe marine life.  Parks’ surveys have found 293 species of tidal and intertidal life.  They calculate that more protein per square meter exists here than any place in the world.  I had some trouble keeping the kayak in one spot long enough to take a photo and the ones I took through the glass panel show reflections but you get the idea.
Brown bat star


Pink starfish

Egg Yolk Jellyfish

Bat stars
View through the window in my kayak

 Our last stop at a Haida village was at Skedans.  Irene, our watchman guide’s family was from Skedans and she filled in much of the village’s history as she toured us through the site.  At the shore Norm found a couple of nudibranchs that we put into a bucket to observe and photograph.   Upon leaving the site we had a large raft of kelp become entangled under the port rudder which took us an hour to remove.   
At the watchmen's cabin at Skedans

During our travels we came upon a sea lion haul-out.  I took this photo from quite a distance so it’s not great but they were neat to see.  We also saw whales regularly but I didn’t even try to photograph them.  They are impressive animals and we were always excited to spot them.

Sea lion haul-out

Tomorrow we leave the Charlottes and head back to Sidney.
Our last sunset at Sandspit marina

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