Finding Forest Fairies on the Magical Islands of Haida Gwaii

Photography: Joss Hooren

By Joss Hooren

Never have I been to a place where the whole population is so mindful about taking only what they need from the planet, and the people’s connection to the land and sea is so evident through their art, mythology and way of life. Beautiful Haida Gwaii, meaning ‘Islands of the People’, is an archipelago of approximately 150 islands off the west coast of British Columbia. The islands are remote and travel to Gwaii Haanas (‘Islands of Beauty’) National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site is by air or sea only. Perhaps the best way to see Gwaii Haanas is by multi-day boat trip of at least a week, but if your time or budget does not stretch that far, it is possible to do a day trip and spend your remaining time exploring the many beaches, hiking trails and cultural sites accessible by road.

Given how isolated the islands are, the unpredictable weather and a lack of resort-style kid amenities, this may not be the first place you think of for your family holiday, but I urge you to reconsider. We recently spent an adventurous week on Haida Gwaii, where my 20-month-old son, Theo, was in his element. We flew from Vancouver to Sandspit and then hired a car to enable us to explore the islands as far the roads would allow. There are many options for accommodation; we decided to stay near Tlell, just inside the boundaries of Naikoon Provincial Park, in a self-catered guesthouse. This option is perfect for families as we were able to cook our own meals and had more than enough space for the three of us.

Given how isolated the islands are, the unpredictable weather and a lack of resort-style kid amenities, this may not be the first place you think of for your family holiday, but I urge you to reconsider.

Theo is at an age where hikes of up to 15km are manageable and enjoyable for us all. He’ll happily walk a fair amount of this, but we use a sling or back carrier when he wants a break. This also maintains our sanity after we’ve chased him heading back the way we’ve just come along a trail/down a hill/to the edge of cliff for the umpteenth time! We did several beautiful hikes on Graham Island, including Spirit Lakes, a loop trail that can be done with a member of Gwaii Haanas staff as a guide, and Tow Hill, a 122m hill formed from lava eruptions approximately two million years ago. The trail at Tow Hill is well-signed for both the summit and the surge channel known as the ‘Blow Hole’, it offers beautiful views over North Beach and the lava rock beach directly below, and a number of plaques provide written information about the significance of the area to the Haida.

Our favourite hikes were those off trail. The smells, sights and sounds of the rainforest are best when unfiltered by human presence. Get lost on the logging roads and then carve an untrodden path through the forest, over streams and along the shores of scenic lakes and dramatic coastline. There are endless opportunities for outdoor play and exploration of nature; just remember to keep an eye (and ear) out for bears! Wildlife is in abundance and we were privileged to have close encounters (thankfully from the car, not on foot!) with at least half a dozen black bears during our time on the islands. We also had frequent sightings of bald eagles, ravens and other birds of prey, and Sitka black-tailed deer can be seen around every bend.

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