Location: Offshore to the British Columbia, Canada
Significance: National Park and Heritage Site
Attraction Type: National Park, Flora and Fauna, Haida Heritage Tourism, Whale Watching
How to Reach: Access to Gwaii Haanas is minimal. It is not one of the most easily accessible areas in the world with no rail or road tracks. The only way to reach is through kayaks, sea boats and chartered floatplanes. Book your boats at Moresby Camp, the largest island. Also undergo a proper orientation before you actually launch in the journey.
Nearest Airport: Sandspit Airport, with connecting flights to Vancouver.
A few kilometers off the shore of the British Columbia, covering an area of 1470 sq km, lies a collection of over a hundred islands that present a world that is markedly different from anything that can be found in the North American mainland. Included within the national park network of Canada, the Gwaii Haanas National Park has been home for centuries for the Haida people, as well as a group of unique and indigenous flora and fauna. Although there are still contentions over the ownership of the national park among the Canadian and the Haida people, they are well in accord about the supreme importance of maintaining this unique eco-zone. It is therefore no doubt that its wonderful natural beauty, great wildlife spotting opportunities and the rich cultural heritage of the local Haidi people make Gwaii Haanas an extremely popular destination in North America.
Gwaii Haanas Flora and Fauna
Gwaii Haanas is home to multiple ecological zones. This unique natural reserve is home to a large number of island species, which have little common with mainland species. Even when they are related to mainland species like the black bear, they are much larger and anatomically distinct. Other wildlife that can be spotted in the Gwaii Haanas includes the native dusky shrew, the short tailed weasel and the deer mouse. Sitka black tailed deer, squirrels, as many as three species of rats, raccoons and beavers are some of the species that have been recently introduced and many of them are becoming causes for environmental hazards, particularly the trees of the region.
The large number of trees in the national park including the famous pine marten become homes to thousands of birds. The extended shoreline is home to over half a million seabirds, while the trees are burrowed by ancient murrelets, tufted puffin, Cassin’s auklet and other burrowers. Bald eagles and pelagic cormorants can also be seen. It is also visited by a large number of migratory birds every year.
Whale Watching in Gwaii Haanas
The waters around the Gwaii Haanas are home to a large number of aquatic species. In fact, few other marine region of the world has a higher concentration of aquatic life. Salmons, rockfish, crabs, starfish, sea urchins, octopuses and halibuts are some of the species that inhabit these waters. However, the greatest attractions are the whales that either stay in these waters or cross it on the way of their migration. The gray whales pass it on the way to their passage to the Bering Sea. It is also home to other whale species including the Orca or killer whale, the humpback and the minke whale. It is therefore, no wonder that kayaking in Gwaii Haanas is one of the most exhilarating experiences in the island.
The Haida People
Gwaii Haanas Tour is integrally linked to the Haidi Heritage Tour. The unique lifestyle and culture of the Haida people are as much of an attraction of a tour to the Gwaii Haanas as its unique wildlife and picturesque beauty. The Haida have inhabited the island for hundreds of years and have successfully held on to their century old customs and heritages, even in the face of increasing external influences. A visit to a Haidi island is almost a spiritual experience. In no other place in the world can you land, sea and people live in closer harmony. This harmony somehow instills in you a sense of being in unison with nature.
The first thing that you are likely to notice during your tour to a Haida village is their unique home. These Haida homes are adjacent of huge cedar poles that proudly announce the lineage of particular Haida families. The village of Ninstints is the best place to see these totem poles. The unique architecture of their homes also betrays their close connection with the land and the sea surrounding the island. A similar expertise is seen in the building of the canoe. No account of the Haida people is complete without a mention of the Haida Gwaii Watchmen. In the ancient times, they were stationed on high platforms to look out for possible invaders. Many of them still continue in that station, however their profile is less militant now. They largely preside over the governance of many of the old villages, including tourist hotspots like the Hotspring Island. Apart from the Haida artworks and cultural artifacts, the Gwaii Haanas National Park also bears testimony to the settlement of European and Japanese industrialists. The remains of their ambitious constructions also exude a quaint and endearing charm.
Tour Operators in Gwaii Haanas
The best way to explore the Gwaii Haanas is to book yourself with some tour operating agency that have been in this business for many years. There are many such agencies that specialize in Gwaii Haanas tourism. Archipelago Ventures Ltd., Bluewater Adventures, Butterfly tours and Duen Sailing Adventures are some of the more popular tour operators in the archipelago. These agencies not only make your trip fruitful by taking you to the tourist hotspots but also arrange for deep sea kayaking, an experience you must never miss when in Gwaii Haanas.