Kiwi Adventures in BC: Exploring the Magical Haida Gwaii

The remote islands of Haida Gwaii tempt a travelling Kiwi who experiences balancing rocks, badminton lessons, bakeries in the bush and blow holes

Credit: Lydia Millett

BC Paradise: Ocean view in Northern Haida Gwaii

Deserted beaches, old growth forests, balancing rocks and elusive sea critters: Highlights from a week in the magical Haida Gwaii

Since I’ve been in Canada, I’ve done quite a bit of travel around BC, and my trip to Haida Gwaii still remains a highlight. Located about 120 km west of the outer islands of northern BC, Haida Gwaii is a chain of 150 remote islands reachable by boat or plane.

My boyfriend and I took a van full of camping gear across on the ferry and, after a long ride sadly void of orca or dolphin sightings, we arrived at Skidegate, Graham Island just in time to enjoy the glorious mid afternoon sun.

The drive along the coast to Naikoon Provincial Park was in itself pretty special with bright purple wild flowers lining the roads, long stretches of beaches covered in driftwood, and teeny tiny deer frolicking around and sometimes on the road for ongoing entertainment. So far so good!

Paddling in the Purest of Lakes

Image: The beautiful Pure Lake

We were definitely spoiled that first day; the sun was out and it was warm enough to leisurely beachcomb and paddle in the gorgeous and incredibly clear Pure Lake.

However, as we moved north, the skies began to cloud over and the wind came up. I’d like to tell you that it didn’t last, but nope, we spent the rest of the trip rugged up, teeth chattering.

Wandering the Wild and Wonderful North Beach

Image: North Beach

Luckily, Haida Gwaii has that captivating, rugged, natural beauty thing going on that a little weather can’t hamper. So, the following day we pulled on wet weather gear and wandered amongst masses of seaweed and driftwood on a very windy North Beach, and then hiked to the impressive Tow Hill blow hole to ooh and ahh at the power of the ocean as it shoots up a hole in the rocks and looks like a whale’s spout.

Image: Blow hole at Tow Hill

Later we followed the ‘fresh bread ahead’ sign and warmed up with coffee and enormous cinnamon buns fresh out of the oven at New Moon Over Naikoon Bakery, the most adorable little bakery located in the Naikoon Provincial Park, in a log cabin that has no electricity, and everything is made from scratch. Such a gem in the middle of nowhere!

Badminton and Dancing Lessons from a Fellow Kiwi

Image: Dungeness badminton practice on North Beach

The next morning, with the thought of fresh dungeness crabs making us salivate, we wandered into a local convenience store looking for a net and, surprise, surprise, found another kiwi.

I have to say he was pretty easy to spot as a New Zealander; half his face was covered in moko, traditional Maori tattooing. Turned out he’s married to a Haida woman and had lived in Haida Gwaii for over 10 years.

Kiwis are pretty friendly folk, so I wasn’t too surprised that he took us back to his place. I was slightly surprised at the seafood gathering lessons that ensued, which involved learning how to use the crab nets like badminton racquets and how to find razor clams by dancing and stomping in circles.

Then, in true kiwi style he loaned us nets, shovels and buckets, and sent us on our way, most likely shaking his head in amusement: “Kids these days.”

Elusive Critters: Our Failed Attempts at Hunting and Gathering

The next day we headed eagerly back to North Beach and while my boyfriend spent hours out in the freezing surf practising his badminton, I stomped around in circles doing the clam dance.

Neither of us had any luck and we had two-minute noodles out of the back of our van for dinner that night.

A Picnic on the Peaceful Tlell River

Image: Tlell River

Not discouraged by our lack of success so far, and hoping to have something to show for ourselves when we returned the fishing equipment, we set off through the forest for Tlell river with fishing rods in hand.

The hike was gorgeous, although I was slightly on edge due to the ‘bear habitat’ signs around every corner; I’m completely content with not having a bear encounter story to tell. You guessed it, we didn’t even come close to catching anything, but our picnic by the river among huge old growth trees was worth the hike.

A Balancing Rock and Some Impressive Exhibits

Image: Balance Rock, Skidegate

On our last day on the island I made sure we stopped to see the famous and appropriately named balance rock, just north of Skidegate. This is a sight to behold – a huge bolder that appears ready to topple, teeters just off the shoreline and seems to be a symbol of nature taunting the brutal storms that bash Haida Gwaii’s coast every year.

We spent the rest of the day at the Haida Heritage centre. Located not far from Skidegate, where the old Haida Village Kaay Llnagaay used to be, the Centre is made up of five contemporary longhouses that sit right on the water and are surrounded by totem poles carved by local artists.

Image: Totem pole outside the Haida Heritage Centre

Run by the Haida Nation, we found exhibits that tell the stories about the Haida people, both past and present; stories of a brutal colonial past, of survival and the work being done today to retain values, culture and language.

We spent the afternoon wandering the exhibits, admiring traditional and modern art, watching skilled carvers in the Bill Reid teaching centre, and enjoying the views and the sunshine which finally appeared an hour before we boarded the ferry home.

Lydia Millett hails from New Zealand and has recently moved to Vancouver. She has an English literature degree and a diploma in creative writing.