Haida Gwaii Mini-Safari
Your adventure tour to Haida Gwaii, “Islands of the People”, begins with a cruise into the deep wilderness of the Inside Passage, where you can surround yourself in flourishing rain forests, windswept sand-dunes and endless beaches.
- Explore the Queen Charlotte Islands, known as Canada’s “Galapagos”
- Indigenous culture and art
- Totems that honour 10,000 years of history
- Traditional Haida feast
- Abundant and varied wildlife; whales, porpoises, & dolphins, seals, black bears and many species of birds
CA$4,350 – twin
CA$5,310 – single
Taxes: 5% GST
Prices are shown in CA$, per person, based on two people sharing a twin room and one person in a single.
Today you arrive into Port Hardy and check into your hotel. Check-in time is after 3 p.m. Time to get comfortable and relax. In the early evening meet you local guide and the rest of the group to brief on the tour and optional activities while on tour. Early to bed to prepared for our early morning start to Bear Cove and cruise along the Inside Passage.
We begin our adventure tour to Haida Gwaii early this morning as we embark on a 15 hour voyage up the Inside Passage. As the ship departs the harbour at 7:30 am we’re already on our way upstairs to our reserved seats in the dining room, craving our favourite hot beverage. A sumptuous breakfast buffet awaits with several varieties of eggs, meats, seafood, cheeses, breads, pastries and juice. We take time to linger over breakfast while watching the gently rolling wilderness wake up to the day.
About 1500 kilometres in length, the Inside Passage starts in Puget Sound in Washington State and extends north along the British Columbia coastline to the Alaska Panhandle. The first 500 kilometres of the Inside Passage are sheltered by Vancouver Island. Ours is the middle portion and is the most rugged and isolated section of the Inside Passage.
Shortly after leaving Port Hardy, on the north tip of Vancouver Island, we cross the open ocean and round Cape Caution to the Central Coast Archipelago. This feature marks the beginning of the sheltered route north to Prince Rupert. We pass through a pristine marine wilderness where the hand of man appears sporadically. In this land no roads connect the settlements we see.
Built in Germany in 2009, the Northern Expedition harnesses 9000 horsepower for an average cruising speed of 18 knots. This 150-meter ship offers 55 staterooms and accommodates 638 passengers and crew and 130 vehicles. Spacious passenger areas such as the Canoe Cafe, Vista Restaurant and the Raven and Aurora Lounges complement what is a unique sailing experience. This is not a jammed cruise ship where one competes for space and amenities!
Along the way, the captain and crew provide narrative accounts of local sights, including wildlife sightings which are common on this route. Gray and humpback whales, orcas, porpoises, dolphins, seals, and black bears and many species of birds call this land home.
One of the first sights is the abandoned cannery village of Namu, meaning place of high winds, or whirlwinds. Dating from when the cannery was first established in 1893, Namu is the oldest settlement on BC’s west coast. Excavations have unearthed artifacts dating back 10,000 years. Our first glimpse of real civilization is Bella Bella. With a population of 1,400, this is the largest settlement on the central coast and is home to the Heiltsuk First Nations.
At mid point in our Inside Pasasge cruise we sail close to the manned Boat Bluff Light Station. Built in 1897, Boat Bluff marks the northbound entrance to the narrow Sarah Passage. Its light can be seen for 20 miles. Here, the coastline is so rugged that any boat would be hard-pressed to find a welcoming landing site.
Just over halfway to Prince Rupert, our chances of seeing bears increase as we approach Princess Royal Island, the favourite haunt of the elusive Kermode, or Spirit Bear. Its white colour is the result of a single recessive gene carried by both parents. Wildlife biologists believe the high concentration of Spirit bears on Princess Royal Island is because they are geographically isolated from other black bear populations. Many of the Kitasoo/Xaixais people believe the Spirit bears hold super-natural powers. Hence, the name Spirit bear – one that suits its mythical-like presence.
About ten hours into our voyage we encounter abandoned Swanson Bay, established in 1909 as one of the first sulfate pulp mills on the coast. Next is Butedale, founded as a cannery and abandoned in the 1950’s. Then, four hours from Prince Rupert, at about dinner time, we enter Grenville Chanel, the most spectacular channel in the Inside Passage. Mountains ranging from 1500 to 3500 feet surround us as we enter this 70-kilometre long channel, the narrowest portion of which is a mere 1400 feet wide.
Our wilderness cruise comes to a close when we dock in Prince Rupert, “The City of Rainbows” (pop. 15,000), by 10:30 pm. For most of the summer, dusk will now be upon us, or will have shortly arrived – as we are now further north, the sun takes longer to wane. Our ocean view hotel is a 10-minute drive away.
We awaken to the sight of massive freighters anchored in the deepest natural harbour in North America. After breakfast we can visit the Northern Museum. Inspired by the Tsimshian First Nations, the museum is a testament of the traditional ways First Nations’ people lived, warred, traded and travelled up and down the coast long before European contact.
We continue downhill to historic Cow Bay, the site of a once thriving cannery that brought thousands of Europeans to the west coast of Canada. We look for bargains in the row of historical buildings that now host a funky shopping district.
From Prince Rupert we make our way to the local seaplane base. Here we board a floatplane and take-off for a ninety-minute flight for Masset (pop. 1000). This town is located on northern Graham Island close to Old Massett, a Haida village and administrative centre of the Council of Haida Nation. These fishing villages are the gateway to Naikoon Provincial Park and home to about 1700 residents, including many esteemed Haida artists.
After check in it’s off to enjoy a traditional First Nations dinner in a private Big House. The meal, which will be accompanied by aboriginal dancers and drummers, will be a night to remember.
This morning we head to Naikoon Provincial Park for a morning of walking, rainforests and beaches. On the way we visit the Delkatla Nature Sanctuary. This sanctuary is a vital resting stop for migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway including sand hill cranes, bald eagles, Canada geese, trumpeter swans and a distinct subspecies of the great blue heron.
Naikoon Provincial Park encompasses 72,640 hectares of pristine wilderness along the Northeast tip of Graham Island including 97 kilometres of sandy beaches – a beachcomber’s delight. The park is mostly lowland forest with stunted lodge pole pine, red and yellow cedar, Sitka spruce and hemlock.
Our one kilometre round trip walk starts in the rainforest on a well maintained earth and boardwalk path that follows the shores of the Hiellen River. We wind our way through coastal forests comprised of ferns, deadfall and salal to the summit of Tow Hill. The hard packed earth trail changes quickly to boardwalk a few hundred metres into the hike.
At the top of the trail, the views extend seemingly forever. The coastline cliffs, open ocean, and rocky shoreline below stretch before us as the sound of the waves crash below. On a clear day one can see Alaska.
Later we visit local artist in their home studios. Visiting these numerous home studios throughout the village make this day especially unique as you get a real sense of the people and culture of the Haida. Optional activities include fishing, or visiting abandoned villages with local guides.
We make out way south on Graham Island and stop in the village of Port Clements (pop, 400) for lunch and take a short walk along the Golden Spruce Trail. Here we’ll learn the story behind this incredible tree and the tragic events that took place.
The village of Tlell (pop. 375), once a tiny Haida fishing village, was settled by European ranchers at the turn of the century. This pastoral community is identified with artists, artisans, and others seeking alternative lifestyles. It is now home to a collection of art galleries including the Crystal Gallery. We visit the Crystal Cabin Gallery to view beautiful crystals, gemstones and original Haida Art.
Our accommodation for the next two nights is owned by the Haida, either at the central lodge or one of the outlying cabins. The central lodge is an 8,000 square foot post and beam cedar building that stands in seven acres of forest with easy access to the forest, dunes and beach. In the evening guests can walk out on the beach to watch the sunset over Hecate Straight. Balance Rock is nearby. This large boulder was left behind from the glacial retreat of the ice age. Many decades later it still sits perfectly suspended on another rock’s pointed head, guarding the shores of Graham Island. Balance Rock is sacred to the Haida.
Today our adventure tour of Haida Gwaii begins with a tour the Village of Skidegate (pop. 743) and Village of Queen Charlotte (pop. 1045).
The morning is set aside to learn about Haida culture. By visiting the Haida Heritage Centre, we contribute to the continuation of the Haida way of life and sharing in the responsibility of protecting one of the world’s great cultures. Attractions include the Carving Shed, the Canoe House and Yahl, the Performing House and the Eating House. The centre features a collection of Haida artifacts including a large argillite collection, poles, traditional and ceremonial clothing and everyday household objects. Day tours include the Pole Tour, the Weaving Tour and the Canoe Tour.
From Skidegate we make our way to the charming Village of Queen Charlotte., spread among bays and islands. Guests can stroll along the waterfront to check out the bustling docks, source local art and great food in funky shops and cafes. We return to the lodge by late in the afternoon. The evening is free to enjoy exploring on your own.
Meals: Breakfast, dinner
Today’s a big day of adventure begins as we jump in our zodiac to visit abandoned villages of the Haida.
We first take the BC Ferry from Skidegate to Moresby Island and then a drive along a logging road to the outfitting station. Here we don our survival suites and prepare to board our zodiacs. During the course of the day, we fully circumnavigate Louise Island, the third largest island in Haida Gwaii. This tour will make a number of stops along the way, filling out our day with a mix of Haida cultural history, resource history, natural history and great wildlife sighting opportunities.
The main stop on this tour is the Haida village site of Skedans. Skedans, also known as K’uuna Llnagaay (PointTown) was one of the larger villages in the southern portion of the islands. The village was abandoned in the 1880s near the end of the smallpox epidemic which decimated 90% of the population of the islands. All that remains are a few weathered totem poles and longhouse beams.
Either our guide or one of the Haida Gwaii Watchmen will walk us through the site, explaining with the help of old photos, what the village once looked like, what the figures on the poles symbolize and how the people lived.
After a full day of adventure we make our way to the village of Sandspit (pop. 558), the only community on Moresby Island. Several restaurants offer a variety of local cuisine.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch
After breakfast we’ll have some free time to enjoy the village of Sandspit before the shuttle to the airport to catch your flight to Vancouver.
- Fully escorted by driver/guide
- BC Ferry transportation along the Inside Passage from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert
- Floatplane flight from Prince Rupert to Masset
- BC Ferry transportation from Skidegate to Alliford Bay
- Tours of local villages escorted walks and hikes
- 7 nights’ accommodation in hotels, motels, inns, lodges or cabins
- 7 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 1 dinner
- All entrance fees to Provincial, National Parks and protected areas
- Full day zodiac tour to Skedans and Louise Island
- Tour of local carving studios
- Entrance to Haida Cultural Centre
- Traditional Haida Dinner
- Airfare from Sandspit to Vancouver
- Transportation to Port Hardy and from Vancouver
- Meals where not indicated
- Gratuities for activities and driver/guide (we recommend $5.00 per day for the driver/guide
- Optional activities
- Travel, cancellation and baggage insurance
- Items of a personal nature
The stunning cruise from Port Hardy up the Inside Passage ends at Prince Rupert, where you get your first taste of the proud indigenous culture of seafarers and artists of northwest BC. In Haida Gwaii,visit the totems that honour 10,000 years of history and meet a Haida Watchman. Sit down to a traditional feast of seafood, fresh from the ocean. This is where ancient culture is infused with relevance for us all.
We take in all this and more on our adventure holiday of the remote Queen Charlotte Islands, a colonial name recently replaced with Haida Gwaii which means “Islands of the People”. A globally unique eco-system that partially escaped the last ice-age, this archipelago of more than 150 islands evokes comparisons to the equally isolated and biologically diverse Galapagos Islands. We visit several villages on the largest islands, Graham and Morseby, home to most of Haida Gwaii’s 5000 residents. We immerse ourselves in the splendour of Naikoon Provincial Park. Later we head out by zodiac to the more remote Louise Island and look for its secrets.
Rating: While the walking in this tour is rated as “easy”, participants should be prepared for uneven walking surfaces and bouncy ocean conditions while on the zodiac trip. Walks/hikes vary from 20 minutes to an hour.
Optional Activities: Deep Sea Fishing (about CA$100 per hour)
Accommodation: The properties you will stay at include inns, cabins and small hotels. You will always have a private bathroom. The properties chosen underscore the philosophy of utilizing small-scale accommodation that offers character, cleanliness, pursue sound environmental practices and support other local operators. Accommodation lists will be provided at the time of confirmation of your reservation and accommodation is subject to availability.
The order of the included activities may be altered without advance notice by the tour operator due to scheduling changes, adverse weather conditions and other unforeseen events.
Disclaimer: We do our utmost to ensure that information posted on our website is current at the time of publication, however trip details are subject to change without notice by the suppliers and operators involved. We update the information as soon as possible when changes are advised to us, however, we cannot assume responsibility for such changes made by the suppliers and operators.