We had entered a different world, one of mystery and richness, as we paddled eastward toward the Cumshewa Inlet, off the coast of Moresby Island. En route, we passed a small rocky island with a tuft of wind-scoured trees that was home to numerous bald eagles. They watched us slowly paddle beneath them, and we watched them watching us. Pulling to shore at the end of the day, we found piles of driftwood for a roaring evening fire. Soaring ancient fir trees stood guard above our camp as we watched the sunset reflected in the ocean’s surface. Later, evening mists rolled over the adjacent mountaintops as the sky turned a rich orange-purple. As day one of our trip in the Queen Charlotte Islands came to an end, we anticipated what the next day would bring in this wild and relatively unknown area.
To visit the Queen Charlotte Islands is to journey to one of British Columbia’s most sacred places. The archipelago consists of more than 460 islands that lie some 80– 200 km (50–125 mi) off BC’s central and northern coast. Discover a land of lush rainforests, windswept beaches and some of the most fascinating wildlife in the world.
We had boarded an overnight ferry from Prince Rupert for the six-hour ride to this remote archipelago off the northern British Columbia coast. Known as Haida Gwaii to the natives, the Queen Charlottes comprise hundreds of smaller islands and two large ones-Graham to the north and Moresby to the south-separated from the B.C. mainland by stormy Hecate Strait. The locals are friendly enough, yet stoic and self-sufficient. The island economy is based on summer tourism, fishing, and logging.
The landscape here is a lush mix of dense fir forests, salmon-filled streams, and dramatic mountains that climb up out of the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, the islands’ forests, robust from the abundant annual rainfall, have also made the Queen Charlottes a target of extensive logging operations. Even though the islands are remote, with native wildlife and culture still intact, clear-cuts creep ever closer to the boundaries of the protected parklands.
On the southern end of Moresby Island and its surrounding smaller islands is the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, which offers wild and pristine coastal sea kayaking in an area rich in marine ecology and cultural heritage. All of the Queen Charlottes have been home to the Haida for thousands of years. Recent archaeological surveys have documented more than 500 Haida historical sites. Remnants of old villages can still be visited by sea kayakers at Tanu, Windy Bay, Anthony Island, Cumshewa, Skedans, and especially Ninstints, with its spectacular display of Haida mortuary poles.