Monday, 9 January 2012

The Gwaii Haanas Experience

In 2005, National Geographic Traveller magazine voted Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve as the best national park in North America. The ‘new’ Gwaii Haanas Marine Protected Area and Haida Heritage Site, established in 2010, makes this the first area in the world to be protected from mountain top to sea floor. The ‘land’ portion of Gwaii Haanas covers the southern portion of Moresby Island while the marine portion extends 10 kilometres offshore from the coastline. Gwaii Haanas is only accessible by boat or floatplane.

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve was established as a result of the well-publicized logging protest on Lyell Island in 1985. The Gwaii Haanas Agrement, signed in 1993, is an agreement between the Canadian government and the Haida Nation to cooperatively manage the area.

Visitors are drawn to Gwaii Haanas for the wilderness experience, Haida cultural sites, wildlife, the natural hot springs among other attractions. Charters or kayak rentals can be easily made
( or There are a number of licensed Gwaii Haanas tour operators offering trips from one day to several weeks in length.

Please see for more information. In addition, the Queen Charlotte Visitor Centre registers and provides an orientation for all travellers to Gwaii Haanas (

This map can also be found at

Day trips in Gwaii Haanas often include visiting Skedans, Tanu or Windy Bay village sites or Hot Springs Island. Haida Watchman cabins are located at the various village sites and the ‘watchmen’ are available throughout the primary visitor season, to provide information about the area and ensure the protection of the site.

Skedans village is located on Louise Island on a peninsula at the head of Cumshewa Inlet. In the 1800s, this village site was home to approximately 450 Haida living in an estimated 26 longhouses. Approximately 56 monumental cedar sculptures were recorded as found at the village site. Unfortunately, due to decay, the poles and long house structures are barely visible today. Despite this, a visit to this site is a powerful experience.

Hot Springs Island is one of the most popular places to visit in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. The island features 3 natural hot spring pools located in a pristine wilderness setting overlooking Juan Perez Sound. A walk along a pathway parallel with the beach gradually rises allowing a choice of hot pools from oceanside to a view from the ‘mountain' top.

Tanu village is located on Tanu Island on Laskeek Bay. In the 19th Century, approximately 550 people resided in an estimated 25 longhouses in this village. Records document approximately 31 mortuary poles and 15 mortuary existed on this site. The remains of these structures now lie almost hidden in moss and grass.

Windy Bay on the eastern coast of Lyell Island, was a large village site in the 19th Century and a camp throughout the 1985 blockade to protect Lyell Island from logging. A ‘longhouse’ styled cabin named "Looking Around and Blinking House" stands as a reminder of the Haida victory at Lyle Island.

One of the best known Haida sites in Gwaii Haanas is the UNESCO World Heritage Site at SGang Gwaay (also known as Ninstints). SGang Gwaay village located on Anthony Island is known for the 32 totem and mortuary poles standing alongside the cedar longhouse. Many of these structures remain in good condition. While standing in the midst of carpets of moss and decaying monuments from another century, one is left with an overwhelming sense of awe.

A trip to SGang Gwaay will require a multi-day trip if done by boat. Float plane access is an option, for shorter visits, and accommodation and meals are available at one of the 3 accommodation providers in Rose Harbour (advance bookings are required). See or for more information on charters and contacts.

Visiting Gwaii Haanas is an adventure – an experience you will never forget. There are many options for visiting Gwaii Haanas – plan ahead and leave some extra days to visit the many sites and attractions in Graham and Moresby Island communities.

There is so much to experience on Haida Gwaii – you could spend weeks here and wish you had more time!

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