Into the Wild on Haida Gwaii

by UB Hawthorn

To experience a summer holiday immersed in nature and surrounded by wildlife, you can’t do better than travelling to remote Gwaii Haanas National Park on Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands), often referred to as the “Canadian Galapagos.”

Only a limited number of visitors are allowed to enter Gwaii Haanas National Park every year on Haida Gwaii, 120 kilometres west of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada. Gwaii Haanas is the world’s only ecosystem in which both land and sea are fully protected—from the tip of Mount de la Touche at 1, 123 metres to the depths of the ocean, the park contains almost 5, 000 square kilometres of protected land and water.

Visitors who make the remote journey get to experience nature so deeply that many call it a spiritual experience. Snow-capped mountains stand at the highest points of the island, fading into thick green rainforests, before reaching out to the wildlife-rich coast—the destination for most travellers to Gwaii Haanas.

Gwaii Haanas Trip Planner 2011. Nesting time, though, isn’t the opportunity to do some serious birding. Located along the Pacific flyway, the park is an ideal place to spot migratory birds in both the spring and fall. The park’s marine life equally impresses.

Twenty whale and dolphin species can be seen in these parts; regulars include the humpback, orca and minke. Porpoises, seals, urchins and sea stars are some of the other common marine creatures living in the park’s waters.

Though the nature is sublime, it’s not the only reason people travel to Gwaii Haanas. The village of SGang Gwaay has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Though the village was abandoned in 1880, long house ruins and carved memorial poles demonstrate the Haida culture and their close relationship to nature.