Exploring Haida Gwaii - The Canadian Galapagos
For years, few outside of British Columbia were aware of Haida Gwaii, but after Prince William and Kate Middleton visited in 2016, this fabulous destination has made its way onto the map for travellers seeking a unique and remote experience with mythical appeal.
Canada’s answer to the Galapagos Islands, Haida Gwaii (or the Queen Charlotte Islands as it was formerly known) is an archipelago off British Columbia’s coast and is home to a wealth of wildlife that inhabits the skies, forests and the water. Six of the 10 native land mammals in the islands are subspecies that can’t be found anywhere else on the planet. These includes the pine marten, dusky shrew and the unique Haida Gwaii black bear – the only species of bear that inhabits the islands.
20 species of whales and dolphins have been recorded in the waters that surround Haida Gwaii, from humpback and grey whale that pass through as they travel north to summer feeding grounds to minke, orca, fin and sei. Porpoise, harbour seals and Steller sea lions are also regularly spotted, while bald eagles soar in the skies above or perched among the trees, searching the water for their next meal.
Various excursions are available from adventures in small zodiac boats and sailing cruises to helicopter tours, forest treks and kayaking tours, all of which bring opportunities to view the wildlife in this unspoiled archipelago.
Witness the Rare Haida Gwaii Bears from the sky
The southern third of Haida Gwaii is a protected nature reserve that’s home to lush forests and distinct wildlife including the rare Haida Gwaii black bear. Take a helicopter to the skies for a bird’s eye view of this unspoiled, rugged wilderness. Your pilot guide will point out many of the highlights including giant red cedars, Sitka spruce, centuries-old totem poles and the unique creatures that are seen strolling through the trees or along the shoreline.
Paddle out in a sea kayak for close encounters with whales and other marine life
For the most intimate wildlife experience, we recommend joining a guided kayak trip to spot whales, dolphins, porpoise, harbor seals and sea lions. The east side of the islands offer prime paddling, with the southeastern section a favourite with kayakers thanks to its secluded coves, multiple tiny islands, and sheltered shoreline.
The more adventurous may want to take a multi-day paddling trip, exploring the nutrient rich waters and watching for minke, humpback and killer whales. You’ll also discover Seabird colonies, old growth forests, sea caves and even ancient Haida villages in the process.
Bring your binoculars to discover a birdwatchers’ paradise
The islands are the ultimate destination for birdwatchers, with some 1.5 million seabirds nesting along Haida Gwaii’s shores, about half of which can be found in Gwaii Haanas. Twitchers can expect to spot the impressive tufted and horned puffins, Cassin’s auklets, ancient murrelets, rhinoceros auklets, fork-tailed storm petrels, pigeon guillemots and ore. Bald eagles, Peale’s peregrine falcons, pelagic cormorants, common murres and black oystercatchers also nestle along the coast. Dozens of migrating birds take a break here during the spring and autumn too.
Bird watching is available throughout the year at Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary, which serves as the migratory home for approximately 140 various bird species. This chain of coastal wetlands is a critical feeding area during the spring and autumn migration. You’ll find shoreline access viewpoints, viewing platforms, short walking paths and sandy beaches.
Stop by the Delkatla Nature Centre for more information, and to purchase souvenirs and gifts, including local art.
Explore on foot to view majestic sights and wildlife in Naikoon Provincial Park
Getting out on foot by hiking the trails in Naikoon Pronvicial Park provides the opportunity to take in breathtaking sights and a variety of wildlife on land, in the water and the skies above. Sitka black-tailed deer were introduced about eight decades ago and have flourished since. There are traditional native species like muskrat, beaver, red squirrel, herds of wild cattle and black bear too.
Walkers can choose from a variety of trails that differ in length and difficulty, from the easy Tow Hill hike that winds through temperate rainforest and takes you to a two-million-year-old volcanic plug to the more moderate blow hole trek and an epic 55-mile East Beach Trail that follows the dramatic shoreline and takes three to five days to complete.
No matter which route you choose, hiking is a great way to get away from it all and provides the opportunity to see a whole host of wildlife.
Take advantage of the world-class fishing opportunities
If fishing is your thing you’ll be in your element in Haida Gwaii. Anglers from across the globe visit Haida Gwaii for its world-class fishing opportunities and there’s no need to haul all your gear with you because more than two dozen charter companies are available to help fish for salmon, halibut, crab and shrimp (some of the tastiest you’ll find!) Fishing lodges like Langara Fishing Lodge on Langara Island offer all-inclusive packages that include comfortable accommodation, dining on gourmet fare, and guided or unguided fishing experiences. As you fish, you can also enjoy spectacular whale and other wildlife watching among the untouched beauty of the ancient islands.
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