Go to Another Vacation
Haida Gwaii - July 2016
Land in Haida Gwaii
It was an early day with a 3 am pickup to get to the airport. It was not even worth going to sleep the night before for fear of not waking up in time. While we were leaving our home, two other travelers in our group were leaving their homes in Montreal and Ontario at the same time. We would all fly from Toronto to Vancouver, British Columbia; and then onward to Sandspit. It is a tricky connection in that there are only 2 flights a day into Sandspit; if you miss the afternoon flight, you get to take the morning one the next day. We traveled Air Canada (of course) and all went well although our meals had to be purchased in the airports and it cost an additional $50 to bring our luggage with us. C'est la vie.
Upon landing in Sandspit, a man from our group named Doug approached us and asked if we were on his trip after he noticed our duffle full of dry bags. We were and would spend the next week together on our paddling adventure.
We lucked out and Doug was also staying at Northern Shores Lodging. I had called Northern Shores Lodging to make our reservation the week prior and asked about transport at that time. We had hoped to take the bus that went past the lodge and to the ferry. Unfortunately the ferry driver told me "I get to choose who I take and where I take them". I knew at that point that we would not be taking her bus. She proceeded to tell me how she was doing us a favor as we would not have to pay a bus fee for taking her bus. I went back to the airport where a woman at the counbter in the visitor's center called Judy from the hotel. She was used to calling Judy after the bus driver told other people they would not get a ride. Judy came and picked us up about 5 minutes later.
Northern Shores Lodging is one of the 3 or 4 places to stay in Sandspit. A few people from our group stayed at a hostel down the road from us but I think our place was probably better. We had a living room, bathroom, and bedroom inour suite. Doug had a kitchenette, bathroom, and bedroom for his suite. Eagles nest along the road across from the hotel and we spent a good hour on the beach and the road photographing eagles and sea lions. The location was great.
We planned to meet Doug at 7 to go get dinner but he knocked early and we were already awaiting the knock. We were tired and hungry as it was 10pm back home. We ate at Dick's Wok In which was a moderate walk from the hotel but the closest restaurant. We learned that if you want to pay, you need to pay at the door on the way out. Although we were walking back to our motel around to 10pm, the sun was just setting and which made the walk home more enjoyable.
Bald Eagles, 2 Eaglets (Bald Eagle young), Plover, Seal
We were picked up around 8am by a woman named Grace. She introduced herself as "I'm Grace. I am your taxi driver. I am not with Tofino". We loaded our bags into an over-packed van and drove 1 hour to a boat landing. We transferred our bags to the Zodiac in a shed after getting out all of our cold weather clothes to wear. She gave us all a life jacket and told us that was our jacket for the week, gave us rain ponchos, and told us to go down the path and turn at a boulder and wait for her at the dock. She eventually showed up with the Zodiac in tow and dropped it into the water where we climbed aboard. We then departed for our first camp.
Along the way we saw spouting so Grace turned to drive us towards a humpback whale who surfaced several times and then dove with a final wave of its tail. I had been at Haida Gwaii less than one day and had already seen bald eagles and a whale. What could possibly be left? The sea birds were prevalent and sooty shearwaters raced us at 30 knots. They won. We then stopped at a rookery where sea lions and their babies were all laying out on the rocks. It was incredible!
We arrived at camp and removed our bags and exchanged places with the prior-week's folks on the tour. We met our tour leader Jess, and she sent us to pick out our tent while she made up a warm snack for us. We had an orientation on kayaks and then went for a paddle across the bay to Rose Cove and did a short walk before returning to camp. We had a great dinner with peanut sauce and packed it in for the night.
Bald eagles, sea lions, sooty sheerwaters, humpback whale, pigeon guillemot
We woke up to a small deer looking into our tent. The deer are small there compared to home and are not at all worried about people being on their beach. We would continue to see deer at every campsite for the rest of the trip. Even when we went to get water for the group water bladders, a deer just stood and stared at us as we approached. We very close before he stepped aside for us.
It was our first day to break down the camp, pack the camp on to our kayaks, and paddle to the next location. It was cold and rainy like our first day, but it is probably like that often since everything was so green. We paddled in the rain for a while as the sun started to peek we floated in a sheltered area to eat snacks. We continued on to the campsite but there was another group already there so we broke for lunch and looked at the anemone along the rocks before we departed for another beach
The second choice for camping, in my opinion, was the best. It had two coves with a beautiful view. Most of us picked a spot along the edge of a grassy cliff to have a good sea breeze to dry their tent flies. The second-in-command guide asked us to move our spot into the woods so they could use our spot for sitting around and "yoga" so we went into the woods and got eaten alive by bugs. Bring a head net if you go here.
Sea lions, bald eagles, wren, anemone, young guide doing yoga
This day was one of the biggest highlights of the trip. We visited a historic site that had the remains of a Haida village. Groups can tour the site with a "watchman" who guides you through the site with historical perspectives and interpretations of the poles.
Anemone, puffins, bald eagles, sea lion, wood pecker, seal, urchins, jelly fish, humming bird
The next few days were spent positioning ourselves for the final camp to launch an early morning visit to Burnaby Narrows to see the sea stars.
Oyster catchers, baby sea lion, purple urchins, periwinkle, limpets, sculpins, hermit crabs, purple shore crabs, mussels, barnacles, bald eagle, deer, red squirrel, turban snails, murelet, loon, harbor seals, bat star, ochre star, chiton, surf anemone, bald eagles, bears.
I came on this trip to see the place with the sea stars. It was the photo used to advertise this trip. It took me over a decade, but I finally had the chance to reach this treasure. Several of the people on the trip warned us of the wasting disease that was destroying sea stars over the past few years and we were sad to think that they might all be gone before we got there. It turns out that there are many that survive in this area and the experience was a good one.
To photograph the sea stars, I used an iPhone in an underwater case and my GoPro in its waterproof case. No photo came close to National Geographic photo, but for a basic traveler, I think we have a number of nice photos to share with friends and family.
Grace returned with the Zodiac and drove us back to Sandspit We all went to our respective motels and washed up. We then met for dinner at Dick's Wok In. It was really nice to spend one last evening with our fellow travelers.
Anemone, sea cucumbers, bat stars, pisaster sea stars, urchin, crabs, orca whale.
It took a few days to fly home due to the first flight being delayed. This allowed us to enjoy the hospitality of a number of airports and to eat a variety of airport food. We spent the night in Chicago and went over to the Hilton for dinner and a good night's sleep. OK, maybe not the nest night's sleep but a nice nap between flights and a quick shower which felt great. We got one of the last available rooms that was actually a conference room that had a bed that pulled out of the wall. We were very thankful they let us stay in that room. Overall, despite the unexpected delays and getting home a day later, it was not really that bad compared to other travels home and when we look back at the fun we had on the trip, the inconveniences were far outweighed with good things.