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Exploring the Queen Charlotte Islands

by Melanie A Chambers

Flying into an archipelago of some 150 islands, you feel like you left behind the world.  There are alcoves of dinosaur size ferns and haunting shorelines that haven’t been touched since the natives built totem poles and cedar trees so large you can’t put your arms around them. 

Weaving through the islands on a kayak is the best way to explore. You’ll come across decrepit totem poles and ancestral gravesites. It’s surreal.   Eagles and giant ravens large enough to take you away sweep across the water.  After paddling, one particular tour guide cooks fresh salmon right in front of you on the beach. He brings along organic almond butter, herbs and fresh baked bread.  You feel good inside and out sitting beside a fire dressed in a sweater. 

After the day at sea, take the 15-minute ferry ride from Sandspit to Skidegate then bus it to Queen Charlotte City.  City is a misnomer--the islands entire population is less than 5,000!    For $15 a night, you can stay in a cozy hostel, complete with kitchen, which overlooks the ocean and snow covered mountains.  Grab a fishing license and cook what you catch.  My favorite though is Friday steak night at the legion.  Pete and Pat strum Canadian classics like Blue Rodeo, and Tragically Hip or bad, but danceable, renditions of AC/DC.  It doesn’t matter--everyone dances. 

If you want to be alone, meander onto a natural path through the mossy forest--the most famous hike is a five-kilometre hike to a shipwreck.  A frightful storm in 1928 claimed The Pesuta--a 200-foot log carrier. About four kilometres into the hike you can see the mirage of her bow—when you finally reach her—you can peer under deck and still smell the oily lumber.  She sits on shore and every year her remains washing away little by little. 

Another 50 kilometres up Islands takes you to Masset—one day I counted 76 along the 96-kilometre road from Queen Charlotte City to Masset. That’s almost a deer a kilometer!  Head to North beach to comb the beach for agates, shiny gold and pink semi precious stones, or if you’re lucky, find a glass fishing ball that drifted from Japan.  Not far from this beachfront, off a gravel road, hidden beneath the canopy of cedars, you’ll discover a cafe--the java is hot, as are the gooey chocolate chip cookies. 

If you drive to the most northern point of the islands on a clear day you can see the mountains in Alaska.  This part of islands, like the rest of Haida Gwaii, feels like you’ve reached the end of the world and you’re in no rush to get back to the noise, lights and signs. Places like this are rare and I recommend seeing it before it disappears.  

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