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Place of Wonder
Sea Kayaking in British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands
©Outdoor Adventure Canada

Known as Canada's Galapagos, the Queen Charlotte Islands are located off British Colombia's northwestern coast on the Pacific Continental shelf. The region is a large archipelago that hosts the Gwaii Haanas National Park. The Haida phrase Gwaii Haanas means islands of wonder. South Moresby, also part of the Queen Charlottes, is famed for its temperate marine zone which is known to be one of the richest in the world. This is a coveted place for sea kayakers with hidden coves, little islands and Haida history.

It is recommended that you visit this area in the spring because the wildlife viewing and weather conditions are much better in this season. You should be an experience kayaker and the use of a guide is encouraged. You must register your trip with the Canadian Coast Guard and notify them of you return. You should also have a good deal of experience with navigation, paddling, and wilderness skills. Some of the islands are remote and one cannot rely on passers by to help if you are in trouble. There are also several day trip opportunities for paddlers who lack experience.

There are many options including taking a kayaking expedition where you are dropped off and then picked up a few days later. There are also "mothership" adventures where you travel on a larger vessel with amenities and explore the area by day, staying on the "mothership" at night. The east coast of the islands is more sheltered than the west coast.

Gwaii Haanas is the breeding area of over three quarters of a million sea birds. Peregrine Falcons breed here more than anywhere else in the world and it is the only known breeding site for Horned Puffins. Sea life includes whales, porpoises, and seals. There are rainforests throughout the area and an abundance of wildlife.

The Haida people inhabited these islands for more than 10, 000 years and the Haida still provide services to people in the region. The Haida Gwaii Watchmen are a group of volunteers who camp at heritage sites throughout the Queen Charlotte's. They ensure that visitors respect the fragility of the area. They also provide important information on safety and marine conditions.

You will glimpse the haunting images of weathered mortuary poles carved by the Haida from solid cedar. These poles have a small cavity near the top of the pole which was for the entombment of a chief or wealthy individual. The sacred poles serve as a fine example of Haida art. On Anthony Island you will see a large number of totem poles that are surprisingly standing in their original positions. The longhouse ruins at T'anuu 'Ilnagaay are amidst the rainforest. At one time there were 31 mortuary poles at this site. Eel grass grows nearby and the village name translates to Eel Grass Town. Visiting the Haida villages is an interesting and cultural experience.

From the haunting beauty of ancient Haida totems to the colorful marine life, sea kayaking in this archipelago has an almost magical appeal and provides challenges for the experienced sea kayaker.

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Written by Laurie March
Photos courtesy

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