Arranged in a gentle arc some 150km off the Prince Rupert coast, Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) consists of a triangular-shaped archipelago of two major islands – Graham and Moresby – and two hundred islets that make an enticing diversion from the heavily travelled sea route up through BC’s coast.
The islands are something of a cult destination among travellers and environmentalists – partly for their scenery, flora and fauna, and almost legendary remoteness from the mainstream – but also because they’ve achieved a high profile in the disagreement between the forestry industry and ecology activists. At the forefront of the disagreement were the Haida, who have made the islands their home for over ten thousand years. After years of negotiations the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site was created, which protects large tracts of land, incredible biodiversity, traditional villages and numerous archeological sites. The Haida culture, and in particular the chance to visit their many deserted villages, forms an increasing part of the islands’ attraction, but many also come here to sample the immensely rich flora and fauna, the profusion of which has earned the islands the title of the “Canadian Galapagos”.
Some areas of Haida Gwaii were one of only two tracts in western Canada to escape the last Ice Age, which elsewhere altered evolutionary progress; this has resulted in the survival of many so-called endemics, which aren’t found anywhere else in the world. Species unique to the islands include a fine yellow daisy, the world’s largest subspecies of black bear, a subspecies of pine marten, deer mouse, hairy woodpecker, saw-whet owl and Stellar’s jay. There are also more eagles here than anywhere else in the region, as well as the world’s largest population of Peale’s peregrine falcons and the elusive black-footed albatross – whose wingspan exceeds that of the largest eagle. There’s also a good chance of spotting several species of whale, otter, sea lion and other aquatic mammals, schools of fish and a host of colourful marine invertebrates.