Haida Gwaii “Safari” conjures up African Wildlife Parks and searching for wild animals. However, the term derives from both Swahili and the Arabic word Safar meaning “to journey”. With this definition, our recent 8 day trip to Haida Gwaii, was indeed a journey into the world of the Haida.
Our plans to visit Haida Gwaii started in 2019 for a trip in 2020. Covid changed those plans but in 2021, The Great Canadian Travel Group in Winnipeg offered us a small group tour to Haida Gwaii with Midnight Sun Adventure Travel with only 5 guests. In the time of Covid the small group appealed to us very much.
Our tour concentrated on Graham and Moresby Islands, rather than the more popular southern area of Gwaii Haanas, due to scheduling issues with float planes and the availability of pilots. However, our journey introduced us to members of the Haida Nation who were more than willing to share their culture and traditions with us. We had the privilege of meeting and visiting with three well respected carvers in Old Masset, who shared their current work and explained the significance of each. We would never have met these artists without the knowledge and good relationships they had with David our Midnight Sun guide/driver. In addition, we met jewellers, painters, and musicians.
We met jewellers at Haida Arts one of whom, Judy Smith made me a pair of red beaded earrings. We also enjoyed the amazing beaches, where we were able to enjoy walks everyday. In fact, everyday included a hike into the forest or on a beach or even in a cemetery.
We enjoyed the food of renowned chef Roberta Olsen in her cosy beachside home, as well as food in our accommodations. We had three different accommodation experiences.
A local motel with its lovely attached rooms that served the most delicious breakfasts: Smoked Salmon breakfast bagels and their homemade scones were a must. A bed and breakfast by the beach on Hecate Strait, introduced us to the ingenuity of people who live on Haida Gwaii, where resources are limited and infrastructure for visitors not fully developed. And a lovely lodge located in the rainforest overlooking the beach for our final three days where we had a personal chef provide dinners and lunches.
One of the highlights of this week (there were so many) was the trip to Skedans or Kuuna Linagaay, on the Northeast Corner of Louise Island. This village is outside the boundary of Gwaii Haanas National Park but is still a Haida Heritage Site with a resident Watchman. We enjoyed the site, a picnic on the beach, and on our way back, pods of Orca hunting seals on a neighbouring beach, and Sea Lions sunning themselves on a rocky outcrop. We were accompanied on this trip by a Haida elder, who sang traditional Haida songs, provided traditional tobacco to the Orca and drummed a “thank you” for presenting themselves to us.
Another, highlight was being educated by Haida members in the art of crabbing on North Beach at Taw Hill.
Haida Gwaii has little infrastructure for independent travel on the islands, and with few roads and even fewer rental cars, taking a tour such as this one ensured that we got an immersive experience into the Haida Culture. A Safari indeed!