There’s no denying the evidence of ancient civilization of Haida Gwaii. Archaeologists have discovered spear points and butchering tools dating back 12,500 years. In Haida mythology, the Raven is one of the most powerful creatures. Legend has it that Rose Spit, on the northern tip of Naikoon Provincial Park, is where the Haida people originated. The Raven was lonely, and one day, heard noise coming from a clamshell. Looking inside, he saw tiny little creatures hiding within. He convinced them to come out and join him in the world and these became the first Haida people.
This story is one of many little gems uncovered in a day of discovery. Having heard about Masset Harbour Day, we headed north to participate in the Lions Club pancake breakfast. There, at the entrance to Masset, is a big sign indicating Mile 0 of Highway 16. Seeing it there gave me the itch to come back with Fury and start at Mile 0 of Highway 16 and ride the Yellowhead all the way to its end at the Junction of the Trans Canada in Manitoba. A future endeavour, to be sure. The main road on Haida Gwaii are good pavement, for the most part and lots of nice curves. Across the road from the Mile 0 sign, was the hitchhiker’s thumb that Kelly had told me about the evening before, so had to stop and take a photo with that, too. 😊
The pancake breakfast was like old home week, sitting and eating amongst the elderly, the young and a lively bunch of babies and toddlers. Could have been Small Town Anywhere, Canada. After breakfast, we toured the town on foot, admiring the gorgeous murals painted all over town buildings. The maritime museum was closed, but peeping through the windows showed a nice collection of marine culture as well as some European and Indigenous displays. Carrying on down the street, we met Ellis and a couple of his buddies. Friendly locals, they gentlemen are some of the crew maintaining the parks on Haida Gwaii. After having a chat with Ellis, it was time to pick up a couple of sandwiches from the Island Sunrise Café. Ham and swiss on homemade brown bread would fill the chinks later in the day.
The tide tables are a critical part of planning the day on Haida Gwaii. Some events require a high tide and some a low and it is important to plan activities accordingly. Having been told about the “blowhole” at Tow Hill and the agate picking at “north beach”, we headed north after breakfast. Of the 26 or so kms of road between Masset and Tow Hill, about half of it is well-maintained gravel. It is a drive of green, peaceful loveliness, earning its name of Fairytale Road.
Parking and packing up the sandwiches, we headed up the trail to Tow Hill. Presented with an easy boardwalk trail through beautiful forest, it didn’t take long to arrive at the beach base of Tow Hill. Tow Hill rears up in a steep cliff face created by lava cooling in the throat of a volcano. The surrounding lava flow cooled in a combination of weirdly shaped rock formations and what looks like the vertebra of huge sea monsters or dinosaurs. The dark volcanic rock shore is like an alien landscape.
It was while marvelling at this wonder that we met Kevin, from Germany. Kevin had been travelling Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii and Vancouver for a couple of weeks and loving everything he saw. He told of his encounter with a black bear on a trail which gave him a good adrenaline jolt and made him question the wisdom of travelling alone, and of seeing grey whales so close he could almost touch them, rubbing up against the rocks where he was watching them. After a nice chat, it was down to the beach. The tide and waves weren’t coming in strong enough to make the blowhole “blow”, though it was apparent where it was as the water could be seen rushing in and being sucked down again. It was a windy day, but the sun made an appearance and we enjoyed our sandwiches out there on the alien landscape while the tide was out. The tidal pools were interesting, but didn’t have the variety of sea life that could be seen in Botany Bay on Vancouver Island.
Leaving the beach area, it seemed foolish not to climb to the top of Tow Hill for the view. At least it seemed foolish until we began the climb…. In truth, it was not that arduous, as the boardwalk and stairs continued. It was, however, a steady climb 900 meters to the top and I realized then and there just how out of shape I have become! Close to the top is a viewpoint of Rose Spit, as aforementioned in the Haida legend. A little further up, is the peak of Tow Hill with a panoramic view of the ocean and island. Very beautiful and worth taking the time to catch your breath and try to forget that what goes up must go down. The down was easier than the up though, and the trail branches off to a sort of short cut back to the parking lot. Hoping back in the car, we drove a little further down the road where we found the end of the road and Hiellan Longhouse Village. The beach is beautiful here, as is the surrounding campground and cabins. Wandering the beach and soaking up the sun was a welcome treat after the exertions of the trail. By this time, the chance to look for agates at Agate Beach has passed, with high tide having arrived during the afternoon’s adventures.
Making a brief stop at what was labelled as a wildlife sanctuary turned out to be a road that ended at the quaint Masset cemetery. The graves did not appear to be dug into the ground, but appeared as heaped hillocks. It felt more like a nature walk than a cemetery and I couldn't help but think how Tracey would have loved it.
Another brief stop on the way back was a viewing platform at a roadside pullout, where we could watch the sandhill cranes picking away at whatever they were finding in the field. Dozens of them and they did not seem to care one bit that they were being watched.
Somewhere along the way, we were told of a “fish fry” at the Masset Legion, to round off Harbour Day. This sounded a fine idea to replenish the fuel tank, so we headed back to Masset. It turned out to be a fish “bake”, which was even better. Huge fillets of salmon, smothered in mayo and dill and lemon and baked to perfection. Add a baked potato, some coleslaw and a Sailor Jerry’s rum and coke and the world was a fine place once again. Plonking down at a table, we had a nice visit with a couple of women who had been camping up at Agate Beach and kayaking here and there around the island. They had come up by vehicle on the ferry from Vancouver Island and were planning to meander back along Hwy 16 to the Rockies before heading home.
Having arrived back at Smillie’s Guesthouse, it was time to spend some time writing yesterday’s blog before trying to catch the sunset. Peter caught the sunset picture of the day (included here) and had a conversation with Lorette, one of the owners of Smillie’s, which resulted in an invitation to a beach party a couple of doors down for the next day. All in all, a successful day. I hope you will join me for tomorrow’s story!
Hi. My name is Alyson. In 2018, I started this blog as I completed a 27,000 km motorcycle trip through every province and territory of Canada.